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Advance to the Punchbowl

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Advance to the Punchbowl

By Lynn Montross
Historical Division Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps
Reprinted from the August 1953 issue of The Marine Corps Gazette
Reprinted with permission to The Korean War Educator.

Late in May 1951 the Chinese Communist army in Korea might have been compared to a fighter who has left himself open after throwing two hard rights and failing to score a knockout. Both long-expected objectives had found the United Nations forces prepared to roll with the punches and pull back to lines of defense. Then, while the enemy was still off balance, the Eighth Army went in swinging with an offensive of its in May and June which bagged a record-breaking number of Chinese prisoners.

The 1st Marine Division, of course, was in the thick of it. Leathernecks who took part will never forget the push from the Soyang River to the Punchbowl through some of the most forbidding mountain country in Korea. The fighting was savage at times, and one Marine regiment had more battle casualties in June 1951 than it suffered during the entire Chosin Reservoir breakout.

As a preliminary to these events, the first three and a half months of the year had been a period of almost continuous slugging. The trans-peninsular battle line swayed back and forth as the great CCF offensive of January was followed by a series of UN drives. These limited objective offensives were planned less for the purpose of gaining ground than disrupting Chinese preparations for a new all-out attack. Even so, the Eighth Army advanced more than 50 kilometers during the early spring months to occupy a line north of the 38th parallel.

The first step of the CCF “Fifth Phase Offensive” was launched on 22 April. LtGen James A. VanFleet, CG Eighth Army, gave up ground rather than men and material when the enemy pressure became too heavy. Withdrawing when necessary, UN forces inflicted an estimated 70,000 casualties on the Communists within a week. The CCF drive was brought to a standstill by the 28th, and the Eighth Army resumed its limited objective offensives.

Unprecedented numbers of enemy vehicles were sighted early in May by our tactical air during hours of darkness, indicating that the Chinese would soon try again. Their next blow fell May 16th. Again the attackers made local gains at a heavy price in blood. But the new CCF effort was stopped in five days, leaving the enemy vulnerable to UN counter-attack in east and east-central Korea.

The enemy, in fact, had blundered into the trap he had set all spring for elements of the Eighth Army. For weeks he had made withdrawals in the hope of luring our forces into an over-extended position where they would be open to assault. But on 20 May the Chinese found themselves in this predicament as the second installment of their Fifth Phase Offensive ground to a halt with few of its objectives attained. It was the turn of the Eighth Army now, and the opportunity did not go begging.

On 21 May, therefore, General Van Fleet ordered the first of the UN attacks which continued without many intermissions throughout the following month.  At this time the 1st Mar Div held a sector of X Corps in the Hongchon area of east-central Korea. The Leathernecks had been in the line since January, taking part with scarcely a breathing spell in all Eighth Army operations, both offensive and defensive, which involved their part of the front. MajGen Gerald C. Thomas was the new commanding general, having relieved MajGen Oliver P. Smith in April, and a good many veterans of Inchon-Seoul and the Chosin Reservoir had already been rotated back to the States. Hundreds of new faces were to be seen, ranging from PFCs to colonels, but it was the same old outfit when it came to fitness.

The destruction of CCF personnel and equipment while keeping the enemy off balance—these were the purposes of the trans-peninsular attack directed by CG, Eighth Army on 21 May. All three U.S. corps were to advance, each being assigned an objective which included key enemy communication and supply centers just north of the 38th parallel (Map 1, page 14). The objectives were as follows:

Objective No. 1 (I Corps), the Yongpyong-Mansedari area;
Objective No. 2 (IX Corps), the Hwachon area;
Objective No. 3 (X Corps), the Yanggu-Inje area.

It was on the X Corps front, however, that the Eighth Army command expected to hit the enemy the hardest. This had been the locale of the CCF offensive just ended, and here the enemy was open to a counter-stroke. The Chinese were particularly over-extended to the east of the Hwachon Reservoir area, and General Van Fleet shifted the boundary between the two corps to expedite the capture of large enemy forces. This change gave IX Corps the responsibility for the western third of the reservoir area, while X Corps was assigned the eastern two-thirds.

