Korean War: Invasion Across the Parallel (3)

On 8 June 1950 the Pyongyang newspapers published a manifesto which the Central Committee of the United Democratic Patriotic Front had adopted the day before proclaiming as an objective a parliament to be elected in early August from North and South Korea and to meet in Seoul on 15 August, the fifth anniversary of the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule. It would appear from this manifesto that Premier Kim Il Sung and his Soviet advisers expected that all of Korea would be overrun, occupied, and “elections” held in time to establish a new government of a “united” Korea in Seoul by mid-August.

During the period 15-24 June the North Korean Command moved all Regular Army divisions to the close vicinity of the 38th Parallel, and deployed them along their respective planned lines of departure for the attack on South Korea. Some of these units came from the distant north. Altogether, approximately 80,000 men with their equipment joined those already along the Parallel. They succeeded in taking their positions for the assault without being detected. The attack units included 7 infantry divisions, 1 armored brigade, 1 separate infantry regiment, 1 motorcycle regiment, and 1 Border Constabulary brigade.

This force numbered approximately 90,000 men supported by 150 T34 tanks. General Chai Ung Jun commanded it. All the thrusts were to follow major roads. In an arc of forty miles stretching from Kaesong on the west to Chorwon on the east the North Koreans concentrated more than half their infantry and artillery and most of their tanks for a converging attack on Seoul. The main attack was to follow the Uijongbu Corridor, an ancient invasion route leading straight south to Seoul.

In preparation for the attack the chief of the NKPA Intelligence Section on 18 June issued Reconnaissance Order 1, in the Russian language, to the chief of staff of the N.K. 4th Division, requiring that information of enemy defensive positions guarding the approach to the Uijongbu Corridor be obtained and substantiated before the attack began. Similar orders bearing the same date, modified only to relate to the situation on their immediate front, were sent by the same officer to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th Divisions, the 12th Motorcycle Regiment, and the BC 3rd Brigade. No doubt such orders also went to the 5th Division and possibly other units.

On 22 June Major General Lee Kwon Mu, commanding the N.K. 4th Division, issued his operation order in the Korean language for the attack down the Uijongbu Corridor. He stated that the 1st Division on his right and the 3rd Division on his left would join in the attack leading to Seoul. Tanks and self-propelled artillery with engineer support were to lead it. Preparations were to be completed by midnight 23 June. After penetrating the South Korean defensive positions, the division was to advance to the Uijongbu-Seoul area. Other assault units apparently received their attack orders about the same time.

The North Korean attack units had arrived at their concentration points generally on 23 June and, by 24 June, were poised at their lines of departure for attack. Officers told their men that they were on maneuvers but most of the latter realized by 23-24 June that it was war.

Destined to bear the brunt of this impending attack were elements of four ROK divisions and a regiment stationed along the south side of the Parallel in their accustomed defensive border positions. They had no knowledge of the impending attack although they had made many predictions in the past that there would be one. As recently as 12 June the U.N. Commission in Korea had questioned officers of General Roberts’ KMAG staff concerning warnings the ROK Army had given of an imminent attack. A United States intelligence agency on 19 June had information pointing to North Korean preparation for an offensive, but it was not used for an estimate of the situation. The American officers did not think an attack was imminent. If one did come, they expected the South Koreans to repel it.

The South Koreans themselves did not share this optimism, pointing to the fighter planes, tanks, and superior artillery possessed by the North Koreans, and their numerically superior Army. In June 1950, before and immediately after the North Korean attack, several published articles based on interviews with KMAG officers reflect the opinion held apparently by General Roberts and most of his KMAG advisers that the ROK Army would be able to meet any test the North Korean Army might impose on it.

Invasion

Scattered but heavy rains fell along the 38th Parallel in the predawn darkness of Sunday, 25 June 1950. Farther south, at Seoul, the day dawned overcast but with only light occasional showers. The summer monsoon season had just begun. Rain—heavy rain—might be expected to sweep over the variously tinted green of the rice paddies and the barren gray-brown mountain slopes of South Korea during the coming weeks.

Along the dark, rain-soaked Parallel, North Korean artillery and mortars broke the early morning stillness. It was about 0400. The precise moment of opening enemy fire varied perhaps as much as an hour at different points across the width of the peninsula, but everywhere it signaled a co-ordinated attack from coast to coast. The sequence of attack seemed to progress from west to east, with the earliest attack striking the Ongjin Peninsula at approximately 0400.

The blow fell unexpectedly on the South Koreans. Many of the officers and some men, as well as many of the KMAG advisers, were in Seoul and other towns on weekend passes. And even though four divisions and one regiment were stationed near the border, only one regiment of each division and one battalion of the separate regiment were actually in the defensive positions at the Parallel. The remainder of these organizations were in reserve positions ten to thirty miles below the Parallel. Accordingly, the onslaught of the North Korea People’s Army struck a surprised garrison in thinly held defensive positions.

After the North Korean attack was well under way, the Pyongyang radio broadcast at 1100 an announcement that the North Korean Government had declared war against South Korea as a result of an invasion by South Korean puppet forces ordered by “the bandit traitor Syngman Rhee.” The broadcast said the North Korea People’s Army had struck back in self-defense and had begun a “righteous invasion.” Syngman Rhee, it stated, would be arrested and executed. Shortly after noon, at 1335, Premier Kim Il Sung, of North Korea, claimed in a radio broadcast that South Korea had rejected every North Korean proposal for peaceful unification, had attacked North Korea that morning in the area of Haeju above the Ongjin Peninsula, and would have to take the consequences of the North Korean counterattacks.

