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Marine Supply in Korea

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Marine Supply in Korea

By Kenneth W. Condit
Historical Division Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps
Reprinted from the January 1953 issue of The Marine Corps Gazette
Reprinted with permission to The Korean War Educator.


It is a truism that an army travels on its stomach. While this has been recognized from the earliest days of warfare, the complexity of modern war has so expanded an army’s stomach that it requires a much richer and more varied diet. As a result, logistics and strategy have become inseparable, and military leaders have learned that no strategic plan is stronger than its logistical support.

Hitler discovered the validity of this concept when his armies in Russia were caught by winter weather for which they were unprepared. To bring the lesson closer home, the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal was nearly lost for lack of logistic support. Dependent upon an inadequate base 500 miles away and with communications severed by the enemy much of the time, the Marines were frequently so short of supply that the fate of the operation hung in the balance.

The Marine Corps, as well as the other American armed services, learned this lesson of World War II well. When the Korean crisis broke, they had well formulated logistical plans, highly developed skills, and the nucleus of an effective organization. Logistics was a major problem for the Marine Corps from the outset. In its solution the Marines have demonstrated versatility and adaptability to a great variety of conditions. Not only have they performed their specialty, amphibious warfare, they have also participated in a mountain campaign in the dead of winter. In both operations, shortage of Army service units imposed an additional burden on the Marines. Not only did they have to support their own troops, but also furnish service units to perform duties normally carried out by Corps troops.

In all these situations, the rigors of the Korean campaign have demanded constant improvisation and adaptability. Every means of transport has been employed. Marines have used their familiar LVTs, DUKWs, and trucks. They have also tried their hands at railroading and air transport. And on some occasions, they have had to rely upon the most primitive form of transportation the human back.

For the Marines, the Korean War began on 2 July when the Joint Chiefs of Staff granted Gen MacArthur’s request for a Marine RCT with its own air. By 13 July, these forces, organized as the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, had started to embark. Nine days later, MacArthur’s request for a war-strength Marine division was granted, and the work of preparing the 1st Marine Division for movement overseas was begun. Logistic problems in this movement were considerable. According to Marine Corps doctrine, all units were to have on hand a full initial allowance of supplies and equipment, and service units were to stock thirty days of replenishment supplies based on war time rates of expenditure. But these replenishment stocks, based on peacetime tables of organization, were pretty well depleted by the brigade, leaving slim pickings for the division units.

Issue of equipment to division units and the accumulation of thirty-day replenishment stocks was a formidable task, particularly as the outloading was to begin on 10 August. Further to complicate the logistical task, the destination and mission of the division were in doubt. It was not known whether the Marines would land in Japan or go direct to Korea. Nor did the division staff know whether they were to prepare for an assault or administrative landing. With these issues still in doubt, the task of equipping the division began.

As troops poured in to Camp Pendleton, they were issued individual equipment when necessary from the Post Supply Depot. Units arriving from the 2d Division at Camp Lejeune to be incorporated in the 1st Division sent their equipment, except for vehicles, to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, to be sorted. Tanks, trucks, and other heavy equipment were sent to Naval Station, San Diego. Shortages of motor transport, signal, and engineer equipment were made good from stocks in moth balls at the Barstow annex of the San Francisco Depot of Supplies.

Loading of ammunition began on 8 August, and of other supplies two days later. To avoid congesting the streets of downtown San Diego, loading was done in two increments. A total of forty-five days supply of rations, thirty days of fuel, and five units of fire were mounted out, and by the 18th ships were ready to sail.

While the 1st Marine Division convoy was at sea, an advance planning group from the division staff flew to Tokyo to begin planning for the employment of the Marines in Korea. At the outset, the Army agreed to furnish resupply of all items common to both Army and Marine Corps. The Corps would have to furnish for themselves those items used only by Marines. To process this material, a supply regulating detachment was established in Japan.

The immediate mission for the 1st Marine Division was to act as the landing force of the Army’s X Corps in an operation designed to take the Korean port of Inchon by amphibious assault, and then to push inland and seize the former South Korean capitol, Seoul. The effect of this landing in the enemy rear would be to cut his communications, forcing a withdrawal to avoid the destruction of his forces. At the same time, Eighth Army was to break out of the Pusan Perimeter to the south and push north to link up with X Corps.

The Inchon landing presented a serious logistical problem. Because of the extreme tidal range, landing craft could only reach the beach at high tide. Assault elements would be isolated after landing until the next high tide. To supply these troops during the interval, eight LSTs loaded with fifty tons of ammunition, thirty tons of food, fifteen tons of water, and five tons of fuel were to land right behind the assault waves.

