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Marine Air Over the Pusan Perimeter

 
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Marine Air Over the Pusan Perimeter

Author - Ernest H. Giusti
Reprinted from the May 1952 issue of The Marine Corps Gazette
Reprinted with permission to The Korean War Educator.


The Marine company commander had a critical problem on his hands. It was the second day of the bitter fighting for Obong-ni Ridge, and the attack of his right flank platoon was pinned down on a barren slope by deadly machine gun fire. The source of his trouble was a partially defiladed and well-emplaced enemy position which defied the efforts of ground supporting fire to destroy it. Without hesitation, he requested aid from another powerful, but more flexible, weapon at his disposal—Marine air.

In five minutes a Corsair plummeted down on the target. A 500-pound bomb struck only a hundred yards from the tense Marines, scoring a direct hit. The Marines left their scant cover and swept up the slope. As they passed over the target area, they found that the remarkably accurate Marine pilot had wiped out a nest of four machine guns with their crews. In another few minutes the Marines of the left flank platoon had wrested the important hilltop from the enemy.

This incident was not an isolated one. From 6 August to 5 September 1950, Marine aviation, flying in support of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade (reinforced), carried out similar missions again and again. Variations were only of time, place, and target.

In the Pusan Perimeter, Marine air, like other supporting arms, was committed primarily to the mission of assisting ground troops to move over more real estate faster and at a smaller cost in lives. And the gratifying results of its close air support were no accident.

In the years between World War II and the Korean conflict a large part of the Marine Corps’ physical and materiel resources was poured into a great effort to perfect the Marine air-ground team. The lessons of close air support in the Solomons, the Philippines, and Okinawa were carefully studied, and new doctrines and techniques emerged. Emphasis on the training of Marine tactical squadrons swung rapidly toward the development of aviation as a closely coordinated arm of Marine ground forces.

At TTU Pac and TTU Lant, Marine aviators pursued intensive courses designed to train them as forward air controllers—the vital links which synchronize the air and ground components of the team. Other Marine aviators attended Marine Corps Schools at Quantico where they studied the problems and combat requirements of the infantry and its supporting arms. Here they learned the theory and practice of air support, and observed its application in practical demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the squadrons of the 1st and 2nd Marine Air Wings constantly practiced air support with elements of the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions. From El Toro and Cherry Point, Marine aviators were sent to Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune. There they had the opportunity to observe and learn, at first hand, the problems of the infantry and the effectiveness of air support. They carried this experience back to their squadrons, and the effort to improve the quality of air support was unremitting.

Periodically, the air support proficiency of the two wings was tested in large scale maneuvers. During the intra-war period, wing units operating from carrier or land bases participated in maneuvers off the coast of California, in the Hawaiian Islands, in the Caribbean, and even under cold weather conditions in Alaska and Argentia [sic].

So when the real test came, and aggressor X became the North Korean army and the dummy pillbox in the impact area at Camp Pendleton became a strong point holding up Marines on the road to Chinju, Marine pilots were ready. And they carried out their missions with such confidence and skill that even an observer unaware of their preparation must have guessed at their extensive training.

In the Pusan perimeter two carrier-based Marine squadrons, VMFs-24 and 323, and half of Japan-based VMF-513(N), made up wholly of regular Marines, comprised the tactical units of MAG-33 which preceded the bulk of the wing to Korea by approximately a month. These units, plus Ground Control Intercept Squadron-1, Tactical Air Control Squadron-2, and supporting units combined to give the group a strength of about 1,500.

The first news that Marine air units were to be committed came after the Korean conflict was only 10 days old. As early as 2 July, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of UN forces in the Far East, had requested a Marine RCT with appropriate air for employment in Korea. The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved this request on the same day. The 5th Marines of the 1st Marine Division was selected as the basic unit of the RCT-MAG force, and MAG-33 of the 1st Marine Air Wing as the air component.