[NOTE 1-10CCA: Colonel Walter Greenwood, Jr., Statement of Events 0430, 25 June-1200, 28 June 1950, for Captain Robert K. Sawyer, with Ltr to Sawyer, 22 Feb 54. Colonel Greenwood was Deputy Chief of Staff, KMAG, June 1950. /\ GHQ FEC, Annual Narrative Historical Report, 1 Jan-31 Oct 50, p. 8; New York Times, June 25, 1950. That the North Korean Government actually made a declaration of war has never been verified.]

The North Korean attack against the Ongjin Peninsula on the west coast,northwest of Seoul, began about 0400 with a heavy artillery and mortar barrage and small arms fire delivered by the 14th Regiment of the N.K. 6th Division and the BC 3rd Brigade. The ground attack came half an hour later across the Parallel without armored support. It struck the positions held by a battalion of the ROK 17th Regiment commanded by Colonel Paik In Yup.

The first message from the vicinity of the Parallel received by the American Advisory Group in Seoul came by radio about 0600 from five advisers with the ROK 17th Regiment on the Ongjin Peninsula. They reported the regiment was under heavy attack and about to be overrun.15 Before 0900 another message came from them requesting air evacuation. Two KMAG aviators, Major Lloyd Swink and Lieutenant Frank Brown, volunteered to fly their L-5 planes from Seoul. They succeeded in bringing the five Americans out in a single trip.

The Ongjin Peninsula, cut off by water from the rest of South Korea, never had been considered defensible in case of a North Korean attack. Before the day ended, plans previously made were executed to evacuate the ROK 17th Regiment. Two LST’s from Inchon joined one already offshore, and on Monday, 26 June, they evacuated Colonel Paik In Yup and most of two battalions—in all about 1,750 men. The other battalion was completely lost in the early fighting. The 14th Regiment, 6th Division, turned over the Ongjin Peninsula area to security forces of the BC 3rd Brigade on the second day and immediately departed by way of Haeju and Kaesong to rejoin its division.

East of the Ongjin Peninsula, Kaesong, the ancient capital of Korea, lay two miles south of the Parallel on the main Seoul-Pyongyang highway and railroad. Two battalions of the 12th Regiment, ROK 1st Division, held positions just north of the town. The other battalion of the regiment was at Yonan, the center of a rich rice-growing area some twenty miles westward. The 13thRegiment held Korangpo-ri, fifteen air miles east of Kaesong above the Imjin River, and the river crossing below the city. The 11th Regiment, in reserve, and division headquarters were at Suisak, a small village and cantonment area a few miles north of Seoul. Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd H. Rockwell, senior adviser to the ROK 1st Division, and its youthful commander, Colonel Paik Sun Yup, had decided some time earlier that the only defense line the division could hold in case of attack was south of the Imjin River.

Songak-san (Hill 475), a mountain shaped like a capital T with its stem running east-west, dominated Kaesong which lay two miles to the south of it. The 38th Parallel ran almost exactly along the crest of Songak-san, which the North Koreans had long since seized and fortified. In Kaesong the northbound main rail line linking Seoul-Pyongyang-Manchuria turned west for six miles and then, short of the Yesong River, bent north again across the Parallel.

Captain Joseph R. Darrigo, assistant adviser to the ROK 12th Regiment, 1st Division, was the only American officer on the 38th Parallel the morning of 25 June. He occupied quarters in a house at the northeast edge of Kaesong, just below Songak-san. At daybreak, approximately 0500, Captain Darrigo awoke to the sound of artillery fire. Soon shell fragments and small arms fire were hitting his house. He jumped from bed, pulled on a pair of trousers, and, with shoes and shirt in hand, ran to the stairs where he was met by his Korean houseboy running up to awaken him. The two ran out of the house, jumped into Darrigo’s jeep, and drove south into Kaesong. They encountered no troops, but the volume of fire indicated an enemy attack. Darrigo decided to continue south on the Munsan-ni Road to the Imjin River.

At the circle in the center of Kaesong small arms fire fell near Darrigo’s jeep. Looking off to the west, Darrigo saw a startling sight—half a mile away, at the railroad station which was in plain view, North Korean soldiers were unloading from a train of perhaps fifteen cars. Some of these soldiers were already advancing toward the center of town. Darrigo estimated there were from two to three battalions, perhaps a regiment, of enemy troops on the train. The North Koreans obviously had relaid during the night previously pulled up track on their side of the Parallel and had now brought this force in behind the ROK’s north of Kaesong while their artillery barrage and other infantry attacked frontally from Songak-san. The 13th and 15th Regiments of the N.K. 6th Division delivered the attack on Kaesong.

Most of the ROK 12th Regiment troops at Kaesong and Yonan were killed or captured. Only two companies of the regiment escaped and reported to the division headquarters the next day. Kaesong was entirely in enemy hands by 0930. Darrigo, meanwhile, sped south out of Kaesong, reached the Imjin River safely, and crossed over to Munsan-ni.

[N1-20: Interv, author with Captain Joseph R. Darrigo, 5 Aug 53; Ltr, Major William E. Hamilton to author, 29 Jul 53. Major Hamilton on 25 June 1950 was adviser to the ROK 12th Regiment. He said several ROK officers of the 12th Regiment who had escaped from Kaesong, including the regimental commander with whom he had talked, confirmed Darrigo’s story of the North Korean entrance into Kaesong by train. See also, Ltr, Rockwell to author, 21 May 54; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 100 (N.K. 6th Div),p. 32; 24th Div G-3 Jnl, 25 Jun 50.]

