Back to Korea Index

November 1950 - Meeting the Reds

At the beginning of November, the Chinese Reds had been hurled into the conflict just as the UN troops were entering the final phase of their drive to the Yalu River. On 8 November, the "Cacti" was in a position near the 38th parallel.

The Communists were being driven from North Korea as the United Nations Forces had swept through Pyonggang, and were rapidly advancing to the Yalu River, the International boundary between Korea and Manchuria. Meanwhile, Chinese Communist Forces were being rushed across the Yalu, and launched a sneak attack against the rapidly advancing "Liberators". A new, fresh army of invaders faced the United Nations Forces.

Again, the "Tropic Lightning" fighters were called upon to stop the invaders. A telephone message on 2 November alerted the division for immediate movement to Kaesong, preparatory to further movement north by organic transportation. As the troops assembled in this area, reports were received of the increased activity of bypassed enemy groups, and the men were employed to sweep and destroy the Red bands threatening the Eighth Army vital supply lines to the north.

A IX Corps order was received on 10 November, directing the movement of the Division to the Sunchon area for an offensive mission; however, the next day the move was delayed by Eighth Army, due to the critical supply situation in the north. The Division was to carry out the mission of mopping up and securing the Kaesong area. The Turkish Infantry Brigade and the 17th ROK Regiment were attached to join in combating the vigorous attacks of the guerilla bands. Well-organized and armed enemy units were met in the Ichon-Pyonggang area.

A telephone call from Eighth Army on 17 November, ordered movement without delay to an assembly area north of Pyonggang. The Turkish Brigade was to accompany the Division in the move, which was to be completed in five days.

With the cessation of Chinese attacks on 6 November, Walker and Almond (X Corps Commander) began planning to resume the offensive, both Walker and Almond planned to follow through with major offensives of all their forces beginning on 24 and 27 November, respectively.

In the west, Eighth Army began its offensive north from its positions along the Ch’ongch’on River, some fifty miles north of P’yongyang, on 24 November. Its initial objective was to reestablish contact with any remnant North Korean forces or Chinese volunteer units. The Eighth Army’s IX Corps with the 25th Infantry Division, 2d Infantry Division, and the Turkish Brigade were in the center of the line.

Elements of the United States 1st Corps, presently known as I US Corps, in the Division zone of responsibility, were relieved on 22 November; and "H-hour" for the all-out offensive, "The Yalu, then home! ", was announced at 1000 hours on 24 November 1950.

Task Force DOLVIN, an armored spearhead, pushed through the center of the zone, with the 24th and 35th RCT’s on its flanks, over the rough, frozen, and mountainous terrain. The initial attack advanced steadily against only light opposition. Important gains were made along the entire front, but as the attack progressed, enemy resistance stiffened. In order to strengthen the driving force, an infantry battalion was added to Task Force DOLVIN, thus forming the hard-hitting Task Force WILSON. The North Korean "People’s Army" had been defeated, and was being driven back into the river.

The I Corps attacked west and northwest toward Chongju and T’aech’on, while IX Corps (25TH Division) headed north toward Unsan, Onjong, and Huich’on. The ROK II Corps began moving toward the northeast and into the Taebaek Mountains on the Eighth Army’s right flank that separated Eighth Army from X Corps. All advancing units generally received only scattered small-arms fire, and in most instances they moved unopposed toward their objectives.

A few miles from Unsan, elements of the 25th Division discovered thirty U.S. soldiers missing since the 8th Cavalry’s battle with the Chinese weeks before. They had been captured and then released by the Chinese and suffered from wounds and frostbite, but they were alive. By 25 November all units were reporting that they had reached their objectives, although they also reported increasing enemy resistance and even some local counterattacks. However, optimism still prevailed. Eighth Army thus planned to resume its offensive in conjunction with the planned attack of X Corps in the east beginning on 27 November.

In a swift reversal of the fortunes of war, a sudden onslaught by overwhelming numbers of fresh Red Chinese troops, rushed into the conflict from the "Privileged Sanctuary" of Manchuria, beyond the Yalu, and drove back the Eighth Army troops along the entire fifty-mile front in northwestern Korea.

