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Posted on Nov 25, 2005 in Front Page Features, War College

Chosin Reservoir ’50

By Wild Bill Wilder

The Supposed Last Offensive of 10th Corps

On November 25th, 1950, the war in Korea appeared to be almost over. General Douglas MacArthur had issued a declaration to the free world press that American soldiers would enjoy Christmas at home. Still riding on his surprising triumph at Inchon nearly two months earlier, the aging General believed himself invulnerable to defeat. He would end his career on a victorious note! Other military leaders, more in touch with actual events, were much less optimistic. The presence earlier in November of large numbers of Chinese troops was disturbing.

Even so, MacArthur and his staff were determined that threats of a possible expansion to the war would be ignored. They felt that it was a communist bluff and that with victorious United Nations forces moving toward the Yalu, no significant threat would materialize into something real. General Ned Almond, commander of 10th Corps on the eastern side of Korea, was going to push his forces very hard to get to the Yalu River, the natural border with Manchuria, without further delay.

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Two days prior to the massive Chinese envelopment around the Chosin Reservoir, plans for the last offensive had been suddenly altered. Instead of heading north to the Yalu, the First Marine Division would move to the northwest, filling in the gap between X Corps and Eighth Army, and enclosing the remnants of the North Korean Army and whatever "Chinese element" might be found.

The gap left in the line at that point with the Marine departure would be filled with Task Force MacLean, made up of assorted units of the 7th Infantry Division. The leader of this force was Colonel Allen MacLean. His forces included 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 31st Regiment, Lt. Colonel Don Faith’s 1st Battalion of the 32nd Regiment, the 57th and part of the 31st FABs (field artillery battalions), a number of AA vehicles, and the tanks of the US 31st Company. Their task was to control the eastern side of the reservoir and proceed north.

chosin3.jpg
U.S Marines take a short break near Yudam-ni before preparing to break out of the Chosin Reservoir perimeter on 29 November 1950.

The soldiers were shivering in the bitter cold. They wore long woolen underwear, two pairs of socks, a woolen shirt, woolen trousers, and cotton fatigues of top of all that. Then there were shoepacs, a pile jacket, a parka with a hood, and trigger finger mittens. Those that had scarves wore them under their steel helmets to keep their ears from freezing. Those that did not used towels or even newspaper to keep a little warmth on their heads. It was a most disagreeable situation for the GIs.

To add to their misery, in the darkness of November 27th, 1950, the entire Chinese 80th Division, designated to sweep around the Marines and cut them off, charged headlong into Colonel Faith’s Battalion. They struck first at A and B Companies, inflicting serious casualties. Probing the lines early in the evening, the troops fired, even though warned not to do so. Once the Chinese had pinpointed the enemy’s positions, they struck with deadly accuracy.

On the next day, Faith tried to regain the ground lost the previous night. Most of his officers were killed or wounded. He did regain one high point. There was no communication. The Chinese had cut the wires that connected Faith with Colonel MacLean’s headquarters.

chosin4.jpg
U.S. Marines fire at Communist Chinese troops near Chosin on 7 December 1950.

That same day, General Almond helicoptered up to Faith’s position and pulled three Silver Stars out of his pocket. He gave one to Colonel Faith and asked him to choose two other men to receive the others. Outraged, Faith grabbed a wounded officer and a mess sergeant and pinned the ribbons on the two bewildered men. After a cheery exhortation by the General that they faced only a few "Chinese laundrymen," and should not be stopped, Almond was in his helicopter and on his way. Enraged, Faith ripped the Silver Star from his parka and hurled it into a snow bank.

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2 Comments

  1. Looking for any info on Sgt. Chester L. Williams, RA33110506,B Battery,57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division.

  2. That’s a terrible story and I think it’s impossible not to blame Gen. Almond for not knowing how powerful the Chinese troops already were (what was doing his G-2 all this time?), and also for the unbelievable order to Col Faith to attack instead of retreating, even seeing by himself how desperate already was his position.

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