Back in Seoul, Colonel Rockwell awakened shortly after daylight that Sunday morning to the sound of pounding on the door of his home in the American compound where he was spending the weekend. Colonel Paik and a few of his staff officers were outside. They told Rockwell of the attack at the Parallel. Paik phoned his headquarters and ordered the 11th Regiment and other units to move immediately to Munsan-ni–Korangpo-ri and occupy prearranged defensive positions. Colonel Rockwell and Colonel Paik then drove directly to Munsan-ni. The 11th Regiment moved rapidly and in good order from Suisak and took position on the left of the 13th Regiment, both thereby protecting the approaches to the Imjin bridge. There they engaged in bitter fighting, the 13th Regiment particularly distinguishing itself.

Upon making a reconnaissance of the situation at Munsan-ni, Colonel Rockwell and Colonel Paik agreed they should blow the bridge over the Imjin River according to prearranged plans and Paik gave the order to destroy it after the 12th Regiment had withdrawn across it. A large body of the enemy so closely followed the regiment in its withdrawal, however, that this order was not executed and the bridge fell intact to the enemy.

The N.K. 1stDivision and supporting tanks of the 105th Armored Brigade made the attack in the Munsan-ni–Korangpo-ri area. At first some ROK soldiers of the 13th Regiment engaged in suicide tactics, hurling themselves and the high explosives they carried under the tanks. Others approached the tanks with satchel or pole charges. Still others mounted tanks and tried desperately to open the hatches with hooks to drop grenades inside. These men volunteered for this duty. They destroyed a few tanks but most of them were killed, and volunteers for this duty soon became scarce.

[N1-23: Ltr, Rockwell to author, 21 May 54; Interv, author with Hausman, 12 Jan 52. Colonel Paik some days after the action gave Hausman an account of the Imjin River battle. Paik estimated that about ninety ROK soldiers gave their lives in attacks on enemy tanks.]

The ROK 1st Division held its positions at Korangp’o-ri for nearly three days and then, outflanked and threatened with being cut off by the enemy divisions in the Uijongbu Corridor, it withdrew toward the Han River.

On 28 June, American fighter planes, under orders to attack any organized body of troops north of the Han River, mistakenly strafed and rocketed the ROK 1st Division, killing and wounding many soldiers. After the planes left, Colonel Paik got some of his officers and men together and told them, “You did not think the Americans would help us. Now you know better.”

The main North Korean attack, meanwhile, had come down the Uijongbu Corridor timed to coincide with the general attacks elsewhere. It got under way about 0530 on 25 June and was delivered by the N.K. 4th and 3rd Infantry Divisions and tanks of the 105th Armored Brigade. This attack developed along two roads which converged at Uijongbu and from there led into Seoul. The N.K. 4th Division drove straight south toward Tongduchon-ni from the 38th Parallel near Yonchon. The N.K. 3rd Division came down the Kumhwa-Uijongbu-Seoul road, often called the Pochon Road, which angled into Uijongbu from the northeast. The 107th Tank Regiment of the 105th Armored Brigade with about forty T34 tanks supported the 4th Division; the 109th Tank Regiment with another forty tanks supported the 3rd Division on the Pochon Road.

Enemy Approach Routes Through Uijongbu Corridor.

The 1st Regiment of the ROK 7th Division, disposed along the Parallel, received the initial blows of the N.K. 3rd and 4th Divisions. In the early fighting it lost very heavily to enemy tanks and self-propelled guns. Behind it at Pochon on the eastern road was the 9th Regiment; behind it at Tongduch’on-ni on the western road was the 3rd Regiment. At 0830 a ROK officer at the front sent a radio message to the Minister of Defense in Seoul saying that the North Koreans in the vicinity of the Parallel were delivering a heavy artillery fire and a general attack, that they already had seized the contested points, and that he must have immediate reinforcements—that all ROK units were engaged. The strong armored columns made steady gains on both roads, and people in Uijongbu, twenty miles north of Seoul, could hear the artillery fire of the two converging columns before the day ended.

At midmorning reports came in to Seoul that Kimpo Airfield was under air attack. A short time later, two enemy Russian-built YAK fighter planes appeared over the city and strafed its main street. In the afternoon, enemy planes again appeared over Kimpo and Seoul.

Eastward across the peninsula, Chunchon, like Kaesong, lay almost on the Parallel. Chunchon was an important road center on the Pukhan River and the gateway to the best communication and transport net leading south through the mountains in the central part of Korea. The attacks thus far described had been carried out by elements of the N.K. I Corps. From Chunchon eastward the N.K. II Corps, with headquarters at Hwachon north of Chunchon, controlled the attack formations. The N.K. 2nd Division at Hwachon moved down to the border, replacing a Border Constabulary unit, and the N.K. 7th Division did likewise some miles farther eastward at Inje. The plan of attack was for the 2nd Division to capture Chunchon by the afternoon of the first day; the 7th Division was to drive directly for Hongchon, some miles below the Parallel.

The 7th Regiment of the ROK 6th Division guarded Chunchon, a beautiful town spread out below Peacock Mountain atop which stood a well-known shrine with red lacquered pillars. Another regiment was disposed eastward guarding the approaches to Hoengsong. The third regiment, in reserve, was with division headquarters at Wonju, forty-five miles south of the Parallel.

The two assault regiments of the N.K. 2nd Division attacked Chunchon early Sunday morning; the 6th Regiment advanced along the river road, while the 4th Regiment climbed over the mountains north of the city. From the outset, the ROK artillery was very effective and the enemy 6th Regiment met fierce resistance. Before the day ended, the 2nd Division’s reserve regiment, the 17th, joined in the attack. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas D. McPhail, adviser to the ROK 6th Division, proceeded to Chunchon from Wonju in the morning after he received word that the North Koreans had crossed the Parallel. Late in the day the ROK reserve regiment arrived from Wonju. A factor of importance in Chunchon’s defense was that no passes had been issued to ROK personnel and the positions there were fully manned when the attack came.