All four Marine infantry regiments had been in line abreast—from left to right, the 1st KMC, 7th, 1st and 5th Regiments—when a X Corps operational order of 22 May called for a preliminary advance. The 1st Mar Div, on the extreme left, was to support the attack on its right of the 187th Airborne RCT, recently attached to X Corps. On the afternoon of the 22d the Marines pushed forward a maximum of 4,000 yards against very light resistance, carrying out a readjustment of positions in preparation for the next day’s attack.

The X Corps part of the great UN counter-stroke began in earnest the next day as the commanding general, LtGen Edward M. Almond, ordered a general advance toward the line of the Soyang River. The shift in the boundary between IX and X Corps had resulted in the former taking over half of the 1st Mar Div zone. This adjustment enabled the KMC and 7th Regiments to be placed in reserve while the 1st advanced on the left of the 5th.

Mountains were no novelty to Marines with Korean experience but they had seldom seen as chaotic a landscape as the one stretching ahead. Peaks of 3,000 feet brooded over a wilderness of seemingly vertical ridges rising from dark and narrow valleys. Few roads were available and the frequent spring rains turned these native trails into bogs.

The two chief terrain features of the 1st Mar Div sector were the Hwachon Reservoir, some nine miles from the LD, and the Soyang River, about halfway between the two, Yanggu, the only town of note, lay at the eastern tip of the reservoir in a comparatively flat and fertile valley. Two lesser streams, tributaries of the Soyang, formed a natural north-south corridor for the Marine advance.

So light was the resistance put up by scattered and disorganized enemy groups that the two attacking Marine regiments often had more trouble with the terrain. The Leathernecks of 2/5 were not much impressed by CCF psychological warfare, therefore, when an enemy plane urged them by loud speaker to go home to their wives and children. [Footnote 1: This incident, reported by the 5th Marines, is the first of the sort to be mentioned in field reports by Marine units in Korea.] This suggestion might have had more appeal to the Chinese themselves, since CCF prisoners reported that retreating units were being pounded by UN air and artillery. Food and ammunition shortages were hampering the enemy withdrawal, and the Marines could attest that large quantities of CCF weapons and supplies had been abandoned in the haste of retirement.

The period from the 23d to the 25th may be considered a first phase which X Corps units devoted largely to regrouping. For it must be remembered that the CCF offensive had scarcely been stopped when X Corps struck back in combination with attacks of I and IX Corps in west and central Korea. The two Marine regiments were able to advance almost at will, though the 7th Marines had a brisk fight on the 25th. This regiment had been designated to support a 2d Inf Div task force of RCT size in a plan to seize a bridgehead over the Soyang. But the Leathernecks soon ran into an enemy battalion dug in along the high ground between two hills. Advancing in the teeth of small arms and automatic fire, 3/7 drove the enemy from the position, and next day the regiment secured its objectives.

The second phase of the X Corps counter-stroke, known as the Battle of the Soyang, began on 27 May and lasted until 3 June. Although attacks were made by all three corps, the great object was to cut off enemy forces in the X Corps zone between the east coast and the Hwachon Reservoir.

In this area the attack was essentially a pincers movement to envelop an enemy making a desperate effort to escape toward the northwest. The plan of maneuver called for the 1st Mar Div on the left to drive northward and seize the Yanggu area. In the center the 2d Inf Div (with the 5th ROK Div attached) was to advance toward the northeast and secure the Inje-Hyong-ni area, so as to prevent enemy movement north of the Inje-Kangsong road. On the right the 3d Inf Div (attached to X Corps during the recent CCF offensive) had the mission of advancing, along with the 9th ROK Div, to destroy the enemy in the eastern part of the corps zone. As a final thrust, the 187th RCT (reinforced with ROK units) was to slice through from the new Soyang bridgehead to seize Kansong on the east coast with the aid of naval gunfire and seaborne supplies. This plan was later amended, however, so that the objective of the 187th was the high ground dominating Inje.