Other problems confronting logistics planners concerned the build up of supply across the beach, opening of the port of Inchon at the earliest possible moment, and the orderly distribution of supply to front line units. To meet these problems, a logistical task organization was formed under the Commanding Officer of the Army 2d Engineer Special Brigade. In addition to the engineer brigade, it included the Marine 1st Shore Party Battalion, 1st Combat Srevice Group, and 7th Motor Transport Battalion.

At war strength an engineer special brigade is set up to give logistical support to a three-division corps in amphibious assault and to operate a port for a force of the same size. But, owing to a serious shortage of Army port and amphibious service units in the Far East, it was necessary to employ Marines for some of these tasks.

The logistic plan called for the 1st Shore Party Bn to supervise unloading across the beaches at first, with the 1st Combat Service Group attached to operate beach dumps. The 2d Engineer Special Brigade was to take over control of all shore party activities upon order of the CG of the 1st Marine Division, and also to open and operate the port. The 1st Shore Party Battalion was to continue to unload cargo over the beach control of the engineer brigade, while the 1st Combat Service Group was to set up consolidated supply dumps in the port area.

The 7th Motor Transport Battalion had been attached to the 1st Marine Division to give it the extra transport needed for extended land warfare, but X Corps was so short of motor transport that the battalion was employed at corps level throughout the operation.

While planning was in progress, ships carrying the 1st Marine Division began to arrive in Kobe, Japan. As these ships had been commercially loaded in San Diego, cargo had to be reloaded for assault. To reach the target on time, LSTs would have to sail by 10 September and transports by the 12th. This sailing date left so little time that it was decided to combat load only the assault units. The others would go organizationally loaded. So rapidly had the ships been loaded on the West Coast that much of the ammunition, rations, and fuel had been distributed throughout the incoming shipping and had to be reassembled before it could be loaded into assault shipping.

To add to the problems, a typhoon struck Kobe on 3 September. Waves washed over cargo-laden piers, drowning out vehicles. Ships broke loose and drifted across the harbor. Miraculously, only one was damaged so badly it had to be put in dry dock.

In spite of these difficulties, loading was completed on time. Marine units carried five units of fire and thirty days supply of all other items. An additional five units of fire was loaded aboard one ship as corps reserve.

The vessels carrying the 1st Marine Division navigated the treacherous approaches to Inchon and arrived off the port in the early morning hours of 15 September. At 0630, the 3d Bn, 5th Marines landed on Green Beach on the island of Wolmi-do. Very little resistance was encountered, and the Marines quickly overran this island guarding the approaches to the port of Inchon. Supply operations in support of the landing were carried out by a team from the 1st Shore Party Bn. Owing to the difficulty of navigating the treacherous approaches in darkness, the larger transports carrying heavy cargo-handling equipment did not arrive in time to unload this machinery for use during the assault phase. Shore party personnel were forced to manhandle cargo across the beach. Unloading was further handicapped by extensive mud flats which hampered the beaching of landing craft, and by lack of dump space ashore.

The main landing on Red and Blue Beaches on the mainland was executed on the next high tide, twelve hours later. Assault units of the 5th and 1st Marines were ashore on schedule and moved rapidly inland against only sporadic resistance. On the heels of the assault troops of the 5th Marines, men of the 1st Shore Party Bn landed on Red Beach with the eight LSTs loaded with high priority supplies. By working throughout the night the 1st Shore Party Bn was able to unload these ships in time for them to retract on the morning tide. Personnel of the 1st Combat Service Group set up beach dumps for temporary storage of the supplies as they were landed and issued them to combat units.

On Blue Beach, the 1st Marines was supported by a smaller contingent of the 1st Shore Party Bn. As this beach was only to be used for the initial assault, no supply build-up was to be made. In addition to supplies in the hands of the assault troops, additional stocks were loaded in LVTs, but in the confusion of the landing they went to the wrong beach and were stranded on the mud flats by the receding tide. Resistance to the landing was so light that these supplies were not needed until the next morning.

The morning of D+1 found all the beaches organized and operating according to plan. Personnel from the 1st Combat Service Group located sites for consolidated supply dumps in the port area and began to build up the stocks for issue to service units. Stocks in the beach dumps were depleted by issue to troops and by transfer to the consolidated dumps. The 1st Service Battalion landed and opened a ration and fuel dump for issue to combat units of the 1st Marine Division.