The battle for Chunchon was going against the North Koreans. From dug-in concrete pillboxes on the high ridge just north of the town the ROK 6th Division continued to repel the enemy attack. The failure of the N.K. 2nd Division to capture Chunchon the first day, as ordered, caused the N.K. II Corps to change the attack plans of the N.K. 7th Division. This division had started from the Inje area, 30 miles farther east, for Hongch’on, an important town southeast of Chunchon. The II Corps now diverted it to Chunchon, which it reached on the evening of 26 June. There the 7th Division immediately joined its forces with the 2nd Division in the battle for the city.

Apparently there were no enemy tanks in the Chunchon battle until the 7th Division arrived. The battle continued through the third day, 27 June. The defending ROK 6th Division finally withdrew southward on the 28th on orders after the front had collapsed on both sides of it. The North Koreans then entered Chunchon. Nine T34 tanks apparently led the main body into the town on the morning of 28 June.

The enemy 2nd Division suffered heavily in the battle for Chunchon; its casualty rate reportedly was more than 40 percent, the 6th Regiment alone having incurred more than 50 percent casualties. According to prisoners, ROK artillery fire caused most of the losses. ROK counterbattery fire also inflicted heavy losses on enemy artillery and supporting weapons, including destruction of 7 of the division’s 16 self-propelled SU-76-mm. guns, 2 45-mm. antitank guns, and several mortars of all types. The N.K. 7th Division likewise suffered considerable, but not heavy, casualties in the Chunchon battle. Immediately after the capture of Chunchon the 7th Division pressed on south toward Hongchon, while the N.K. 2nd Division turned west toward Seoul.

On the east coast across the high Taebaek Range from Inje, the last major concentration of North Korean troops awaited the attack hour. There the N.K. 5th Division, the 766th Independent Unit, and some guerrilla units were poised to cross the Parallel. On the south side of the border the 10th Regiment of the ROK 8th Division held defensive positions. The ROK division headquarters was at Kangnung, some fifteen miles down the coast; the division’s second regiment, the 21st, was stationed at Samchok, about twenty-five miles farther south. Only a small part of the 21st Regiment actually was at Samchok on 25 June, however, as two of its battalions were engaged in anti-guerrilla action southward in the Taebaek Mountains.

About 0500 Sunday morning, 25 June, Koreans awakened Major George D. Kessler, KMAG adviser to the 10th Regiment, at Samchok and told him a heavy North Korean attack was in progress at the 38th Parallel. Within a few minutes word came that enemy troops were landing at two points along the coast nearby, above and below Samchok. The commander of the 10th Regiment and Major Kessler got into a jeep and drove up the coast. From a hilltop they saw junks and sampans lying offshore and what looked like a battalion of troops milling about on the coastal road. They drove back south, and below Samchok they saw much the same scene. By the time the two officers returned to Samchok enemy craft were circling offshore there. ROK soldiers brought up their antitank guns and opened fire on the craft. Kessler saw two boats sink. A landing at Samchok itself did not take place. These landings in the Samchok area were by guerrillas in the approximate strength of 400 above and 600 below the town. Their mission was to spread inland into the mountainous eastern part of Korea.

Meanwhile, two battalions of the 766th Independent Unit had landed near Kangnung. Correlating their action with this landing, the N.K. 5th Division and remaining elements of the 766th Independent Unit crossed the Parallel with the 766th Independent Unit leading the attack southward down the coastal road.

[Note 3-37IT: AT1S Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 2 (Documentary Evidence of N.K. Aggression), pp. 46-50; Ibid., Issue 96 (N.K. 5th Div), p. 39; 24th Div G-3 Jnl, 25 Jun 50; DA Wkly Intel Rpt, Nr 72, 7 Jul 50, p. 18; KMAG G-2 Unit Hist, 25 Jun 50. According to North Korean Colonel Lee Hak Ku, the 17th Motorcycle Regiment also moved to Kangnung but the terrain prevented its employment in the attack. See ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 9 (N.K. Forces), pp. 158-74, Nr 1468.]

The American advisers to the ROK 8th Division assembled at Kangnung on 26 June and helped the division commander prepare withdrawal plans. The 10th Regiment was still delaying the enemy advance near the border. The plan agreed upon called for the 8th Division to withdraw inland across the Taebaek Range and establish contact with the ROK 6th Division, if possible, in the central mountain corridor, and then to move south toward Pusan by way of Tanyang Pass. The American advisers left Kangnung that night and drove southwest to Wonju where they found the command post of the ROK 6th Division.

On 28 June the commander of the 8th Division sent a radio message to the ROK Army Chief of Staff saying that it was impossible to defend Kangnung and giving the positions of the 10th and 21st Regiments. The ROK 8th Division successfully executed its withdrawal, begun on 27-28 June, bringing along its weapons and equipment.

 [NOTE 3-39IT: ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 3 (Enemy Documents), pp. 28, 45, file 25 Jun-9 Jul 50. On the 29th the 8th Division reported its strength as 6,135]

The ROK Counterattack at Uijongbu

By 0930 Sunday morning, 25 June, the ROK Army high command at Seoul had decided the North Koreans were engaged in a general offensive and not a repetition of many earlier “rice raids.”