On 5 July the Commandant designated the ground-air team as the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade (reinforced), and Brigadier General Edward A. Craig was appointed CG. Brigadier General Thomas J. Cushman was appointed CG of the reinforced air group.

Once more Marines were called upon to prove that the “ready to fight” quality attributed to the Fleet Marine Force was no myth—and they did. The brigade, including its air component, was formally activated on 7 July; loading began on the 9th, and on 14 July approximately 6,500 well trained ground and air Marines set sail for the Far East “ready to fight.”

By the latter part of July the situation in Korea had reached a critical point. The enemy was threatening to break through the Pusan perimeter, and the Marines were needed urgently. Instead of staging through Japan, as had been originally planned, the ground elements of the brigade went directly to Pusan, arriving on 2 August. The air components continued to Japan by faster transportation and landed on 31 July.

VMF(N)-513 became land based at Itazuke, but VMF-214 embarked aboard the USS Sicily and VMF-323 aboard the USS Badoeng Straits, the two CVEs of Task Group 96.8, commanded by Rear Admiral Richard W. Ruble, USN. The Sicily was commanded by Capt. John S. Thach and the Badoeng Straits, by Capt. Arnold W. McKechnie, two of the outstanding CVE “skippers” of the US Navy.

Immediately upon departure from Japan for Korea the CVEs launched combat air patrol sorties. Thereafter, whenever the carriers were at sea two Marine planes protected the task group throughout the daylight hours. Though combat air patrol sorties lowered the available of strike planes, they performed a necessary task. Since there is frequently no wind off the Korean coast during August and September, planes often had to be launched and landed with only a 20-knot wind across the flight deck. This was a serious handicap, and one of the duties of combat air patrol aircraft was to search for winds which could be utilized by the CVEs to make flight operations less hazardous.

The privilege of striking the first blow for the Marine Corps in the Korean conflict fell to a flight of eight VMF-214 Corais which bombed, rocketed, and strafed enemy concentrations at Chinju and Sandon-ni on 3 August—less than a month after receipt of official orders to the Far East.

Three days later VMF-323 staged a series of strikes against enemy troops, buildings, vehicles, bridges, supplies, and railroad installations, and on 7 august VMF (N)-513 joined the act with a strike against the town of Kumchon.

Exactly one month from the date of MAG-33’s activation as the air component of the brigade, all three of its squadrons were engaged.

These first missions were interdiction and deep support efforts. But it was not long before the two carrier-based squadrons were called upon to give the type of close support to ground troops for which they had trained so long and so hard. On the ground, the 1st Brigade, as part of the Eighth Army’s Task Force Kean, was making a limited objective counterattack towards Chinju, designed to blunt an enemy attack driving on Pusan from the west.

Following the jump-off on 7 August the Task Force was held up by bitter enemy resistance at a road junction three miles west of Chindong-ni. During the three days of this engagement, Marine planes flew well over 100 sorties, most of them in close support. VMFs-214 and 323 quickly worked out a flight schedule which would keep planes constantly available to the brigade during the daylight hours. Relieving each other on station, flights from one or both squadrons were on tap above the front lines to strike strong points within a matter of minutes.

The pattern of attack followed the established doctrine of the Marine air-ground team. Air and artillery preparation softened up enemy positions in the objective area, and the closely following infantry assault finished the job. As far as Marine air was concerned, however, air preparation was only half its task. Corsairs hovered overhead ready to blunt enemy counterattacks, to strike a particularly stubborn strong point, or to cut down retreating North Korean troops before they reached new defensive positions.

By the evening of 9 August the core of enemy resistance was broken and the brigade advanced rapidly. Enemy opposition proved light on 10 August, and the brigade moved through Paedun-ni and almost to Kosong.

On 11 August, Marine air had its day, a day which gratified Marine pilots and won the admiration of their fellows on the ground.