Unloading continued over Red Beach, but it soon became apparent that this beach did not have the capacity to support the operations ashore. Strong currents, great tide range, and treacherous mud flats combined with inexperienced civilian crews on LSTs prevented an adequate flow of supplies. A hasty change of plan was made to increase LST beaching facilities on Green Beach. With the movement of the 1st Marines inland, Blue Beach was closed, permitting the transfer of shore party personnel to Green Beach to handle the additional unloading.

On 17 September, D+2, the 2d Engineer Special Brigade assumed control of all logistical operations in the Inchon port area. The 1st Shore Party Bn was relieved of duties on Red Beach to devote all its energies to unloading operations at Green Beach. The 1st Combat Service Group continued to operate consolidated dumps. This organization was the storage agency for all X Corps supplies in the port except for ammunition and engineer supplies, handled by Army units.

Motor transport was so short that the 7th Motor Transport Bn, originally intended to support the 1st Marine Division, was held in the port area under control of the engineer brigade. Of a total of 205 trucks available for port operations, 168 were Marine, 132 from the 7th Motor Transport Bn, and thirty-six from the 1st Combat Service Group.

A partial remedy for the shortage of motor transport was the employment of rail transportation. Although plans did not call for railroad operations to begin until D+30, the 2d Engineer Special Brigade rounded up Korean train and track crews in Inchon and began the work of repairing the Inchon-Seoul line immediately after landing. By the evening of D+1, a switch engine and six cars were operating in the Inchon area. On D+4, the first train, carrying 1200 Marines, was dispatched over a distance of about five miles. The first Marine supply train made the complete run from Inchon to Yongdong-po, a suburb of Seoul, on 26 September. During the Inchon-Seoul operation, a total of 350,000 rations, 315,000 gallons of fuel, 1,260 tons of ammunition, and 10,000 troops were moved by rail.

While these logistical agencies were unloading and storing supplies in the Inchon area, the 1st Marine Division service units were operating forward dumps of ammunition, rations, and fuel. The 1st Service Bn opened the ration and fuel dump on 16 September, and the 1st Ordnance Bn opened the ammunition dump a day later. Both dumps were displaced forward frequently to keep up with the rapidly advancing combat troops.

By 19 September, the 5th Marines had reached the south bank of the Han. To assist the crossing the following morning, the 1st Shore Party Bn was detached from the 2d Engineer Special Brigade and reverted to 1st Marine Division control. The battalion established a ferry and also trans-shipped some cargo from tracks to LVTs and DUKWs for the crossing. A second ferry was established further upstream near Seoul to support the crossing of the 1st Marines. To facilitate the resupply of troops operating north of the river, the 1st Service Bn and the 1st Ordnance Bn set up supply dumps for the issue of rations, fuel, and ammunition on the north bank at both ferry sites.

On 21 September, X Corps assumed control of operations ashore. At the same time, the Inchon Base Command took over control of logistics in the port area. The 2d Engineer Special Brigade was attached to the base command, and the 1st Combat Service Group was detached from the engineer brigade and attached directly to the Inchon Base Command.

Combat troops of the 1st Marine Division reached the approaches of Seoul on the same day. After a rapid and lightly opposed advance, the Marines now met heavy resistance from a determined enemy barricaded in the city. It took six days of heavy fighting and two more of mopping up to secure the city and its environs, but by the 29th enemy resistance had collapsed. Eight days later, Eighth Army troops, who had broken out of the Pusan Perimeter on 16 September relieved X Corps in the Inchon-Seoul area. But the end of the Inchon-Seoul operation offered no respite for the Marines. Already new operations were in the planning stage.

With the defeat and retreat of the North Korean forces beyond the 38th parallel, Gen. MacArthur prepared to pursue the defeated enemy, complete mopping up the remnants of the NK army, and occupy all Korea to the Yalu River. X Corps, including the 1st Marine Division, was to make an amphibious landing at the east coast port of Wonsan, then strike west across the peninsula and link up with Eighth Army in a gigantic pincer movement.

Logistical planners on X Corps staff were faced with the same shortage of Army service units that had plagued the Inchon operation. For the operation in northeast Korea, there were to be two beachheads, one at Suwon for the 7th Infantry Division, and another at Wonsan for the remainder of X Corps. The 2d Engineer Special Brigade was to operate the Suwon beachhead, leaving the 1st Combat Service Group and the 1st Shore Party Bn to operate the beachhead and port at Wonsan.

