Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Medals Lost & Found, and a book review of A Hill Called White Horse

 This is the fourth of my Father-in-law’s reminiscences of his duty in the Korean War. My notes are in italics. The text below is his.




By MAT, 23rd Infantry, D Company


In May, 1953, I had earned the 36 points needed for rotation from Korea, and my reserve commitment of two years active duty was nearly over. I had spent time at Fort Benning, and Dix, and as most other new second lieutenants had, been flown over to FECOM; NY to the West Coast (Lawton). Then the 4,900-mile flight via chartered DC6 flight to Alaska, down the Aleutians to Tokyo (Drake), then by train and boat to Korea and on the 2nd Division, 23rd Inf Reg. as a replacement platoon leader. I expected to be returned to the States in the same expeditious manner.


When the time to go home finally came, I found out that the Army was using WWII troop ships to transport those headed east of the Mississippi River and home, a trip taking 42 days from Inchon to NYC.


Officers were assigned deck cabins, 9 to each, while the enlisted men were put in the hot hold of the ship. We made calls at Honolulu, Balboa (Panama Canal), San Juan and then to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.


Officers were allowed off ship at ports, but the enlisted men were not. On June 10, 1953 I was far out at sea on the good ship General Sturgis, a 522 ft troop transport which had been stamped out by Kaiser in 1944. It could only do 17 knots. I went to Camp Kilmer in NJ where I was discharged from active duty. A week or two later I received one of those big brown envelopes that orders came in. To my complete surprise, it contained a General Order (many copies as usual) and a certificate awarding me the Bronze Star Medal, but no medal was enclosed. It was soon forgotten in the quest for earning a living.


In the 1980’s there was a return to patriotism under the Ronald Reagan administration. I joined the local VFW where veterans wore medals when they marched in the Memorial Day parades. Reagan had made it possible for those who had been awarded medals but never received them to get them.


So, I made application. It was turned down because the GO had not been received in time to appear on my discharge from DD214, and I couldn’t find the brown envelope with a copy of the GO as proof. The matter was again forgotten.

In 1991 the envelope turned up at my parents’ house, so I had my DD214 amended, and finally did receive the medal in the mail.


In 1992 my son had it formally presented to me by his M.P. reserve company from New Haven, Connecticut which had just returned from active duty in the Gulf War, nearly 40 years after the award was made, June 23rd, 1953.

That’s my father-in-law’s story about his Bronze Star. Perhaps someday he’ll tell the tale of how it was earned on that hilltop in Korea. I’ve been interested since I met him in 1999. He recently sent me a book about the Battle of White Horse. He described his part in that battle in the second installment of his Korean War stories here. My review follows, dispensing with italics.


A Hill Called White Horse: book review


My father-in-law sent me a copy of this book, by Anthony Sobieski. The author’s father was an artilleryman in the Korean War. The book is based on interviews with US artillerymen who served with the ROK 9th Division during the battle of White Horse. Anyone considering rules for artillery and forward observers for their games would do well to read this one.


The battle gets very little coverage in English, since the 3-division Chinese attack fell mainly on the ROK troops and partly on the French battalion attached to the US 2nd Division. It was a hard fought 10 days. This book covers the first two days. It is written in current tense, with dialog and inner thoughts. I was uncertain about that but once the offensive started was swept up in the action. Most of it takes place in forward observers’ bunkers, with dirt shaking down from the roof when incoming artillery lands nearby.


HE (high explosive) and VT (variable time) rounds are called by the observers onto attacking Chinese formations, while the ROK troops bear up under Chinese attacks and barrages. Some of the forward observers have to fight with rifles and grenades. The cover of the book has a photo of an observer’s helmet that has entry and exit holes, taken after the fight.


I do have a beef with the book. Like many books these days, there was no proofreader. Spell check on word processing programs isn’t good enough. Words that sound alike but have different meanings appear, like you’re and your, quite and quiet, etc. I’m kind of fussy about that and find it irritating. Your mileage may vary. If you’re interested in the Korean War and/or US artillery operations, give this book a look. Now I’m trying to resist getting “Ten Days at White Horse”. My book shelves groan as it is.

EDIT: Haven't found a copy, so temptation won't be that strong.


A minor note: a fellow on a game forum said that the Chinese did not use any tanks in the Korean War, instead using SU-76 self-propelled artillery. If this is the case, I’m sure people in action against fully-tracked, armored fighting vehicles might be forgiven for thinking that enemy vehicles that looked, sounded and fired like tanks might be tanks. The North Koreans certainly started the war with a brigade of Soviet T-34/85 tanks. 