Acting in accordance with plans previously prepared, it began moving reserves to the north of Seoul for a counterattack in the vital Uijongbu Corridor. The 2nd Division at Taejon was the first of the divisions distant from the Parallel to move toward the battle front. The first train with division headquarters and elements of the 5th Regiment left Taejon for Seoul at 1430, 25 June, accompanied by their American advisers. By dark, parts of the 5th Division were on their way north from Kwangju in southwest Korea. The 22nd Regiment, the 3rd Engineer Battalion, and the 57-mm. antitank company of the ROK 3rd Division also started north from Taegu that night.

During the 25th, Captain James W. Hausman, KMAG adviser with General Chae, ROK Army Chief of Staff, had accompanied the latter on two trips from Seoul to the Uijongbu area. General Chae, popularly known as the “fat boy,” weighed 245 pounds, and was about 5 feet 6 inches tall. General Chae’s plan, it developed, was to launch a counterattack in the Uijongbu Corridor the next morning with the 7th Division attacking on the left along the Tongduchon-ni road out of Uijongbu, and with the 2nd Division on the right on the Pochon road. In preparing for this, General Chae arranged to move the elements of the 7th Division defending the Pochon road west to the Tongduchon-ni road, concentrating that division there, and turn over to the 2nd Division the Pochon road sector. But the 2nd Division would only begin to arrive in the Uijongbu area during the night. It would be impossible to assemble and transport the main body of the division from Taejon, ninety miles below Seoul, to the front above Uijongbu and deploy it there by the next morning.

Brigadier General Lee Hyung Koon, commander of the 2nd Division, objected to Chae’s plan. It meant that he would have to attack piecemeal with small elements of his division. He wanted to defer the counterattack until he could get all, or the major part, of his division forward. Captain Hausman agreed with his view. But General Chae overruled these objections and ordered the attack for the morning of 26 June. The Capital Division at Seoul was not included in the counterattack plan because it was not considered tactical and had no artillery. It had served chiefly as a “spit and polish” organization, with its cavalry regiment acting as a “palace guard.”

Elements of the 7th Division which had stopped the N.K. 3rd Division at Pochon withdrew from there about midnight of 25 June. The next morning only the 2nd Division headquarters and the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 5th Regiment had arrived at Uijongbu.

During the first day, elements of the 7th Division near Tongduchon-ni on the left-hand road had fought well, considering the enemy superiority in men, armor, and artillery, and had inflicted rather heavy casualties on the 16th Regiment of the N.K. 4th Division. But despite losses the enemy pressed forward and had captured and passed through Tongduchon-ni by evening. On the morning of 26 June, therefore, the N.K. 4th Division with two regiments abreast and the N.K. 3rd Division also with two regiments abreast were above Uijongbu with strong armor elements, poised for the converging attack on it and the corridor to Seoul.

On the morning of 26 June Brigadier General Yu Jai Hyung, commanding the ROK 7th Division, launched his part of the counterattack against the N.K. 4th Division north of Uijongbu. At first the counterattack made progress. This early success apparently led the Seoul broadcast in the afternoon to state that the 7th Division had counterattacked, killed 1,580 enemy soldiers, destroyed 58 tanks, and destroyed or captured a miscellany of other weapons.

Not only did this report grossly exaggerate the success of the 7th Division, but it ignored the grave turn of events that already had taken place in front of the 2nd Division. The N.K. 3rd Division had withdrawn from the edge of Pochon during the night, but on the morning of the 26th resumed its advance and reentered Pochon unopposed. Its tank-led column continued southwest toward Uijongbu. General Lee of the ROK 2nd Division apparently believed a counterattack by his two battalions would be futile for he never launched his part of the scheduled counterattack. Visitors during the morning found him in his command post, doing nothing, surrounded by staff officers. His two battalions occupied defensive positions about two miles northeast of Uijongbu covering the Pochon road. There, these elements of the ROK 2nd Division at 0800 opened fire with artillery and small arms on approaching North Koreans. A long column of tanks led the enemy attack.

ROK artillery fired on the tanks, scoring some direct hits, but they were unharmed and, after halting momentarily, rumbled forward. This tank column passed through the ROK infantry positions and entered Uijongbu. Following behind the tanks, the enemy 7th Regiment engaged the ROK infantry. Threatened with encirclement, survivors of the ROK 2nd Division’s two battalions withdrew into the hills.45

This failure of the 2nd Division on the eastern, right hand, road into Uijongbu caused the 7th Division to abandon its own attack on the western road and to fall back below the town. By evening both the N.K. 3rd and 4th Divisions and their supporting tanks of the 105th Armored Brigade had entered Uijongbu. The failure of the 2nd Division above Uijongbu portended the gravest consequences. The ROK Army had at hand no other organized force that could materially affect the battle above Seoul.

General Lee explained later to Colonel William H. S. Wright that he did not attack on the morning of the 26th because his division had not yet closed and he was waiting for it to arrive. His orders had been to attack with the troops he had available. Quite obviously this attack could not have succeeded. The really fatal error had been General Chae’s plan of operation giving the 2nd Division responsibility for the Pochon road sector when it was quite apparent that it could not arrive in strength to meet that responsibility by the morning of 26 June.

The Fall of Seoul

The tactical situation for the ROK Army above Seoul was poor as evening fell on the second day, 26 June. Its 1st Division at Korangpo-ri was flanked by the enemy 1st Division immediately to the east and the 4th and 3rd Divisions at Uijongbu. Its 7th Division and elements of the 2nd, 5th, and Capital Divisions were fighting un-coordinated delaying actions in the vicinity of Uijongbu.