So fluid was the situation that memories of Inchon-Seoul were revived at this time when the Eighth Army command planned a new amphibious operation to be executed by the 1st Mar Div on 6 June. The objective was to have been Tongchon, only a few miles south of Kojo, where the Leathernecks had their first fights after the Wonsan landing of October 1950. Plans for the Tongchon assault called for a drive southward by the 1st Mar Div along the Tongchon-Kumhwa road to link up with IX Corps elements attacking toward the northeast. It is anybody’s guess what the result might have been, however, since the Eighth Army abandoned the plan on the following day.

As it was, the 1st Mar Div found itself committed on 27 May to the attack on Yanggu, with the 7th Marines advancing on the left of the Honchon-Inje Road and the 5th Marines on the right along the ridgelines. The 1st Marines was in division reserve, and on the extreme division left the 1st KMC Regt was able to cover the area south of the Hwachon Reservoir with patrols, since the enemy was not defending in force.

Glancing first at the “big picture,” it is apparent that the double-barreled CCF spring offensive had backfired. Never since crossing the Yalu, in fact, had the Chinese been hit so hard as during the last few days of May. Enemy casualties from the 15th to the 31st were estimated by the Eighth Army at 105,000. This figure included 17,000 counted dead and the unprecedented total of 10,000 prisoners, most of them Chinese Communists taken during the final week of May in frantic efforts to withdraw. In extreme instances the enemy was so demoralized that remnants of companies and even battalions gave up without a fight, while enormous quantities of weapons and supplies were captured by the advancing UN forces. Such results were a vast departure from past operations in which the Chinese had preferred death to surrender.

This does not mean that the enemy was crushed, however, or that he failed to extricate the bulk of his forces, even though the cost in casualties came high. For if some routed groups surrendered, others put up an almost suicidal resistance to keep the rear areas open for escape. This was especially true of the North Koreans, who set an example for the Chinese when it came to stubborn delaying actions.

It fell to the lot of the 1st Mar Div to encounter several of these expendable NK units, so that the attack on Yanggu occasionally ran into difficulties. Nevertheless, both the 5th and 7th Marines advanced 4,000 meters on the 28th against light to moderate resistance, while the KMCs continued to patrol on the division left flank with few contacts.

Never before had such large enemy concentrations been sighted in broad daylight as those retreating to the northwest across the X Corps front. These withdrawals were made possible by NK troops sacrificed in delaying actions such as the all-day fight which held up the 5th and 7th Marines on 29 May. The encounter lasted from early morning until 1600, with the North Koreans putting up a resistance described as “fanatical” by Marine field reports. They were dug in along a ridge with mortars and automatic weapons, and their positions had to be overrun by direct assault. At the finish, only some 400 were left to be flushed out, about half of them being killed while retreating by the artillery of the 3d Battalion, 11th Marines.

Light to moderate resistance awaited the 1st Mar Div on the 30th as the 5th and 7th Marines continued to advance while the other two infantry regiments sent out patrols—the KMCs on the left, and the 1st Marines in reserve. And on the last day of May the 7th Marines pushed forward a tank-infantry patrol which reached the high ground overlooking Yanggu from the east. This meant that all scattered enemy groups to the south of the Hwachon Reservoir were now sealed off, though most of them had already been rounded up by UN forces advancing on the left of the 1st Mar Div.

Enemy resistance stiffened in the path of the 1st Mar Div as the battle of the Soyang approached an end during the first three days of June. A fairly typical Marine action of this period, showing the use made of supporting arms, was the assault of 2 June on Hill 610 by the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marines. This terrain feature was the key to the maze of razor-back ridges rising abruptly from the valley of a small stream which flowed southward several miles to empty into a horseshoe loop of the Soyang. The hills were wooded in this area, and the rice paddies of the narrow valleys had been turned into bogs by recent downpours.