On the night of 25 November the Chinese struck Eighth Army again. Attacks also were pressed against the U.S. 25th Infantry Division to the 2d Division’s left, prompting a now-alerted U.S. command to cancel the advance planned for 26 November. Suddenly on the defensive, U.S. soldiers dug in and consolidated their positions while waiting for new Chinese attacks.

Eighth Army’s situation was complicated by the fact that the Chinese broke through elements of the ROK II Corps on the army’s right wing. They penetrated the ROK front in several places, establishing roadblocks to the rear of ROK units, cutting them off and creating panic. By noon on the 26th. the ROK II Corps front had folded, exposing Eighth Army’s entire flank.

Late on the twenty-sixth Chinese forces struck again on the Eighth Army’s right flank, with the goal of exploiting the collapse of the ROK II Corps while attempting to flank the entire Eighth Army from the east. The lightly armed Chinese troops quickly overran the positions. The violent attack was pressed without regard to losses. Thousands of assault troops were slain, but enough survived to capture the positions they stormed. Attacking heavily in the east and center sections of the UN line, the Chinese threw five field armies into the fight while sending another against the 24th Division to the west on a holding mission. Attacks against the ROK 1st Division drove that unit back and soon exposed the flanks of both the U.S. 24th and 25th Divisions. Only a rapid readjustment of forces plugged this gap and stabilized the situation by early evening on 27 November.

However, the situation was growing grim. By mid-afternoon on the 28th all U.S. and ROK units were in retreat. Attempts by the 2d Division to hold the line and by the 1st Cavalry Division and Turkish Brigade to restore Eighth Army’s right flank were in vain. Two Chinese Armies, the 42d and 38th, were pouring through the broken ROK lines to Eighth Army’s east and threatening to envelop the entire force. Walker’s only hope was to bring off a fighting withdrawal of his army deep behind the Ch’ongch’on River line, below the gathering Chinese thrust from the east. The 25th yielded ground to protect its exposed right flank, and to elude envelopment by massive Chinese Communist Forces. The military situation was grave but not disastrous.

The 35th Infantry became entangled in the withdrawal as well. In the days of 27-28 November, the Cacti lost more men then at any other time in Korea. Over 130 lost their lives or were captured.

"The immunity of the 35th Infantry on the night of 25-26 November and the day of 26 November from Chinese attack, when it was general elsewhere across the Eighth Army front, seems to have been intentional. Later intelligence disclosed that the 39th and 40th CCf armies were massed in assembly areas near Unsan and that the 35th Infantry was advancing straight toward them. The CCf 66th Army was concentrated just a few miles farther west. The Chinese hit the ROK 1st Division, just to the left of the 35th Infantry, and Task Force Dolvin just to the right of it, in strength on their first night of their 2nd phase offensive, 25-26 November. They could have done the same against the 35th Infantry, had they wanted. But with their attack forces advancing south of thc 35th Infantry on both its left and right flanks and with the 35th having no contact with friendly forces on either flank, the enemy envisioned a perfect trap for the unit as it advanced into the heart of their assembly areas. The regiment then could have been cut off in the heart of enemy-held country and surrounded. Fortunately, the 25th Division CP realized the danger facing the regiment and stopped it on the morning of 26 November."

"Beginning about 3p.m. on 27 November, Chinese assault troops drove in K and L Company outposts. The combat quickly became hand-to-hand in places, especially in K Company. Lieutenant Hinewood, a forward observer with K Company for the mortar company, had a fist fight with a Chinese soldier. Captain Hughes, K Company commander, stayed with his men two hours after being wounded. K Company held its lines against repeated enemy attacks and quickly sealed off one enemy penetration and subsequently restored its own position. An estimated two Chinese Regiments assaulted the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 35th Infantry during the night, withdrawing from the battle only with the coming of dawn. Alter daylight, a great many Chinese dead could be seen in front of the company perimeters. The dead were especially numerous in front of K Company. There were 374 counted enemy dead and an estimated 600 Chinese soldiers killed from the defensive fires and fighting of the 35th during the night. Six Chinese prisoners were captured, all from the 117 Division, 39th Army.