As the fast moving Marines came within sight of Kosong, an artillery concentration fired into the town by brigade artillery flushed major elements of the North Korean 83rd Motorized Regiment. Severely pressed by 3/5 and its supporting fires, the enemy attempted a hasty withdrawal along the Kosong-Sachon road under a bright afternoon sun. They discovered their mistake quickly—but too late. They fell prey to a division of VMF-323 Corsairs led by Maj. Arnold A. Lund. This flight, after reporting to the forward TACP, had been sent on a search and attack mission beyond the town. Just west of Kosong they spotted the road-bound enemy column composed of approximately 200 vehicles, including trucks, jeeps, and motorcycles carrying troops, equipment, and supplies.

Swooping down, the Corsairs made their first attacks as low-level strafing runs along the length of the column in order to halt and disorganize it. This tactic worked admirably. The column telescoped to a grinding stop, and vehicles took off in every direction. They crashed into each other, bounced into ditches, and tried for cover on the hillsides while the troops scattered for concealment. The Marine pilots then turned their attention to individual targets with rocket and 20mm attacks. By this time the enemy had begun to fight back. The Corsairs encountered intense automatic and small arms fire, but they persisted in their attacks and had the satisfaction of seeing approximately 40 vehicles burning before they were relieved in the attack by another flight of VMF-323 Corsairs and Air Force F-51s.

The original attacking flight did not escape unscathed. Two of the four planes, piloted by Capt. Vivian Moses and 2nd Lt. Doyle Cole, were badly damaged by the enemy fire and forced to make emergency landings. Captain Moses, the first Marine aviator killed in Korea, died in an attempt to land his crippled plane in enemy territory. Lt. Cole was more fortunate and reached a small bay just behind the enemy lines where he made a water landing. Within five minutes he was recovered by a helicopter. Lt. Cole is reported to have greeted the elderly “sergeant” who helped him into the helicopter with a slap on the back and “Thanks a lot, Mac. I sure am glad to see you.” It was only after landing that he discovered the “sergeant” to be General Craig.

When the Marines of 3/5 reached the place of the enemy’s debacle, they found many serviceable vehicles among the wrecked transport and dead that littered the area. These they put to good use, as they had been suffering from a shortage of organic transport.

At 0630 on 12 August, Corsairs roared off the flight decks of the escort carriers to furnish close air support for 1/5, which at that time was passing through 3/5 in continuation of the advance. But since no resistance developed the planes were sent ahead of 1/5 to attack targets of opportunity. During the morning and early afternoon, pilots discovered concentrations of troops and vehicles at Sachon, Tundok, and Chinju and struck heavy blows with bombs, napalm, rockets, and 20mm fire.

By 1400 the brigade spearhead had advanced 16 foot-slogging miles to the vicinity of Changchon, only three and a half miles southeast of Sachon, the battalion objective. At this point the road curves to left, and front; Changchon itself lying between the hill on the left (202) and the high ground to the front.

Planes of both squadrons were overhead when, at approximately 1300, the battalion point unmasked enemy intentions to permit the whole column of 1/5 to move into the defile, then open with interlocking fire from positions A, B, and C. As the 15 men of the Recon Company detachment entered Changchon, they observed two of the enemy taking cover and opened fire. In turn, the point was immediately taken under fire by trigger-happy North Koreans in position B.

When the enemy opened fire, the 1st Platoon, B Company had just entered the defile, and the rest of the company was about to follow. All remaining enemy positions now joined the fire fight. The 1st Platoon was ordered forward to aid the point and the 2nd Platoon moved up to the rear of the 1st. At this time enemy personnel were observed moving on the hill of position B, and a strafing attack was requested in the general area. Almost at once two VMF-214 Corsairs left the orbiting circle of planes and under the direction of the forward air controller strafed the area with 20mm fire. As the air strike lifted, the 3d Platoon moved across the rice paddies and attacked up the slope of the hill.