Loading out from Inchon presented some serious problems. Facilities at the port were so limited that all unloading of incoming shipping was to cease while outloading was in progress. It was impossible to stop unloading completely because supplies for the Wonsan operation were still coming in. Even with unloading reduced to a trickle, Inchon could not handle the outloading of the entire Corps, and the 7th Infantry Division had to be sent by truck to Pusan for that purpose. Again, as at Inchon, the time was critically short. To reach the target area by a D-Day of 20 October, the LSTs would have to sail by the 15th and other shipping by the 16th, only eight days after loading began. So short was the time that only assault elements could be combat-loaded. Others went as an organizational load.

To support a rapid advance inland, each RCT was provided with sixteen trucks and trailers carrying an additional one-half unit of fire, six trucks loaded with rations, and eight with fuel. In addition, three truck companies were to be loaded with ammunition proportioned to meet the needs of an RCT, and were to be ready to establish an RCT ammunition dump.

The convoy carrying the 1st Maine Division sailed from Inchon on schedule and prepared to land troops at Wonsan on 25 October. But Wonsan had fallen on the 10th to rapidly advancing ROK troops. At the same time, Eighth Army troops on the western side of the peninsula smashed the remnants of the North Korean Army and entered Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on the 19th. These events necessitated a change of plan for X Corps. It was decided to make an administrative landing at Wonsan, then to push on to the Manchurian border, mopping up the last remnants of North Korean forces and occupying the country.

For the 1st Combat Service Group and the 1st Shore Party Bn, the decision to make an administrative landing did not call for a change of plan. Supplies still had to be unloaded across the beach and stored in dumps for issue to division service units. The task of opening and operating the port would be no less difficult because troops did not land in assault formation.

On the night of 25 October, unloading was started. The 1st Shore Party Bn had to overcome offshore sand bars and areas of deep sand between the water’s edge and solid ground. But in spite of these difficulties, unloading went steadily forward, and by the 31st the 1st Marine Division had been unloaded. The 1st Combat Service Group, which came ashore on the 26th, set to work to establish supply dumps and to clear the port for unloading operations. By 2 November this task was completed, and ships began to unload at the docks. Unloading of other X Corps units kept the 1st Combat Service Group and the 1st Shore Party Bn busy while the remainder of the 1st Marine Division pushed on to the north into the mountains towards the Chosin Reservoir.

The 7th Marines, first Marine unit to move into the Chosin Reservoir area, encountered a Chinese Communist division near Sudong on 4 November. The four-day battle which followed was a forecast of events to come, when the Chinese arrived in the area in force. The encounter with a new enemy served to emphasize what might become a serious logistic problem. Advance elements of the division were already 108 miles from their base of supply at Wonsan, and every step the Marines took into the mountains served to stretch an already tenuous supply line.

A partial remedy to the problem was to move the division dumps to Hamhung. This move was carried out by the 1st Service and 1st Ordnance Bns on 4 November. Supplies could now be brought forward by X Corps over the sixty-nine miles of rail from Wonsan. From Hamhung to the 7th Marines position at Sudong was thirty miles over narrow, twisting roads. As this regiment and other division units pushed on further north, they would encounter a precipitous rise through the Funchillin Pass to the Chosin Reservoir.

To facilitate the supply of these units, the 1st Service Bn put into service the narrow gauge Chosin branch of the Shinko railroad. The Korean manager rounded up crews to operate the line. On 6 November the first train pulled out of Hamhung in an effort to reach the 7th Marines but blocked tunnels prevented the trip and not until three days later did a train reach Sudong. By 11 November the rail line was clear all the way to the bottom of the Funchillin Pass at Chinhung-ni. From this point trains had once been lifted by a cable to the top, but destruction of the power facilities made it impossible to run the cable. Chinhung-ni became the site of a division railhead with dumps for rations, fuels and ammunition. Stocks of supplies sufficient to furnish rations and fuel for two RCTs for three days and two units of fire for two RCTs were maintained here.

During the increasingly colder November days, the 1st Marine Division moved cautiously ahead. By the 15th, the 7th Marines was in Hagaru at the foot of the Chosin Reservoir and the other infantry regiments were soon to follow. On the 19th, supply dumps for rations, fuel, and ammunition were opened at Hagaru. To handle supply problems at Hagaru a supply regulating station was set up under command of the Commanding Officer, 1st Service Bn.

While these steps were being taken to strengthen the supply facilities for the division in the Reservoir area, installations in the rear area were tightened up. The 1st Combat Service Group, having completed the unloading of X Corps troops at Wonsan, moved to the port of Hungnam to set up in-transit depots for the corps. Its job was to break down incoming cargo into the proper classifications and forward it to dumps in the Hamhung area. Employing from 2,000 to 2,500 Korean laborers a day, the group moved as much as 6,000 tons of cargo in a twenty-four hour period.