Brig. Gen. George B. Barth later stated that the stand of K Company in hurling back repeated Chinese attacks probably averted a major disaster. The Chinese attacks against it were persistent because that is where the Chinese command intended to open a penetration. More than a division of enemy troops, about 10,000, according to prisoner information, stood ready behind the assault teams to pour through the penetration into the rear of the 35th into the rear of the infantry lines if K company had broken. This large enemy force subsequently shifted westward and exploited a penetration of the ROK 1st Division lines during the day. Despite the heavy fighting during the night, thc casualties of L and K companies were not heavy - a tribute to good leadership, discipline and the professional use of weapons. (Roy E Appleman – Author)

These dates are significant in that it was our first meeting with the Chinese. We (the 35th Regiment) were on our way to the Yalu River to finish the war when the Chinks stepped in and spoiled the whole thing. I guess that they didn't realize that MacArthur had promised us a Victory parade in Tokyo by Christmas. Oh well!

The Chinese first let their presence be known to us late at night on the 27th of Nov. 1950. They hit our Company (K) with a Battalion sized attack, which lasted till dawn. We kicked their ass (I like to relish the term "kicked their ass" because for the next few weeks they kicked ours). In any case Capt Hughes was one of the few who were wounded that night (while he was busy earning the DSC).

On the 27th of Nov there were 47 CACTI KIA. These were overwhelmingly from the 1st Bn, mainly Baker Company. It is also interesting to note that there were 5 CACTI Combat Medics KIA that day.

The next day, the 28th, We started to pull back supposedly to straighten up the Division front. It was in the process of pulling back that the Chinese got all over us. They had set up blocking positions every few miles between where we were and the Ch’ongch’on River about 30 or so miles to the south. We basically had to fight our way out of this encirclement. We lost many good soldiers (KIA & MIA) during this battle. The 3rd Bn was the rear guard for the 35th Regiment and the regiment was rearguard for the 25th Division. There was no reserve, all troops were on the line (such as it was).

On the 28th there were 86 KIA. Mostly from the 3rd Bn (47) and of the 3rd Bn KIA's 20 were from my Company (King Co.). There were quite a few on both days wherein the Company was not designated, but I suspect many (at least on the 28th) were 3rd Bn troops. (Art Buckley – King Co 3rd Bn 35th Infantry Regiment)

It would have been during the above that PFC George Kessler was captured. My uncle, and namesake, PFC George E. Kessler, served with 3rd Battalion, Company K, 35th Infantry Regiment. Although the details are not well known, he was reported as captured on or about 28 November 1950. I believe this would have been near Munson (PRNK) along the Ch’ongch’on River at action close to Kunuri. My Uncle George never returned from captivity. Around 1955, an aunt told me she remembers a man came by the house and informed the family that PFC George E. Kessler got sick and died of appendicitis while in captivity. A few years later a body was shipped back to the family in Virginia but it was never really known if it was indeed my Uncle George. (CW3 George R Kessler, nephew)

The withdrawal of Eighth Army units was made more difficult by the thousands of fleeing Korean refugees who blocked the roads. In addition, the hordes of refugees gave excellent cover to Chinese and North Korean infiltrators, who often dressed in Korean clothing, went through U.S. checkpoints, and then turned and opened fire on the startled Americans. The tactics repeated those used by the North Koreans during the initial invasion of the South and were often equally effective. As in the summer, Eighth Army orders directed that refugees be diverted from main roads, escorted by South Korean police, and routed around allied defensive lines, although the strictures were often difficult to enforce.

Round-the-clock air attacks in close support of ground troops inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. The over-all situation continued to be critical, and I Corps ordered the 25th Division to occupy defensive positions on the south bank of the Ch’ongch’on River on 30 November.

The battles along the Ch’ongch’on River were a major defeat for the Eighth Army and a mortal blow to the hopes of MacArthur and others for the reunification of Korea by force of arms. Although not closely pursued by the Chinese, Walker decided that his army was in no shape to hold the Sukch’on–Sinch’ang-ni line and ordered a retreat farther south before his forces could be enveloped by fresh Chinese attacks.

Back to Korea Index

Cacti Home Page Main Index E-Mail Us