While this was going on, two other Corsairs whose time on station was drawing to a close were directed to search beyond the village and attack any profitable target discovered. Immediately these planes spotted enemy transport and personnel approximately a half mile west of Changchon. They attacked at once, dispersing the troops and destroying an undetermined number of vehicles. Traffic on the Sachon-Changchon road was heavy, and soon a division of VMF-323 planes found and attacked an estimated 65 vehicles on the short stretch between the two villages.

The intense interlocking fire from cleverly concealed and well positioned machine guns prevented the 3d Platoon from reaching the hill crest of position B, and the platoon was ordered to fall back while company 60mm mortars worked over the hill. But positions at B constituted the enemy’s main point of resistance, and he was so well entrenched that the 60mm mortars used up almost all available ammunition without success. It became necessary to call for another air strike.

This time the Corsairs of VMF-323 attacked with all available ordnance, blanketed the area, and succeeded in destroying the positions.

While the planes were engaged, a battery of brigade artillery had been delivering concentrations on the high ground of Hill 202, and Marine infantrymen had seized the high ground on both flanks. By 1700 all enemy positions had been silenced except A. This was in partial defilade and difficult to bring under supporting arms fire, with the exception of air. Therefore, five VMF-214 Corsairs were called to destroy it under direction of the forward air controller, and quickly accomplished their mission with 20mm cannons.

B Company was now directed to seize and occupy the high ground on the left flank. But before the Marines could move out, the enemy reoccupied position B and brought them under automatic weapons fire. Again Corsairs were called on, and again the position was silenced.

By this time darkness was fast approaching, but there was still time for a VMF-214 flight to do one more job. Observers had spotted the enemy massing behind the crest of position B, and the 1/5 battalion commander requested a strike against this concentration. The Corsairs attacked at once, killing or dispersing these troops. The best indication of the effectiveness of this last attack was that the Marines were not troubled from this direction for the remainder of the engagement.

During the night, the brigade received orders to withdraw to Chindong-ni, and 1/5 was directed to pull out at 0630 on the morning of 13 August. However, before dawn and before Marine air appeared on the scene, enemy forces launched a strong counterattack on B Company’s left flank from close-in and well concealed positions. With the coming of daylight, for the first time in the Korean fighting the brigade turned supporting arms, including the newly arrived Corsairs of VMF-214, to the task of helping Marines withdraw. All wounded personnel were grouped, and the company moved down the slope escorted by the fires of supporting arms. No casualties were suffered during the withdrawal, and upon reaching the roads the Marines started back whence they had come.

They had waged a determined struggle to come within striking distance of their objective, and turned their backs on Chinju with understandable regret. But the “fire” brigade was urgently needed elsewhere. By 13 August, North Korean bridgeheads over the Naktong River in the west central front posed a serious threat to Taegu and the Pusan-Taegu MSR. As part of the counter-attack force, the Marine unit was assigned the mission of clearing the enemy from strongly entrenched positions in the bulge area west of Yongsan and just east of the Naktong River.

With almost no respite, the brigade was lifted from Chindong-ni to Miryang on 14 August, moved into attack positions on 16 August, and prepared to jump off on the morning of the 17th. Objective 1 was Obong-ni Ridge, a key terrain feature of the forward screen protecting the bridgehead. On this barren elevation, pockmarked with rocks and crevices, the North Koreans chose to fight it out, and fight they did—with a ferocity that recalled the fanatical Japanese resistance of World War II.

Cleverly they had fortified two lines of positions: one forward of the crest, and a second dug into the reverse slope. When supporting fires lifted, the enemy was able to move into the forward positions to man defenses and replace casualties. In this situation, good napalm coverage would probably have proved decisive. Unfortunately, the stock of napalm tanks had fallen to a point where they had to be carefully rationed, since the long flight from the carriers and the time on station made it necessary that the planes utilize these to carry extra fuel for themselves.

Of the 18 Corsairs participating in the original bombardment of objective 1, only four carried napalm tanks, and one was dropped out of the target area while another failed to ignite.