It was formidable terrain and the enemy had made good use of hits defensive advantages. Bunkers constructed of 10-inch logs gave overhead protection to tough NK defenders supported by automatic weapons and 82mm mortars. The Marine attack got under way at 0915. After two four-plane strikes by VMF-214 and a preparation by 1/11 and the 1st Rocket Btry, Charlie Co. jumped off from the heights on the friendly side of the valley. Able Co followed and Baker advanced in support along a ridge to the south.

The enemy opened up immediately with a heavy concentration of mortar fire, but the Marines plugged ahead with the support of their own mortars and the 50-cal machine guns of a platoon of C Co, 1st Tank Bn. By 1030 the infantry had secured the opposite ridge and continued the attack along the ridge to the north which led to Hill 610. The North Koreans resisted to the death in their bunkers, but Marine supporting arms poured in a devastating fire of rockets, artillery and 81mm or 4.2-inch mortars. The distinctive feature of the attack, however, was the close cooperation between tanks and infantry. While Charlie and Able Cos mopped up along the ridge, Marine tanks paralleled the advance on the valley floor to provide flat-trajectory 90mm fire on the bunkers.

It took until late afternoon for the Marine infantry to secure the entire ridge up to the foot of Hill 610. At the climax of the assault, VMF-214 contributed another four-plane strike and the 1st Battalion of the 11th Marines scorched the height with artillery. But there were still about 250 North Koreans entrenched on the summit with mortars, automatic weapons and grenades. They fought it out to the bitter end, and not until dusk did Charlie Company overrun the last bunker as Able Co moved up to tie in for the night.

The assault on Hill 610 will never have its glorious page in history. It was all in the day’s work for Leathernecks who could expect a succession of such nameless battles as they slugged their way forward. That night the weary men of Charlie and Able Companies were not surprised to receive a counter-attack in the darkness—it was all in the day’s work, too. After driving off an unseen enemy, the new tenants of Hill 610 snatched a few hours of rest. Then they were on their feet again at dawn, ready to go up against the next key terrain feature in an area which seemed to be composed entirely of Hill 610s.

On 3 June, when the battle of the Soyang ended in the zone of X Corps, the participating Army and Marine units had secured their man objectives of the Inje and Yanggu areas. And if the modified pincers movement had been only partly successful, the opposition of weather and terrain could be blamed as well as enemy delaying operations. But even though the bulk of the CCF forces had managed to pull out, X Corps units took hundreds of prisoners and drove more hundreds into the path of other UN units. Enemy losses from UN artillery or air strikes were tremendous, moreover, as the retreating columns provided targets in daylight hours.

The finish of the battle did not mean that X Corps paused to rest or that the other two Eighth Army corps stopped after taking their objectives. On 4 June the trans-peninsular advance continued against opposition which stiffened daily as the enemy reacted to growing pressure on his sensitive “Iron Triangle” assembly area—the CCF transportation and supply center bounded by the towns of Chorwon, Kumhwa and Pyonggang.

It was a smaller X Corps which began the next phase. The 3d Inf Div had reverted to the control of I Corps in west Korea, and the 187th Airborne RCT had gone into corps reserve, though still attached to the 2d Inf Div. The 8th ROK Div took over the former 3d Inf Div sector to the right of the 2d Inf Div, and the 7th ROK Div was given the responsibility for rear-area security. On the corps left the 1st Mar Div advanced northward from an LD in the Yanggu area. The 1st Marines relieved the 7th, which went into division reserve along with the 1st KMC Regt. The latter had been relieved by elements of the 7th ROK Div after the KMC sector was pinched out as the result of a new 1st Mar Div boundary extended to the eastward by corps order.