Darkest Star Games adds this: Saw your note at the end on Chinese tanks. Hads a look at this not that long ago and research shows that most of the 400 or so NK T34s were knocked out by early 1951. After that the tank burden fell on the Chinese T34-85s and Type 85s (same tank, later manufactured in China). Yes they were often used as mobile artillery, but they also clashed with Shermans and Pershings on mobile offensives, knocking out 30 some-odd UN tanks for a loss of 120ish. Difficult subject to research, let me tell ya...

                                                                A bunker in Korea

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Bed Check Charlie: night bombing biplane

The third of my father-in-law’s memories of his time commanding a platoon of 75mm recoilless rifles in 1952 Korea. The first post is here. The second post is here. My notes are in italic. What follows is an amazing tale of a low-tech threat at the dawn of the jet age.


Bed Check Charlie was the name given to North Korean pilots flying ancient design single-engine biplanes. A single plane would show up between midnight and 3:00 AM, flying by moonlight, very low at near stall speed, keeping well under radar. It followed the MLR (Main Line of Resistance) and dropped small explosives like hand grenades, artillery and mortar shells at random. The sputtering engine could be heard a long way off. The pilot sometimes shut the engine off and glided, only to restart with a loud roar much lower and closer.  His visits were completely random. He did not keep to any time or date schedule other than flying left to right, on moonlit nights. When finished, he returned directly to North Korea rather than retracing his route over the front line.


Our bunkers had thick log and sandbag roofs, plenty of protection from Charlie’s small explosives. Those on guard duty outside had plenty of time to take shelter in a trench or foxhole. For us, Bed Check Charlie was only part of the psychological warfare, along with blaring bugles and loudspeakers. He was a sleep disturbing nuisance.


Since my brushes with these night visitors, I have learned more about these flights. They were more than a nuisance in the rear echelon. Here they dropped small explosives on Seoul starting fires and killing a number of civilians. In Inchon they touched off a blaze that destroyed five million gallons of fuel. A lucky drop hit a triple A (Anti-Aircraft Artillery) gun position, killing the gunners and destroying a gun. The airplane most used by the North Koreans was the Russian-built Po-2. It was probably the only type used in my area along the front line. 

The Po-2 Polikarpov {the name of the designer, “Po” added to honor him} was a two-seat open cockpit Russian training plane built between 1928 and 1952. Top speed 93 mph, cruising speed under 70 mph, landing speed about 40mph.

Our interceptors were F-94 Starfire planes, early straight wing jets, which had a speed of 580 mph, lowest speed 160 mph. An F-94 flying at 110 mph did shoot one down, but also crashed after the kill. Other jets crashed into mountains trying to follow the slow biplanes at ground level. We tried transport planes dropping flares but they only blinded our pilots. Batteries of searchlights and anti-aircraft guns had little effect because they were flying so low. 

The Fifth Air Force borrowed four WWII Corsair F4U prop planes and crews from carriers in Task Force 77. These planes carried 6 .50 caliber wing mounted machine guns and could fly slow enough to engage the enemy planes. A Navy pilot from the carrier Princeton shot down five making him the first “Bed Check Charlie ace”, and the only Navy ace of the Korean War.


Eventually the airfield in North Korea was located. On the night of 3/4 July 1953, B-52 strikes dropping 500-pound bombs obliterated the runways. Most of the night raiders were destroyed on the ground by this and strafing Saber jets. That was the end of Bed Check Charlie flights.

 A month later, July 27, 1953, the Korean War armistice was signed, ending the shooting war.


Platoon Leader, Korea

Sept 1952-June 1953

And a late adittion to the above from my father-in-law (9/20/2022):

I can still hear his snorting and coughing engine flying at near stall speed along the front line. always on a dark night, between about 2:00 and 4:00 AM, First, from far away, then closer and louder, flying at about 100 feet or less.  It was overhead for only a few seconds, no time to get off a shot. Not worth getting out of a warm sleeping bag when it was near zero outside.


Some on guard or in the forward trenches took shots but I don't think they had time to do any damage to the plane and never brought one down.

Continuing from his previous article:

Some observations:

The Korean War was probably the last war to be fought by large armies facing each other on an open battlefield. Modern technology has changed tactics.


The Korean War was the first war fought with integrated US troops. D Company was about 10% Black soldiers. There was no difference in performance of duty or treatment. Also it was the first open fighting of the “Cold War”.