The 2d Battalion jumped off in assault at 0800 on the morning of 17 August and soon encountered an unhappy train of circumstances. As the men started up the slope, resistance quickly proved that the preparatory fire leveled at objective 1 had been inadequate. From the heights of the ridge and both flanks came a hail of mortar and machine gun fire. Nevertheless, the Marines pressed home the attack with the forward air controller directing Corsairs on continuous strafing runs in front of the advancing troops and tank fire hitting visible enemy positions.

Despite heavy casualties a handful of Marines fought their way to the top on three separate occasions, but each time were overwhelmed. Lacking a third (reserve) company, the battalion simply had too few men for the task. Early in the afternoon the remnants of the two assault companies were forced to withdraw and dig in about midway down the slope, and /5 was directed to relieve 2/5 in assault.

Meanwhile the Corsairs continued to pound the enemy on the heights. Repeated attacks with bombs, rockets, and 20mm guns worked over the top of the ridge and the positions on both the forward and reverse slopes. But once again the lack of napalm proved a serious deficiency. The enemy employed extensively the deep stand-up and cut-back foxhole which was often impervious to strafing and difficult to pinpoint with rockets and general purpose bombs.

At 1600, the 1st Battalion renewed the up-hill attack. Again the Marines paid dearly for every bit of ground. But aggressive platoon action and the heavy weight of air and ground supporting fire gradually turned the tide. By nightfall B Company had wrested the two northern crests (Hills 102 and 109) of Obong-ni Ridge from the enemy, and A Company was just short of the high ground on the adjoining hill (117).

The defensive positions set up for the night extended from the nose to the right of Hill 102 to the saddle on left of Hill 109, along the east slope of Hill 117 and down to the low ground. The expected counterattack came during the dark early morning hours of 18 August. The enemy succeeded in temporarily isolating one platoon on the east slope of 117, penetrated positions on both sides of 109, and forced back the left flank. But the Marines refused to surrender possession of the hilltops, and with dawn the Corsairs came to help restore positions.

At 0700, following heavy air strikes on Hill 117, A Company resumed the assault to seize the crest. Initially progress was good, but the attack soon ran into trouble from a particularly stubborn enemy machine gun that covered the main avenue of approach and effectively pinned down the company’s right flank on the east slope of the hill. So well emplaced was this position that it defied destruction by supporting ground fire.

Capt. John R. Stevens, A Company commander, requested an air strike. In approximately five minutes the request had passed through channels and a Corsair plummeted down on the target. The Marines held their breath as the plane’s bomb struck less than a hundred yards forward of their lines. But it scored a direct hit and the attack was resumed immediately. As the Marines passed over the destroyed position, they discovered that instead of one gun the emplacement had actually sheltered a nest of four, all of which had been wiped out.

In a matter of minutes Marines were on Hill 117 in force. Hardly stopping to catch their breath, they started down the slope of 117 to assault adjoining Hill 143. They succeeded in moving down the slope and across the saddle between the two hills, but here heavy fire from the crest of 143 first slowed and then pinned them down.

Once again a rush call was sent to the Corsairs. This time the lethal airborne ordnance and the accurate mortar concentrations proved too strong a dish for North Korean stomachs. They fell back without coming to grips with the advancing Marines. By 0830, 1/5 held four crests of Obong-ni and had two to go: 147 and 153.

Now, with the enemy off balance, both the ground and air elements of the brigade combined to keep up the unremitting pressure. Coordinated supporting fires were brought to bear on the two remaining hills, and after a short respite 1/5 jumped off in attack, advancing south along the ridge top.

It soon became apparent that the enemy’s main line of resistance had been penetrated, and numerous observers reported detachments of North Korean soldiers leaving their positions. By afternoon 1/5 had seized Hills 147 and 153 against light to moderate opposition.