As the new phase began, CG X Corps extended his congratulations to officers and men of the 1st Mar Div for the aggressiveness of their drive across the Soyang and capture of Yanggu. “You have denied [the enemy] the opportunity of regrouping his forces,” said General Almond’s message, “and forced him into a hasty retreat. The destruction of enemy forces and material has been tremendous and many times greater than our own losses. This splendid effort adds another glorious page to the history of the United States Marine Corps.”

Seldom had a relieving outfit been given a hotter reception than the 1st Marines on 2 June, when moving up to the left of the 5th Marines. On the way to the LD near Yanggu, the 3d Bn had 52 men killed and wounded by enemy mortar fire. Among these casualties were four company commanders, the artillery liaison officer, two forward observers, the S-3, the medical officer and several veteran NCOs. A reorganization was made necessary before the attack scheduled for the following morning could jump off.

Enemy units in contact with the 1st Mar Div were identified as elements of the Twelfth CCF Army and 5th NK Corps. It was apparent, however, that Chinese forces were rapidly being relieved by NK units which had the responsibility for delaying action during this period.

An increase in enemy artillery as well as mortar fire was also evident as X Corps attacked with a mission of securing a new phase line to the northward. The obstinacy of NK resistance soon led to further adjustments in the 1st MarDiv zone. After a brief period in reserve, the 1st KMC Regt relieved the 5th Marines and immediately attacked against stubborn opposition. Meanwhile the 5th Marines moved by foot and truck to an assembly area in preparation for relieving elements of the 2d Inf Div on the right of the KMCs.

From 4 to 7 June, therefore, the 1st Mar Div was advancing with three regiments abreast. And on the following day, the 7th Marines (less the 3d Bn, which remained in reserve) was assigned a fourth regimental sector between the 1st Marines and the KMC Regt.

There was no easy or painless way of driving out North Koreans protected by log bunkers and supported by heavy, accurate concentrations of mortar and artillery fire. Maneuver was out of the question in a terrain of ridges rising like walls from the canyon-like valleys. Each enemy position in turn had to be taken by direct assault, with the infantry depending on the support of air, armor, artillery, mortars and rockets.

From 3 to 6 June the two assault battalions of the 1st Marines attacked by day and repulsed NK probing attacks by night. Assigned objectives were taken on the 6th after a final assault aided by air strikes and 6,500 rounds of artillery as well as 452 rounds of 4.2-inch projectiles. On the other hand, it was estimated that enemy mortar and artillery fire on regimental front-line positions averaged one round every two minutes at its peak.

Meanwhile, the KMC son the right were having a terrific fight. For 52 hours the regiment had been in continual assault on a bare, razor-backed ridge defended by enemy mine fields as well as automatic weapons, mortars and artillery. The 1st Bn reached the crest on 6 June only to be driven back y a savage enemy counter-attack. But the Korean Marines clawed their way back up the slope again and penetrated within 100 yards of the summit before digging in at midnight. The day’s toll of 92 battle casualties, suffered chiefly by the 1st Bn, testifies as to the intensity of the struggle.

This regiment was meeting the toughest resistance of all in its assault on Division Objective Able, comprising the steep ridgelines running north to the jagged Tabam-San range. The enemy had dug in along the sharp heights with log bunkers and mortar or machinegun emplacements while mining the valleys which channelized our attack.

Not only did the KMCs have the hardest sector at this stage of events, but they could expect precious little mercy from their Communist countrymen. The bodies of 10 men reported MIA on 6 June, for instance, were found three days later on the reverse slope of a captured ridge. All had been shot by the North Koreans.

The KMC assault on Objective Able continued almost without interruption for five more days. It would hardly be an over-statement to say that the KMCs had to fight for every yard of stony ridgeline. With the main effort of the 1st Mar Div being concentrated in this sector, priority for close air support was given to the KMC Regt on 7 and 8 June. More than 200 NK dead were counted on the crest of one battalion objective, and enemy prisoners reported that they had been ordered to “defend to the last man.”