This war caused the rapid development of jet aircraft, to catch up with Russia.


Nearly all WWII weapons we used in Korea were replaced with lighter weight weapons with greater firepower. NATO metric calibers replaced .30-06, .45, etc.


Army organization changed to the more mobile army we now have.


Some reporters prefer to use the word “Conflict” rather than war. I don’t know if Congress ever actually declared war or not. For those of us who were directly involved, where 33,575 Americans were killed (including two of my college classmates) and over 100,000 were wounded, it can not be considered anything but a war. 


Congress has never declared war since WWII, but I agree it certainly was a war, rather than a “conflict” or “police action.” Likewise, Vietnam, our wars in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq were also wars, though of differing intensity.

More about the Po-2 can be found here. They even nailed some jets on the ground while bombing airfields. Soft targets in the rear were more vulnerable than the front line. Since the planes were mostly wood and fabric, they had a very small radar signature, low-tech stealth. The Russians had used these planes (with better bomb racks) against the Germans in WWII. One squadron of women pilots was dubbed the Night Witches by the Germans.

There have been a number of wars since where large armies have fought each other in the open field: the Indo-Pakistani wars, the Arab-Israeli wars, the Iraq-Iran war, Desert Storm and the invasion of Iraq. But the superpowers have not directly confronted each other.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Three Continental Regiments and their equipment, 1777


I recently visited the Saratoga National Historical Park, one day before the 244th Anniversary of the second battle, dubbed Bemis Heights. I rather think of it as 2nd Freeman’s Farm but no one else calls it that. It was a lovely visit even though the visitor center is closed due to Covid restrictions. There was a well-informed park ranger at the American headquarters who indicated all the points of interest that could be viewed from there. This has piqued my interest in the battle and a few more posts about it may arrive while I wait to see if my father-in-law has any more stories about his time in Korea to share. The park itself is quite lovely and has picnic tables, presentable enough to keep wives entertained.


The following data is from “The Battle of Hubbardton”, by John Williams, Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, 1988, reprinted 2002. If you can find a copy, get it. It used to be posted online. I got mine at the Hubbardton Battlefield visitor center back in 2002.

                            2nd New Hampshire, 1777

                        Green Mountain Boys (Hampshire Grants AKA Vermont) 1777













Cartridge boxes




Priming wires and brushes




Powder horns
























Cartridge boxes








Waist belts








Bayonet scabbards




















Cartridge boxes




Priming wires and brushes




Powder horns








State of Arms and Accoutrements of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment, Colonel Alexander Scammel



Return of Arms and Accoutrements of the Green Mountain Boys Regiment, Colonel Seth Warner

State of Arms and Accoutrements of the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment, Colonel Nathan Hale (not the one executed)


These reports were submitted at Ticonderoga, June 17, 1777

You will note that the two New Hampshire Continental units had enough bayonets while the Green Mountain Boys didn’t have many at all. Both the New Hampshire units had a dearth of priming wires and brushes, needed to clean clogged muskets. It seems they needed to share the few they had, so only a few at a time could clean fouled weapons. One would presume the British and German regulars had enough of such kit. Warner’s troops don’t even list priming wires and brushes, but then they seem deficient in much else too.

Rain would be a problem, since the distribution of cartridge boxes needed to keep ammo dry was erratic. That said, the Continentals would prefer to trade fire with the enemy rather than cross bayonets.  

Monday, October 11, 2021

Tales of the Korean War: Life on the Hill, Part II

The text below is from my father-in-law, who commanded a platoon of recoilless rifles in 1952. My notes and additions are in italic. See the previous entry on this blog for the first part of the story.

Here is what I sent to my class mates on 11/2005 who started a small newspaper PMC Vet Alumni.


Note: this story is from my personal observations from Alligator Jaws next to White Horse using powerful field glasses. Statistics come from 2nd Division HQ. details from my memory and letters I sent home.


Some of your readers or book writers may disagree with some points as seen from some other angle. If so, they may not have had a smoke screen between them in the valley and shells exploding around them during the mostly night battle.


I enclose a map print of this section of Chorwon River Valley. Note as follows:


1)   My six gun positions on Alligator Jaws and their field of fire.

2)  Sniper Ridge AKA Arrowhead or Hill 281 (defended by our attached French battalion).

3)   White Horse AKA Hill 395 (defended by ROK troops).

4)   T Bone, to the left of T Bone off the map is Old Baldy.