Meanwhile 3/5 was making excellent progress in its attack against brigade objectives 2 and 3, the ridge mass beyond Obong-ni. Air, artillery, and mortar fire support paved the way. As the afternoon wore on, the attack encountered only sporadic opposition. With the constantly advancing brigade troops hot on their heels, and a devastating combination of air and ground supporting fire precluding any attempt to rally, the enemy’s ability to resist deteriorated rapidly. As the Marines gained forward momentum, so did the North Koreans—but in reverse.

What the Marines had struggled and hoped for now happened. The small groups scuttling to the rear flowed together, but deadly tank, artillery, and air fire turned the stubborn defenders of Obong-ni Ridge into a panic-stricken horde no longer recognizable as soldiers. Withdrawal had become retreat, and retreat—headlong flight.

Until the afternoon of the 18th of August pilots of VMFs-214 and 323 had been attacking terrain features and barely discernible entrenchments, but now an abundance of lucrative targets appeared—enemy troops on the slopes of the hills leading down to the Naktong, on the narrow roads and paths, on the exposed shore of the river, and in the river itself. Many had cast away their equipment and arms, but their speed was obviously no match for that of the Corsairs. Field pieces, vehicles, and tanks fell prey to the eager pilots. And for a change the results were visibly rewarding. The North Koreans paid for Marine casualties 15 to 20 times over. One four-plane flight of VMF-324 alone accounted for more than a company of enemy dead. This flight, led by 1stLt Sidney Fisher, was also credited with the destruction of two enemy tanks, one machine gun position, and a vehicle.

Concurrently, Marine planes also delivered close air support for 3/5’s attack on objectives 2 and 3. By nightfall the battalion had seized both of these positions with the exception of one small pocket of resistance.

Estimated enemy casualties for the day credited 1,400 to the Marine carrier-based squadrons and 500 to the ground elements of the brigade.

On the morning of the 19th, the Marines found that the enemy had had enough. Resistance had evaporated, but Marine planes were still finding lucrative targets along the Naktong. Throughout the day both controlled, and search and attack strikes took a heavy toll of the disorganized remnants of the routed enemy forces. Even the scattered groups which had succeeded in crossing the river during the night were given no peace. West of the river, along the roads and trails and in small villages, the Corsairs harried these survivors until nothing resembling a military unit remained.

In the afternoon Marine patrols sent to the river reported large quantities of abandoned arms, ammunition, equipment, and supplies, but no enemy contact. Therefore, later in the same afternoon the brigade was released from the operational control of the 24th Division and reverted to EUSAK reserve.

In three days of fighting, the 1st Brigade had succeeded in blunting and then turning the threatening penetration of a numerically superior force into a disorderly rout, and in the process inflicted approximately 4,000 casualties on the enemy. The North Koreans had not lacked courage, defensive ability, or materiel, yet the Marines had prevailed.

Even a general explanation of this success would have to encompass training, caliber of troops, leadership, equipment, supply, and other contributing factors. But one factor—the highly skillful combination of air and ground fire support—emerges as a salient feature of the operation. And the air portion of this combination, VMFs-214 and 323, played a vital role in its achievement.

In a three-day period, 17 through 19 August, the pilots of these two squadrons flew a total of 135 sorties: 129 directed by Marine tactical air control parties, and six in support of the Army’s 24th Division on the brigade’s right.

By itself, a sortie statistic means little. The assorted airborne ordnance carried on each was not unloaded in one attack, but delivered piecemeal, depending on the vulnerability of a particular target to a particular type of armament. In addition, Marines learned quickly that the North Koreans had a great fear of the gull-winged Corsairs, whose mere presence often caused them to seek cover, thereby diminishing their volume of fire. Marine planes, therefore, interspersed dummy runs with live runs and often continued making the former even after they had expended their ordnance. Thus, it was not uncommon for a single Corsair to make from 10 to 15 or more runs against enemy targets, each contributing separately but distinctly to the advance of assaulting ground troops.