Fog and mist blanketed the two-day attack of the 3d Bn on Hill 1186. Three times on 7 June the KMCs neared the top, only to be forced back by withering small arms and automatic fire from enemy bunkers. At 2100 the battalion knocked off for the night and returned the attack at daybreak with effective close air support. Early in the afternoon the 3d Bn at last over-ran the summit. In addition to the 115 counted dead on the crest, about a hundred more were reported by a prisoner to have been buried the day before.

The two other battalions were meanwhile engaged in similar struggles. If the 1st KMC Regt had not already won the respect of every Marine in the division, the fight for Objective Able would have established its reputation for grit. For the assault continued doggedly on the 9th in spite of NK counter-attacks under cover of the fog. Two four-plane strikes and a mortar and artillery barrage preceded the attack of the 1st Bn that morning, but the men were thrown back repeatedly by enemy automatic and mortar fire from the ridge.

The fog was so dense on the 10th as to limit visibility to less than 50 yards. But in the early morning hours of 11 June, the 1st KMC Regt sprang a decisive surprise. The enemy had apparently grown too accustomed to thinking that night attacks were his own special prerogative. At any rate, the NK defenders of Hill 1222 were taken unaware in the darkness and routed by the 3d Bn at 0300. Hill 1122, which had repulsed all KMC attempts of the last four days, was being seized meanwhile by the 2d Bn.

This night surprise broke the back of enemy resistance on Division Objective Able, and on the following day the remaining enemy positions were secured. The main NK force was observed in the act of retreating from Hill 1316, and three Marine air strikes were called on the position before the KMCs advanced. As a departure from the heavy losses of the past week, only three casualties were reported by the regiment that day.

All four infantry regiments of the 1st MarDiv had been attacking throughout the last four days—the 1st, 7th, KMC and 5th Regts in line from left to right. The 7th (less the 3d Bn) sent out a tank-infantry patrol on 8 June, after taking over its new sector, and next morning the two battalions jumped off toward Division Objective Dog. Heavy artillery and mortar fire slowed up the advance, not to mention the booby-trapped bangalores and box-type mines containing TNT. But the ground resistance was light to moderate, and the 7th Marines plugged steadily ahead.

During this period the 1st Marines was attacking toward Division Objectives Baker and Dog. Average gains of 2,000 yards were made on the 9th, when the advance was delayed until the 7th ROK Div caught up along the left flank. Major elements of three NK regiments opposed the attacks launched by the 1st Marines on the 10th. Sixteen Corsairs delivered rockets, napalm and strafing runs on enemy troops while Marine artillery, armor and mortars supported the infantry assault on Hills 676 and 700, the key positions. At the finish, with these objectives secured, the counted enemy dead totaled 160, and further NK casualties were estimated at 160 KIA and 350 WIA.

The 5th Marines, after taking over part of the 2d Inf Div zone on 5 June, attacked on the division right flank toward Objective Baker. Opposition was comparatively light at first, but from the 8th to 12th this regiment had its share of the heavy resistance encountered along the entire division front.

During the first 10 days of June, in fact, 1st Mar Div personnel losses were higher than during any full month of the year so far. The 1st KMC Regt suffered more than 500 casualties from all causes during this period, and the 1st Marines had 67 KIA and 1,044 WIA from 1 to 30 June, most of them being incurred during the first two weeks. This was a higher total of battle casualties than that reported by the regiment in the Chosin Reservoir operation.

An unusually large proportion of the friendly casualties occurred in rear areas as the result of observed NK mortar and artillery fire. Enemy mines also caused a good deal of damage to equipment as well as personnel, and 10 tanks were put out of commission within a week in the sector of the 7th Marines alone.

But the enemy paid dearly. As one instance, the 6th NK Division, opposing the 1st Marines, was punished so severely that the remnants eventually had to be withdrawn from the line and absorbed by another NK division. Total enemy losses for June in the zone of the 1st Mar Div were 2,672 counted and 2,525 estimated KIA, 5,559 estimated WIA and 760 prisoners.

