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] . 


1 comment:

Shaun Travers said...

Thank for posting. Fascinating.