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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.