On 24 November, Gen MacArthur issued new orders to X Corps and Eighth Army calling for a general offensive to end the war. While Eighth Army continued to advance to the north on the western side of the Korean peninsula, X Corps, with the 1st Marine Division as the spearhead, was to attack west to link up with Eighth army in a massive envelopment. To direct the new attack, a division command group moved forward to Hagaru, with the assistant G-4 included to direct logistic operations.

The 7th Marines attacked west on the 24th, reaching Yudam-ni two days later. The 5th Marines moved up behind the 7th on 27 November, prepared to pass through and continue the attack to the west. Meanwhile, the 1st Marines stationed a single battalion at Hagaru, Koto-ri, and Chinhung-ni to guard the line of communications to the coast.

On the advice of the Commanding Officer, 7th Marines, it was decided to build up Yudam-ni as an intermediate supply base. Three days rations had just been delivered, and a resupply of ammunition was loaded on trucks, ready for delivery on the 28th. This convoy never got through, for on the night of the 27th, the Chinese struck in great force, and the Marine strong points were soon cut off.

In spite of the efforts of the 1st Marine Division to build up supply levels in the Reservoir area, it was obvious that the beleaguered Marines could not fight their way out without resupply. Troop units at Yudam-ni and Hagaru had two days supply of rations and fuel. At Hagaru and Yudam-ni there were additional stocks in dumps for seven and three days respectively. The ammunition picture was not so bright. There was one half unit of fire in the hands of troops at both Hagaru and Yudam-ni, but only one unit of fire had been stockpiled at Hagaru. The failure of the ammunition convoy to get through meant that there was no supply at Yudam-ni except what was in the hands of the units.

All efforts to re-open the line of communications failed, leaving the Marines in the Reservoir area totally dependent n air drop for resupply. The Combat Cargo Command of Far East Air Forces stepped into the breach, making supply of X Corps troops in the Reservoir area the first priority mission. The Group’s C-47s and C-119s and a few attached Marine R4Ds flew in the needed ammunition, food, fuel, and miscellaneous items of equipment to keep the Marines fighting. Supplies were packaged and prepared for dropping by the Marine 1st Air Delivery Platoon, operating from Yonpo, or by the Combat Cargo Command in Japan.

After three days of bitter fighting, the 1st Marine Division began to withdraw towards the coast. According to plan, the movement was to be made in three stages. First the 5th and 7th Marines were to fight their way back to Hagaru. After a pause for rest and reorganization, the withdrawal was to continue in two further stages to Koto-ri, then to Chinhung-ni. At this point, Army troops were to make contact and assist in the journey to the sea. Thus, the Marines were to pull back from one strong point to another, never having to move more than fourteen miles in one hop.

While the 5th and 7th Marines were fighting their way back to Hagaru, the division began to build up supply levels there to provide for the next leg of the journey. Owing to poor communications, it was impossible to receive accurate requisitions from the 5th and 7th Marines, so their requirements had to be estimated. Rations and ammunition sufficient to carry the Marines to Koto-ri were flown in. Fuel supplies were built up for the journey all the way to Chinhung-ni. At the same time, stocks were built up at Koto-ri to provide resupply for the Marines when they reached that point.

Estimates proved to be accurate in all categories except fuel. Frequent halts of the column and the necessity to keep engines running so they would not freeze, exhausted the supply by the time the column reached Koto-ri. Fortunately, “on call” air drop loads had been prepared to meet such a contingency, and the necessary gasoline was dropped at Koto-ri.

By 11 December, the 1st Marine Division had arrived in Hamhung completing its withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir. During these twelve days a total of 119,630 “C” rations, 37,710 gallons of gasoline, 3,552,940 rounds of small arms ammunition, 58,862 mortar rounds, and 9,620 105mm rounds were requested for delivery by air. Of these, division supply personnel calculated that about seventy to eighty percent of the rations were received and usable and seventy percent of the gasoline. Ninety percent of the small arms and mortar ammunition requested could be used. Attempts to drop artillery ammunition were not so successful. A combination of inaccurate drops and rounds damaged on landing reduced the usable ammunition to about twenty-five percent of that requested.

Marine service units ended the northeast Korea operation as they started it—by loading the division aboard ships for redeployment to another theater of the war. As early as 6 December, Gen. MacArthur had decided to abandon northeast Korea, and to concentrate all forces under Eighth army. Marine units moved directly from temporary quarters at Hamhung to the port of Hungnam for embarkation. The first units went aboard ship on the 12th, and on 15 December, two months after their departure from Inchon, the 1st Marine Division sailed from Hungnam for South Korea.


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