During the evening the Korean Government decided to move from Seoul to Taejon. Members of the South Korean National Assembly, however, after debate decided to remain in Seoul. That night the ROK Army headquarters apparently decided to leave Seoul. On the morning of the 27th the ROK Army headquarters left Seoul, going to Sihungni, about five miles south of Yongdungpo, without notifying Colonel Wright and the KMAG headquarters.

Ambassador Muccio and his staff left Seoul for Suwon just after 0900 on the 27th. Colonel Wright and KMAG then followed the ROK Army headquarters to Sihung-ni. There Colonel Wright persuaded General Chae to return to Seoul. Both the ROK Army headquarters and the KMAG headquarters were back in Seoul by 1800 27 June.48

The generally calm atmosphere that had pervaded the Seoul area during the first two days of the invasion disappeared on the third. The failure of the much discussed counterattack of the ROK 7th and 2nd Divisions and the continued advance of the North Korean columns upon Seoul became known to the populace of the city during 27 June, and refugees began crowding the roads. During this and the preceding day North Korean planes dropped leaflets on the city calling for surrender. Also, Marshal Choe Yong Gun, field commander of the North Korean invaders, broadcast by radio an appeal for surrender.49 The populace generally expected the city to fall during the night. By evening confusion took hold in Seoul.

A roadblock and demolition plan designed to slow an enemy advance had been prepared and rehearsed several times, but so great was the terror spread by the T34 tanks that “prepared demolitions were not blown, roadblocks were erected but not manned, and obstacles were not covered by fire.” But in one instance, Lieutenant Colonel Oum Hong Sup, Commandant of the ROK Engineer School, led a hastily improvised group that destroyed with demolitions and pole charges four North Korean tanks at a mined bridge on the Uijongbu-Seoul road. A serious handicap in trying to stop the enemy tanks was the lack of antitank mines in South Korea at the time of the invasion—only antipersonnel mines were available.

Before midnight, 27 June, the defenses of Seoul had all but fallen. The 9th Regiment, N.K. 3rd Division, was the first enemy unit to reach the city. Its leading troops arrived in the suburbs about 1930 but heavy fire forced them into temporary withdrawal. About 2300 one lone enemy tank and a platoon of infantry entered the Secret Gardens at Chang-Duk Palace in the northeast section of the city. Korean police managed to destroy the tank and kill or disperse the accompanying soldiers.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter W. Scott at midnight had taken over temporarily the G-3 adviser desk at the ROK Army headquarters. When reports came in of breaks in the line at the edge of Seoul he saw members of the ROK Army G-3 Section begin to fold their maps. Colonel Scott asked General Chae if he had ordered the headquarters to leave; the latter replied that he had not.

About midnight Colonel Wright ordered some of the KMAG officers to go to their quarters and get a little rest. One of these was Lieutenant Colonel Walter Greenwood, Jr., Deputy Chief of Staff, KMAG. Soon after he had gone to bed, according to Colonel Greenwood, Major George R. Sedberry, Jr., the G-3 adviser to the ROK Army, telephoned him that the South Koreans intended to blow the Han River bridges. Sedberry said that he was trying to persuade General Kim Paik Il, ROK Deputy Chief of Staff, to prevent the blowing of the bridges until troops, supplies, and equipment clogging the streets of Seoul could be removed to the south side of the river. There had been an earlier agreement between KMAG and General Chae that the bridges would not be blown until enemy tanks reached the street on which the ROK Army headquarters was located. Greenwood hurried to the ROK Army headquarters. There General Kim told him that the Vice Minister of Defense had ordered the blowing of the bridges at 0130 and they must be blown at once.55

Major General Chang Chang Kuk, ROK Army G-3 at the time, states that General Lee, commander of the 2nd Division, appeared at the ROK Army headquarters after midnight and, upon learning that the bridges were to be blown, pleaded with General Kim to delay it at least until his troops and their equipment, then in the city, could cross to the south side of the Han. It appears that earlier, General Chae, the Chief of Staff, over his protests had been placed in a jeep and sent south across the river. According to General Chang, General Chae wanted to stay in Seoul. But with Chae gone, General Kim was at this climactic moment the highest ranking officer at the ROK Army headquarters. After General Lee’s pleas, General Kim turned to General Chang and told him to drive to the river and stop the blowing of the bridge.

General Chang went outside, got into a jeep, and drove off toward the highway bridge, but he found the streets so congested with traffic, both wheeled and pedestrian, that he could make only slow progress. The nearest point from which he might expect to communicate with the demolition party on the south side of the river was a police box near the north end of the bridge. He says he had reached a point about 150 yards from the bridge when a great orange-colored light illumined the night sky. The accompanying deafening roar announced the blowing of the highway and three railroad bridges.

The gigantic explosions, which dropped two spans of the Han highway bridge into the water on the south side, were set off about 0215 with no warning to the military personnel and the civilian population crowding the bridges.

Two KMAG officers, Colonel Robert T. Hazlett and Captain Hausman, on their way to Suwon to establish communication with Tokyo, had just crossed the bridge when it blew up—Hausman said seven minutes after they crossed, Hazlett said five minutes. Hausman places the time of the explosion at 0215. Several other sources fix it approximately at the same time. Pedestrian and solid vehicular traffic, bumper to bumper, crowded all three lanes of the highway bridge. In Seoul the broad avenue leading up to the bridge was packed in all eight lanes with vehicles of all kinds, including army trucks and artillery pieces, as well as with marching soldiers and civilian pedestrians. The best informed American officers in Seoul at the time estimate that between 500 and 800 people were killed or drowned in the blowing of this bridge. Double this number probably were on that part of the bridge over water but which did not fall, and possibly as many as 4,000 people altogether were on the bridge if one includes the long causeway on the Seoul side of the river. Three American war correspondents—Burton Crane, Frank Gibney, and Keyes Beech—were just short of the blown section of the bridge when it went skyward. The blast shattered their jeep’s windshield. Crane and Gibney in the front seat received face and head cuts from the flying glass. Just ahead of them a truckload of ROK soldiers were all killed.