By 13 June the 1st, 7th and KMC Regts had secured most of their objectives along the line designated as the X Corps final objective. The 5th Marines continued to attack against resistance ranging from moderate to heavy, and there was no slackening in the enemy mortar and artillery fire which made it difficult to improve defensive positions in other sectors.

Several more hard fights remained for the infantry before the offensive phase ended. The 1st KMC Regt launched another night surprise at 0300 on 18 June to seize a peak known as Tusol-San. And the 5th Marines continued to attack in a terrain of knife-like ridges. By the 20th, however, the 1st Mar Div occupied all of its positions along the X Corps objective line, and the 7th Marines went into reserve after being relieved by elements of the 1st and KMC Regts.

The defensive phase began the next day with the 1st, KMC, and 5th Regts in line from left to right along the southern rim of that circular, mountain-rimmed valley known as the Punchbowl. On the 23d, the 3d Bn of the 7th Marines occupied positions on the left of the division sector while the other two battalions remained in reserve. Tenth Corps orders called for aggressive patrolling, the maintenance of contact with the enemy and the employment of artillery and air strikes to inflict maximum losses. Marine patrols had an occasional fire fight, and light NK probing attacks were received now and then by defensive positions. But all units of X Corps (less the 187th RCT, recently detached and sent to Japan) were soon entrenched along the designated defense line behind many miles of barbed wire, and thousands of mines were being laid across the front.

Marine infantry has seldom if ever been called upon for harder and more sustained efforts than the attacks beginning on 22 May and continuing with few and brief interludes for a month. The ground forces cannot be given too much credit, but they would have been first to acknowledge their debt to supporting arms in general and Marine air in particular.

In May the air task organization consisted of VMF-214, VMF-323 and VMF (N)-513, flying from Pusan, VMF-212 and VMF-311 from Pohang and VMF-312 aboard the Bataan.

Late in May a move to Forward Airstrip K-46 at Hoengsong was begun by VMF-214, followed in June by elements of VMF-312 while VMF-323 went aboard the Sicily. All combat operations were under the control of the 5th Air Force at its JOC headquarters at Seoul. As a result of an informal agreement, the 5th Air Force designated the Marine aircraft at K-46 to provide close support for the 1st Mar Div, an arrangement which was to continue until 13 July, when K-46 was closed for repairs. Never was better close air support given under difficult weather and terrain conditions, and VMF-214 set a record for an outfit its size on 2 June with 52 combat sorties by nine pilots and 18 aircraft.

While X Corps was driving to the Punchbowl, other major Eighth Army units also gained ground. Perhaps the major effort was made by I Corps in its attack on the Iron Triangle. Units of two U.S. infantry divisions fought their way through extensive mine fields into Chorwon and Kumhwa on 8 June, inflicting losses on the enemy which were estimated at 40,000 casualties. Tank-infantry patrols drove northward to Pyonggang, but were forced by enemy counter-attacks to withdraw on the 17th. By the end of June, however, I Corps held defensive positions extending about halfway between the base and apex of the strategic triangle which had been the enemy’s main troop and supply center for his spring offensives.

On the east-central front, units of IX Corps pushed within 10 miles of Kumsong while I ROK Corps advanced along the east coast to Chodo-ri. Thus the UN forces occupied the most favorable line they had held since the great CCF offensive of January. From the mouth of the Imjin this line ran northeast to the middle of the Iron Triange, eastward across the mountains to the southern rim of the Punchbowl, then northeast to the coast at Chodo-ri.

This was the situation on 25 June 1951. It is not likely that the date meant much to the mud-stained men in the line, though some may have recalled that it was the anniversary of the Communist aggression which started the war. There had been American reserves during the early months as the penalty of military unpreparedness. But at the end of this first year, Americans could take pride in a tremendous military effort against the forces of world Communism—those swarming thousands of expendable Asiatic coolies secretly armed and supplied with the military resources of the USSR.