5)   Enemy trenches.


The enclosed copy of a section of a map was taken from my actual battlefield map complete with Korean dirt. Markings on it were made in October, 1952. Footnote on map source is interesting.

MAT 9/25/2021 (69 years later)

                        Chorwon Map, cleaned up some with Photoshop

                                                    Chorwon Map footnotes 

My first indoctrination to serious hostile fire in Korea came only a few days after reaching my assignment, the 75mm recoilless rifle platoon of D Company, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Division.


                                                Recoilless Rifle


Through very good intelligence, G-2 passed the word to expect a major attack in our sector, most likely the two hills on our right, Arrowhead (AKA Sniper Ridge), defended by our attached French battalion, and White Horse defended by the 9th ROK Division. A winding river in the valley flowed between the two hills, making reinforcement difficult.


On October 5th, 1952, the day before the attack, five truckloads of ammunition arrived and all firing restrictions were lifted. On the other side of the Chorwon Valley the Chinese positions were being pounded by our planes, F80 Shooting Stars (the first operational U.S. jet fighter but by then made obsolete by the MiG) and WWII Corsairs. All fired their six .50 cal. machineguns, five-inch rockets, and dropped bombs and napalm.


Almost daily until we were relieved on November 5th, small Piper Cub-size J-3 observation planes patrolled the valley spotting for our artillery far to the rear. Primitive two-seat Sikorsky helicopters were used to ferry generals on inspections, and as medical evacuation, using two outside mounted pods. Up until then I had little respect for rear echelon flyers, but that changed starting that day.



                                Troops of US 2nd Infantry Division


That night our hill came under heavy shelling from enemy positions in the hills. They used very large artillery pieces, tank, and mortar fire. (The Chinese had an 92mm mortar and a 51 cal. Machinegun, so they could use our captured ammunition, but we could not use theirs.) our phone wires to the rear were soon cut and our radio was nearly worthless. We stuck to our bunker on the reverse slope. About 10 PM I wanted to see if there was any sign of troops headed our way. I had been told that they usually attacked behind and in their own rolling barrage. I ran down the commo trench to our gun position on the crest of the hill (so the back blast had a place to go). It had overhead and side protection, open front and back. With my binoculars I could see long lines of dim lights of vehicles headed our way in the mountains behind the enemy positions. Also the strange bluish flicker of Chinese machineguns firing from the valley. (They had better flash-less and smokeless powder than our WWII leftovers.) It was a dark night, the valley lighted up with an eerie glow from artillery flashes from both sides. I could hear the clank of tanks in the valley.


The next morning, October 6th most of the hostile fire was shifted to the two hills on our right. Their bunkers were easy to see because each had a ring of cans and trash tossed over the bank in front. I saw several hit directly with very large shells, blowing them in all directions. 


The Chinese smoked the valley below us, between them and the two hills. During the next few days we fired on targets of opportunity using over 500 rounds. We got hits on suspected FO bunkers, a tank and groups of troops.


That night the Chinese tried ground attacks on both hills with company size troop units, advancing under their own smoke. Our transport planes appeared overhead and dropped parachute flares to light up the valley all night, except for brief periods of dark between drops. Our Division artillery had registered concentrations in front of both hills and kept up a steady barrage all night.


Using elements of two divisions, swarms of Chinese managed to penetrate the shelling, mine fields and wire to overrun the outposts on Arrowhead and into the lower, partly collapsed trenches where heavy fighting took place. The French took many casualties. They used all of their reserves, including administrative personnel from their battalion HQ. Our Division moved our Third Battalion into the valley near the river to prevent encirclement. The French mistook them for Chinese, and fired on them causing some casualties from friendly fire.


At one point eight enemy companies were seen massed for an attack on the ROK positions on White Horse. The ROKs were known to bug out, but in this case they did well. A seesaw battle lasted for two days in which they lost but recaptured the forward slopes several times. Their current lines were marked with large panels so our planes could work over the lost ground.


After the third day the Chinese withdrew, leaving pockets of troops cut off. Some prisoners were taken, mostly wounded. Some carried “safe conduct passes” dropped by the thousands from planes and artillery. All were hungry, and wanted smokes.



                                            Chinese prisoners


 A bitter cold snap followed, leaving frozen bodies hung up in the wire in front of the hills. It was a costly battle for both sides. The enemy lost over 3,000 men in the valley and more from earlier bombings. French and ROK losses were heavy. U.S. losses were 51 KIA and 348 WIA. Division artillery had fired 114,941 shells.