There was a great South Korean uproar later over the premature destruction of the Han River bridges, and a court of inquiry sat to fix the blame for the tragic event. A Korean army court martial fixed the responsibility and blame on the ROK Army Chief Engineer for the “manner” in which he had prepared the bridges for demolition, and he was summarily executed. Some American advisers in Korea at the time believed that General Chae ordered the bridges blown and that the Chief Engineer merely carried out his orders. General Chae denied that he had given the order. Others in a good position to ascertain all the facts available in the prevailing confusion believed that the Vice Minister of Defense ordered the blowing of the bridges. The statements attributed to General Kim support this view.

The utter disregard for the tactical situation, with the ROK Army still holding the enemy at the outskirts of the city, and the certain loss of thousands of soldiers and practically all the transport and heavy weapons if the bridges were destroyed, lends strong support to the view that the order was given by a ROK civilian official and not by a ROK Army officer.

Had the Han River bridges not been blown until the enemy actually approached them there would have been from at least six to eight hours longer in which to evacuate the bulk of the troops of three ROK divisions and at least a part of their transport, equipment, and heavy weapons to the south side of the Han. It is known that when the KMAG party crossed the Han River at 0600 on 28 June the fighting was still some distance from the river, and according to North Korean sources enemy troops did not occupy the center of the city until about noon. Their arrival at the river line necessarily must have been later.

The premature blowing of the bridges was a military catastrophe for the ROK Army. The main part of the army, still north of the river, lost nearly all its transport, most of its supplies, and many of its heavy weapons. Most of the troops that arrived south of the Han waded the river or crossed in small boats and rafts in disorganized groups. The disintegration of the ROK Army now set in with alarming speed.

ROK troops held the North Koreans at the edge of Seoul throughout the night of 27-28 June, and the North Koreans have given them credit for putting up a stubborn resistance. During the morning of the 28th, the North Korean attack forced the disorganized ROK defenders to withdraw, whereupon street fighting started in the city. Only small ROK units were still there. These delayed the entry of the N.K. 3rd Division into the center of Seoul until early afternoon. The 16th Regiment of the N.K. 4th Division entered the city about midafternoon.

[NOTE 3-59NK: Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), p. 44. GHQ FEC. History of the N.K. Army, p. 44, claims that the 18th Regiment, N.K. 4th Division, entered Seoul at 1130, 28 June. The Pyongyang radio broadcast that the North Korea People’s Army occupied Seoul at 0300, 28 June. See 24th Div G-2 Msg File, 28 Jun 50.]

One group of ROK soldiers in company strength dug in on South Mountain within the city and held out all day, but finally they reportedly were killed to the last man. At least a few North Korean tanks were destroyed or disabled in street fighting in Seoul. One captured North Korean tanker later told of seeing two knocked-out tanks in Seoul when he entered.

The two North Korean divisions completed the occupation of Seoul during the afternoon. Within the city an active fifth column met the North Korean troops and helped them round up remaining ROK troops, police, and South Korean government officials who had not escaped.

In the first four days of the invasion, during the drive on Seoul, the N.K. 3rd and 4th Divisions incurred about 1,500 casualties. Hardest hit was the 4th Division, which had fought the ROK 7th Division down to Uijongbu. It lost 219 killed, 761 wounded, and 132 missing in action for a total of 1,112 casualties.

In an order issued on 10 July, Kim Il Sung honored the N.K. 3rd and 4th Divisions for their capture of Seoul by conferring on them the honorary title, “Seoul Division.” The 105th Armored Brigade was raised by the same order to division status and received the same honorary title.

Of the various factors contributing to the quick defeat of the ROK Army, perhaps the most decisive was the shock of fighting tanks for the first time. The North Koreans had never used tanks in any of the numerous border incidents, although they had possessed them since late 1949. It was on 25 June, therefore, that the ROK soldier had his first experience with tanks. The ROK soldier not only lacked experience with tanks, he also lacked weapons that were effective against the T34 except his own handmade demolition charge used in close attack.

Seoul fell on the fourth day of the invasion. At the end of June, after six days, everything north of the Han River had been lost. On the morning of 29 June, General Yu Jai Hyung with about 1,200 men of the ROK 7th Division and four machine guns, all that was left of his division, defended the bridge sites from the south bank of the river. In the next day or two remnants of four South Korean divisions assembled on the south bank or were still infiltrating across the river. Colonel Paik brought the ROK 1st Division, now down to about 5,000 men, across the Han on 29 June in the vicinity of Kimpo Airfield, twelve air miles northwest of Seoul. He had to leave his artillery behind but his men brought out their small arms and most of their crew-served weapons.

Of 98,000 men in the ROK Army on 25 June the Army headquarters could account for only 22,000 south of the Han at the end of the month. When information came in a few days later about the 6th and 8th Divisions and more stragglers assembled south of the river, this figure increased to 54,000. But even this left 44,000 completely gone in the first week of war—killed, captured, or missing. Of all the divisions engaged in the initial fighting, only the 6th and 8th escaped with their organization, weapons, equipment, and transport relatively intact. Except for them, the ROK Army came out of; the initial disaster with little more than about 30 percent of its individual weapons

SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)

Korean War: United States – United Nations React (4)

Korean War: Armed Forces of North and South Korea 1950 (2)

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World War Two: North Africa (7-31) Allied Drive to Victory

The campaign in Tunisia moved during April to the opening of its final phase. At the beginning of the month, the enemy’s defense in southern Tunisia had collapsed. During the second week, he had gathered his forces in a compact sector in northeastern Tunisia behind a great arc extending from a point on the north coast east of Cap Serrat to Enfidaville and the Gulf of Hammamet on the southeast.