The first battle of Naktong Bulge had passed into military history. On 20 August the ground elements of the brigade moved to the assembly area at Changwon. Though they had paid a high price for it, the Marines were glad to be quit of the area. Little did they suspect that they would contest the same ground again—and soon.

For the air component of the brigade, however, the days following the successful close of the fight brought no change in operations. Other UN forces were still engaged and needed the air support which the pilots of MAG-33 could deliver.

For the remainder of the month the Corsairs of VMFs-214 and 323 ranged along the perimeter in support of US Army and ROK units. Maintaining the same high peak of performance they had achieved in support of the brigade, they struck wherever the going was hardest and the need for their special talent greatest. During this period Marine planes were largely directed by airborne Air Force controllers and Army ground controllers. Targets attacked were of the greatest variety, ranging from troop-sheltering mine shafts, railroad tunnels, and underwater bridges to the familiar mortar, machine gun, and artillery positions.

From 20 to 31 August VMF-214 was in action 10 days and flew 203 combat sorties. In the same period VMF-323 was in action seven days and flew 145 sorties.

The end of August found VMF-323 in Japan, enjoying its first real rest since its arrival in Korea. VMF-214, too, was scheduled for a short rest early the following month. But this squadron was destined not to have its respite for some time to come. By 1 September a persistent enemy, employing new forces, had again penetrated east of the Naktong, recaptured Obong-ni Ridge and moved all the way to Yongsan. Once more he was seriously threatening the rear of the UN perimeter. And another rush call for the “fire” brigade was sent.

News of its projected recommitment reached the brigade in the morning of 1 September, an awkward time. The ground elements of the brigade were toiling to transfer heavy equipment and supplies to Pusan for the amphibious counterstroke which was soon to be inscribed in military annals as the Inchon-Seoul operation. Also, the indispensable air component was not immediately available. The Badoeng Straits was paid up in Japan, the Sicily en route there for replenishment and rest. And time was very short.

Despite these obstacles, the machinery for assembling the team was set in motion. The bulk of the brigade ground elements hastily donned their combat equipment and in the early afternoon started for Miryang, a few miles east of Yongsan, where they arrived by 0630 the next day.

Meanwhile, in Japan, decisions and movements concerning the employment of VMFs-214 and 323 were equally swift. Ashiya, a convenient airbase in Japan proper was selected as a temporary home roost for the Corsairs of MAG-33, and an urgent directive went out ordering the squadrons to report immediately.

The first news of their pending commitment reached the squadrons in the afternoon of 1 September, and caught them with their planes down—literally.

After an early morning flight from the Sicily, all planes of VMF-214 were at Itami Air Base being checked. The ground echelon, after leaving the Sicily at Sasebo, was airborne in transports en route to Itami when its destination was changed to Ashiya.

VMF-323 received the news at Kyoto, with most of its personnel on leave and its planes also at Itami. Word came by telephone at 1600 on 1 September, and by 2200 all but 12 members of the squadron had reported at Itami.

The planes of both squadrons left Itami for Ashiya the next morning. They arrived about noon, and in the afternoon of the same day were back hammering the enemy in the threatened area of the perimeter.

With only a short pause at Miryang, the brigade went on to Yongsan, which had been recaptured by the 9th Infantry of the Army 2d Division. At 0300 of the next day the Marines moved out at dawn to attack positions to the west. Before they arrived, however, the enemy had pushed back friendly forces, and they were compelled to fight their way to the planned line of departure.

By 0845 the assault units were in line and advancing against determined enemy resistance. For the first time in its Korean experience the brigade attacked with two battalions abreast: 1/5 to the left of the main road and 2/5 on the right. During the day both made steady headway against an enemy strongly armed with machine guns, mortars, artillery, AT guns, and tanks.

But the Marines, too, had these weapons, and in addition—air. As an example of the skillful use made of close air support by infantry units, the experience of 1/5 on 3 September is outstanding. While crossing rice paddies at 0925, B Company was halted by intense automatic weapons fire. A called air strike materialized almost immediately and destroyed the enemy positions with rockets and 20mm shells. The advance continued. A few minutes later, A Company was slowed by heavy small-arms fire from high ground to the left front. This time a napalm attack was delivered on the target, and the advance picked up speed.

