The Battle of ChosinDVD - 2017
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In the last days of November 1950, twelve-thousand men of the First Marine Division, along with a few thousand Army soldiers, found themselves trapped high in the mountains of North Korea, near a reservoir called Chosin.
Their leaders had been caught off guard by the sudden entrance of the People's Republic of China into the five-month old Korean War. The Americans were surrounded, outnumbered, and at risk of annihilation.
The two-week battle that followed is among the most momentous in U.S. history. It helped set the course of American foreign policy in the Cold War and beyond. And it remains one of the most renowned in Marine Corps annals.
All battles are terrible, but this one might well have been the, the very worst in American history. These were some of the harshest winter conditions that American forces have ever fought in.
MacArthur's willingness to sacrifice caution for speed had consequences. On the eve of its final offensive, the First Marine Division was strung out on a single supply route, nearly eighty miles long, leading to the Chosin Reservoir.
Thirty-six hundred men were making camp at the bottom of the reservoir at Hagaru-ri, where division headquarters and a much-needed airfield were taking shape.
Five miles ahead, on the west side of the reservoir, was a small contingent of four hundred Marines defending the high ground above the road. The bulk of the forces—eight thousand Marines—were digging in near the village of Yudam-ni, preparing to spearhead the next-day's offensive.
To the east were twenty-five hundred U.S. Army soldiers and several hundred South Korean fighters placed there to protect the right flank of the attacking Marines.
What Mao had on his hands, and this is a reverse of what people thought in the US—people thought Mao was an evil, crazy Communist dictator and MacArthur was a great hero—but from Mao's standpoint MacArthur was the irrational one. He just wanted to plunge ahead. ''What would the US do, do if the Chinese Communist army were marching up Mexico, talking about rolling back American capitalism in the southwest?''
The Chinese used a night cover, to camouflage their movements and they were moving away from the roads, hidden at night from our aircrafts' surveillance and also in the daytime by staying within the forest under the trees.
Chairman Mao was wary of his foes inside China. He was wary of the growing Soviet empire on his northern border. And he was especially wary of Americans, who had backed his enemy in the civil war, and whose army was threatening his border in the fall of 1950.
Mao knew his military was far inferior to the American's in tanks, artillery and airpower. But he had taken the measure of MacArthur, and discerned a weakness. In early November, Mao sent small cadres of troops to attack all along the approaching American front. Then his men pulled back in what looked like a full retreat.
The Chinese hit hard. Then they just disappeared. There was… nothing out there anymore. MacArthur said, ''Full speed ahead,''again.
This became part of the strategy, which is to lure the Americans further into North Korea, have them penetrate deeply and then ultimately surround them. There's a certain shrewdness about Mao. He knows who he's dealing with. He knows that MacArthur is quite, quite arrogant. This is a strategy that plays into that arrogance.
The only way they could overwhelm us was with sheer force of numbers. The first wave would all have weapons. The second wave wouldn't all have weapons. They would pick up weapons of the first wave. And the third wave would be commissars with burp guns; nobody retreats.
While American fighter planes kept the Chinese pinned down, the engineers worked to finish construction of the airstrip, so pilots could fly in reinforcements and evacuate the wounded. Smith deployed almost every man at his disposal to defend
The vital airdrops ceased as darkness descended on Hagaru just before five o'clock on November 28th; the men dug in to hold East Hill could see the engineers, at work under floodlights, racing to finish the airstrip below. A light snow began to fall at around eight o'clock, and for the next few hours all was quiet but for the scrape and roar of the bulldozers below.
Just after 10:30, the calm broke.
After the Marines' regiments had gotten back from west of the reservoir and consolidated there, there was a lot of correspondents there too, TIME magazine, LIFE. They said, ''General, it's not like for Marines to retreat.''And General Smith told ‘em, ''Retreat, hell. We're just advancing to the rear.''
The Army units east of the Chosin Reservoir were still feeling forsaken; they were holding out against a force of Chinese that outnumbered them by as much as ten-to-one. ...
The First Marines had only one clear advantage in their fight south; the United States still controlled the skies. Air Force and Marine pilots from nearby Yonpo airfield and Navy pilots from carriers in the Sea of Japan were quick to answer calls from spotters on the ground.
But you are out there to do a job and if you don't do it, it's not only gonna get you killed, it's gonna get your whole outfit killed.
If the sun came out it brought the planes. No sun, no planes. And when there's no planes the Chinese were all over us.
That's the big thing about this Chosin Reservoir operation. We did so much close air support, and close is really close.
Occasionally they were so low that you could actually see the face of the, of the pilot through the, through the cockpit window, you know, the glass. It's amazing the, the courage those guys had coming down like that.
The serious stuff that we saw was napalm and that's a, a jellied gasoline. ... Napalm was a new device. It is very potent stuff, when that explodes it covers a big area and it can do a tremendous amount of damage.
You walked through an area where the napalm had hit the enemy and their bodies were burned, the skin split and you could see the yellow fat, and there were smells that to this day I… can't get rid of.
We got a call that, ''Doc, clear the deck. You've got multiple casualties coming in.''And here come over a period of about three days several hundred Army casualties, and many of ‘em had been out on the ice for two and three days. When they came in these men were frozen, literally frozen.
Smith bristled at the notion that this was a withdrawal or a retreat. There was no front. There was no rear. He was surrounded in all directions and therefore any movement in any direction is essentially an attack.
Everything was complicated by exposure to extreme cold. They had stopped bleeding because the area froze and as they thawed they started bleeding and we discovered four or five additional bullet holes. You did the best you could do and when you finished you moved on to the next patient.
The general was giving a speech to the defense industry inside the luxurious Waldorf Astoria on the other side of the world:
As the Marines at Hagaru braced for the next battle in their fight for survival, their head officer was in New York City, laying down a new marker in America's Cold War strategy. ''Idealism is fine,''the Marine Commandant told a defense industry gathering, ''but if we are to assume leadership in a free world, we must have armed forces to make our will felt wherever our interest is threatened.''
My boot was frozen so they had to chop the boot off. And when they cut the boot off, part of my toes had came off inside the boot and when, when they took the boot off, all the toes are gone. The tip my toes, gone. That's big toe, little toe and all through there, and two or three of ‘em was found inside, inside of that, that boot.
What the December 1950 crisis did was to convince the American people that they had to spend a lot more money and make a lot more sacrifices in a Cold War that had turned hot in Korea and might turn hot some place else. And as a result of that you had fundamental changes in, in American history. That built the national security state, built military bases abroad, a large standing army for the first time in US history. And all of that transpired in December 1950 courtesy of the Chinese intervention.
President Truman was preparing to declare a national state of emergency to galvanize the country in an effort to roll back what he called ''Communist Imperialism.''
We had to ''get strong fast,''said one of Truman's advisers, even if it meant giving up ''such things as refrigerators and television.''
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