On 25 June 1951, the Communists held 2,100 square miles less territory than when they began their aggression with an overwhelming superiority in arms and trained men. By the most conservative estimate considerably more than a million Chinese and North Koreans had been killed, wounded or captured, and losses of enemy equipment included 391 aircraft, 1,000 pieces of artillery, and thousands of automatic weapons, machine guns and mortars. North Korea, which had been the industrial region of the peninsula, lay in ruins everywhere, its cities and factories and power plants pounded into rubble by UN bombs and shells.

The democratic nations of the world had been aroused to organize and fight against Communism. Twenty-one members of the United Nations were participating in or supporting military operations in Korea at the end of the first year—Australia, Belgium, Canda, Columbia, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, India, Greece, Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Of the 315,000 officers and enlisted men of the UN ground forces, about 244,000 were included in U.S. units which were reinforced by 12,000 Koreans, ROK troops numbered about 132,000, and military forces of other UN members added 27,000 to the total.

The enemy had not yet been beaten in June 1951, but it would appear that he had good military as well as political reasons for desiring a breathing spell. In a New York radio address, a proposal for truce talks was made on the 23d by Jacob A. Malik, Foreign Minister of the USSR. Two days later the suggestion was unofficially endorsed in a broadcast by the Chinese Communist government, and UN officials immediately indicated their willingness to discuss preliminary terms. Finally, it was agreed that representatives of both sides would meet 7 July at Kaesong, just behind the Communist lines.

The war went on, of course, during the two weeks of negotiations following Malik’s original proposal. Limited objective attacks were launched in sectors of the I and IX Corps fronts, and X Corps tank-infantry patrols had a few clashes with the enemy. But the Marines were occupying the same positions of the last two weeks on 7 July, when a division warning order was issued to all units to be prepared for relief on 15-17 July by the 2d Inf Div.

The guns did not fall silent even when the Kaesong truce talks began. On the contrary, Marine units repulsed several enemy probing attacks during the last week in the lines, and Marine patrols ranged 6,000 meters north of the MLR. On 7 July, moreover, X Corps directed the 1st Mar Div to pursue two courses of action:

(1) the completion of secondary defensive positions, employing the 103d Korean Service Division for this purpose;

(2) the establishment of a patrol base forward of the MLR.

On the 8th the 1st KMC Regt began a four-day attack to the northward through heavily mined and booby-trapped areas to seize a patrol base. The assault had penetrated within 1,300 meters of its objective when the 1st Mar Div command informed X Corps that the two MLRs were in sufficiently close contact. It was further asserted that the objective could be taken in a coordinated attack, but that energetic patrolling from advanced positions should fulfill all X Corps requirements for a patrol base.

Although the fighting had not been severe as compared to the preceding month, 1st Mar Div casualties for July (including the KMC LOSSES) amounted to a total of 437—55 KIA, 360 WIA and 22 MIA. Relief of the division began on the 15th, and by the 17th all units were on their way to new assembly areas in X Corps reserve. It was the second time since the Leathernecks landed on 2 August 1950 that they had been away from the firing line in Korea.

A total of nearly 50,000 Marines had served so far in the conflict. Of this number, 1,385 casualties had been returned to the U.S. for hospitalization, 80 reserves sent home for release and 7,352 men rotated back for stateside duty. Following the Chosin Reservoir breakout, the casualty-thinned division had been pulled back into Eighth Army reserve in South Korea for several weeks during the winter of 1950-1951. This interlude and the few summer weeks in 1951 were to be the only breathing spells enjoyed by the 1st Mar Div until it was relieved again in May 153 after two years and nine months of almost continual combat.

The first anniversary of the landing in Korea found the division under the operational control of X Corps in the assembly areas of Hongchon, Yanggu and Inje. But this does not mean that the Marines paused on 2 August to commemorate the occasion with reviews and band music. The Marines were too busy, training an average of 120 strenuous hours a week, and getting ready to return to the front and begin their second year of operations.


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