Things settled down after that, except for the constant random shelling of our positions. I found that many of the men had become fatalistic about their chances of being in the way of one. Others turned to religion. Each Sunday, they could attend a service at the bottom of our hill. It didn’t deem to matter what denomination.


My job was to walk about two miles of the line daily to visit my men. I had to mediate problems between them or the rifle platoons, check for targets and keep daily stats on personnel and ammunition fired. Each positions had to keep a guard at the gun and one at the sound power phone by day and night. Due to under-staffing, I usually took a shift at both jobs. My last two guns were on a higher hill behind me. It was an easy walk from there back to HQ, which was Company, Battalion and Regiment all in the same valley. There, I could get a shower and clothing exchange. I could also get a good meal at the officers club (a tent with better hot food and drinks). Then catch a ride back to the bottom of my hill, and the long steep path to the top, often after dark.


On November 5th, 1952 we were relieved and sent to a blocking position behind the French. The move took all day, getting the replacements in before we left. The Company left their tripods, base plates and aiming stakes in place for the new unit, and carried the heavy guns down the hill. It was 1 AM when we finally made it to the trucks. Our two extra guns were left on the hill as “sector property”. We moved in 13 jeeps, two ¾ ton trucks and a deuce-and-a-half, all in just barely running condition.


While in reserve I lost about a third of my platoon to rotation and got replacements to train. The Company got two new officer platoon leaders. One of our guns was very old and worn, serial number 66 making it one of the first in operation. That and another damaged one were replaced with new guns, full of cosmoline.


On November 28th we went back on line near “Old Baldy”. That move was also made in the middle of the night, with all insignia taped over. At sun up a loud speaker from the now much closer Chinese line said in English “Welcome back to the front line, 23rd Infantry”.


I asked two questions about the above piece.


Q: Was company D in the First Battalion?


Yes, Dog Company was the heavy weapons company of the first Battalion, 23 Inf Regiment, 2ND Division. The TO&E [Table of Organization and Equipment ] for a Heavy weapons Company was  four water cooled heavy machine guns, four 81 MM mortars and four 75 MM Recoilless rifles. We sometimes had six of each, and 1/3 under staffed.  There were three infantry rifle companies in the battalion. Also  an attached  company of UN troops. We had the French , all volunteers and very good fighting men. Another Battalion had a company from Turkey who had a reputation  of preferring to kill with a short sword they all carried instead of with a gun. The Chinese and North Koreans avoided the Turks, or so I was told.


Each platoon had some ROK [South Korean] troops mixed in. Most spoke little or no  English so the one who spoke the most English acted as an interpreter for the others . We talked to them in a pigeon language, a mix of Korean and English  words. "Huba Huba" - faster, "Chop Chop more skosh"  [we eat pretty soon] or just "Skoshy, [small , a little bit.].  Usually ending words with Y. [You likey soupy?] The ROK's  were paid less than $10.00 a month, which they sent home. 


One of my ROK's broke about 4 inches of his bayonet blade opening a case of C rations  [a case  had wire bindings]. He hid it so he would not have to pay for it, but another squealed on him. I exchanged his for a new one back at supply, no questions asked. 


Q: Did the bunkers on your hill not have the tell-tale cans and trash like the bunkers on Arrowhead?


No litter anywhere near US troop bunkers. We were very particular  about that. We had  five or six cases of C rations stacked up in a corner of the CP bunker. When we opened a case of boxes , we  ate what we liked  best, like spaghetti and meat sauce,  tossed out unopened cans of corn beef hash etc. We liked the desert, candy bar or can of fruit  Also in the box were a package of cigarettes. We kept our brand tossed out the "Old Golds, Philip Morris" etc. They were also for sale at 1$ a carton. We saved the  toilet paper from every box. All waste paper and cans went into a pit away from the bunker. The pit was  later burned  and buried. 


When off line, we slept in tents on cots. The officers had a "House Boy " , Kim. He was a North Korean who attached himself to our company during the see-saw fighting at the beginning of the war. His family had been killed by the North Koreans so he was loyal to us. He cleaned all of our rifles and pistols, kept our boots shined, made our beds and set up our tents while we got the big squad tents up.  He worked at night while we slept. Kim got no pay except for contributions from the officers.


North Koreans were not allowed into the ROK or US  army. Kim, taller than South Koreans,  was very smart, learned fast, would have made a good interpreter for G-2. [intelligence] .