By shortly after noon, 1/5 had reached the ridge which was its objective 1, but with the enemy still dug in on the reverse slope. Here the battalion began to receive increasingly heavy fire from the next high ground. Once more the commander requested an air strike, and in a few minutes Corsairs were working over the area.

With the Marine planes pounding the high ground to their rear, enemy troops began retreating from the reverse slope of objective 1. They attempted to move along a road which skirted the high ground under attack by the Corsairs and led to objective 2. Immediately artillery took them under extremely accurate fire, and they broke into disorganized flight. Few, if any, reached the sanctuary of the next ridge line.

As 1/5 prepared to renew the attack, an air strike was run on objective 2. Thirty-two rockets struck positions on the ridge, and after an additional five minutes preparatory fire by artillery, the Marines moved out. They advanced rapidly against light and scattered resistance until late in the afternoon when directed to halt and consolidate. By nightfall both battalions were dug in approximately 3,000 yards west of Yongsan.

In the morning of 4 September, 3/5 relieved 2/5 on the right and the Marines jumped off. They soon found that, though the opposing forces had plenty of well-equipped troops, these seemed to have lost their stomach for battle. Corsairs dealt with such points of resistance as did slow the advance, with artillery fire usually following up the air attack. And the combination of the two wrought such havoc that the enemy was unable to make a stand. On four occasions during the day, North Koreans broke from defensive positions into the open, where they invariably fell prey to strafing runs and artillery concentrations. Marine pilots agreed that they had never before seen the enemy so clearly, but these were scattered over such a wide area that it was difficult to estimate accurately the casualties inflicted. However, admittedly conservative estimates placed the figures at several hundred.

Through the day the rapidly-advancing Marines passed scenes reminiscent of the carnage they had encountered west of Kosong. Added testimony to the enemy’s hasty flight was the capture of two Russian-type T-34 tanks, both unmanned but in excellent operating condition. By later afternoon the brigade had moved an average of approximately 3,500 yards, and at dark it dug in 1,000 yards forward of objective 1.

The next day, 5 September, the brigade continued its advance, but for the first time in a month of combat operations there were no Corsairs overhead after 0830. During the morning, foul weather moved in over the battleground, making close air support impossible.

Fortunately, the Marines encountered light to moderate resistance that day, and ground supporting arms proved more than adequate. By evening they had advanced another 2,500 to 3,500 yards and once more faced Obong-ni Ridge, with the Naktong River less than 2,500 yards away.

At midnight, however, the brigade was relieved by elements of the 2d Infantry Division. Something new and big was in the wind, and the Marines knew that a prominent role was being reserved them. They moved to Yongsan and then to Pusan where they began outloading for what was obviously a Marine-style operation—an amphibious assault.

During the two full days of flight operations, 3 and 4 September, VMFs-214 and 323 flew 70 sorties. The total number of runs made against enemy targets by these sorties was 827, and the majority of these were controlled runs in close air support of the Marine ground units.

Though flight statistics have limited significance and an accurate estimate of the damage inflicted upon the enemy by Marine pilots is difficult to compile, one thing was certain. The long laborious months of training had been fully justified. And no one knew it better than their fellow Marines on the ground. Gen. Craig said: “Close air support furnished by Marine airmen was a marvel to everybody concerned, including the Marines. We had never seen anything like it even in our practice….”

In effect, the end of the brigade’s participation in the Pusan perimeter fighting signaled the beginning of a new operation. And aboard the CVEs, in Japan, and in Pusan, Marines set about their preparations with high confidence. The Marine air-ground team, forged in sweat and tested in the crucible of combat, had exceeded its highest expectations. Now it was ready for a more demanding test. And it came only 10 days later—Inchon-Seoul.

 

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