His forward positions extended over mountains and valleys, plains, and marshlands, at a distance of thirty or more miles from the ports of Bizerte and Tunis, the main Allied objectives. While the enemy was strengthening his line, the Allies also regrouped and reorganized, with a view to pushing the line back on the flanks and piercing it in the center, south of the Medjerda river. They were ready, by the third week of April, to launch the culminating offensive. The incentive to complete the campaign in northwestern Africa at the earliest possible moment was very great. The seizure of Sicily, which was next on the Allied schedule, had to be accomplished early in the summer if it were to leave time for an important sequel in1943.

The enemy’s bridgehead contained five major regions to which the Allies had to adjust their plans and operations: (1) that north of the Med jerda river; (2) that between the Medjerda and the Miliane river with its tributary, the Kebir river; (3) that from the MiHane and Kebir rivers to the foothills on the western edge of the coastal plain; (4) the coastal plain and the fiats at the base of the Cap Bon peninsula; and (5) the Cap Bon peninsula.

The first of the subdivisions is an almost rectangular area trending northeast-southwest, with Bizerte in the northeastern corner and Medjez el Bab at the southwest. Its western half is covered by hills and low, un-forested mountains except close to the seacoast between Cap Serrat on the west and Bizerte on the east. The hills defy all efforts to organize them into recognizable patterns but, in general, consist of a series of widely varying complexes in which a higher crest and neighboring hills form interlocking groups. Foremost among these complexes is the one including Djebel Tahent (Hill 609) near Sidi Nsir, from whose summit it is possible to see Mateur. Fingers of high ground project from the mountain area northeastward across the coastal plain, thus enclosing a section adjacent to Bizerte and separating it from a second and narrow area north of the Medjerda between Tebourba and the ocean. Two great shallow lakes, the Garaet Ichkeul and the Lac de Bizerte, southwest and south of Bizerte, confine all overland approach to the city to narrow belts between the shores and the hills. The Tine river runs northeast and north from sources south of Hill 609 to the plain near Mateur.

Access from this northern portion of the enemy’s bridgehead to that south of the Medjerda river is easiest via bridges at Med jez el Bab, El Bathan (near Tebourba ), Djedelda, and Protville nearest the river’s mouth. This second subdivision is narrower, and more nearly trapezoidal, with a western side running almost due south from Medjez el Bab to Djebel Mansour (678 ) and the Kebir river, and with the Medjerda on the northwest and the Miliane at the southeast converging somewhat as they approach the ocean. In this area the enemy had pushed an even shorter distance into the hills from the inland margin of the coastal plain. Of the two fingerlike extensions of lower hills projecting northeastward here, the one nearer the Medjerda had been the scene of the battles of Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, in defense of Medjez el Bab in early December. The other is a wedge narrowing from the Sebkret el Kourzia at its southwestern base to a point southeast of Massicault. Between these two fingers is the Goubellat plain, from which a force approaching Tunis could emerge onto the coastal plain by passing through an opening northwest of Ksar Tyr. The principal road from the west to Tunis crosses the Medjerda river at Medjez el Bab to enter this second subdivision of the bridgehead, continues generally east through a gap in the northern series of hills, and swings northeastward through Massicault to Tunis.

Another road passes through Pont-du-Fahs, on the southern edge of the area, and along the Miliane river to Tunis. From the Bou Arada valley west of Pont-du-Fahs, an easy approach to Tunis requires a route either through Pont-du-Fahs or over the Goubellat plain, routes that in each case arrive at the broad coastal plain from a slightly higher area after passing through relatively narrow outlets. Tunis itself is in this region, and is ringed closely on the north and west, and at a greater distance on the south and southeast, by a series of low hills. The city lies between the western edge of EI Bahira lake and the northeastern rim of the still shallower Sebkret es Sed joumi.

The relatively long and narrow third subdivision of the enemy’s bridgehead, that between the Miliane river and the coastal plain on the Gulf of Hammamet, includes a segment of the higher mountains which stretch across Tunisia northeasterly as far as Cap Bon. Here the enemy’s forward line in April continued southeast from Djebel Mansour, crossed the Kebir river, and turned northeastward, after circling Djebel Chirich (717), into the hills which formed the enemy’s Enfidaville position. The mountains in this subdivision are divided into two major sections by an east-west valley at the northern edge of Djebel Zarhouan (1295), along which runs a road connecting the Miliane valley road net with the coastal highway at Bou Ficha. The mountainous section north of this transverse valley is further divided into an eastern and a western segment by a valley and north-south road between Tunis and Ste. Marie-du-Zit. Here was an area which offered opportunity for a long-drawn out defense and which contained valuable routes that could be used to shift strength quickly to effective points for counterattack.

The coastal plain at the southeastern limit of the enemy’s forward line narrows to a ribbon of flatland adjacent to the Gulf of Hammamet as the foothills on the west jut eastward near Djebibina and Takrouna toward the shore. Enfidaville is a road center at the southern end of this ribbon. Although the coastal plain throws out an arm toward Zarhouan west of Bou Ficha, it remains narrowly confined as it extends northeastward. Near Hammamet it merges with the triangular-shaped flats at the base of the Cap Bon peninsula, and on the other side of these flats, narrows to the very limited shelf near Hammam Lif, where the distance between steep heights and the surf of the Golfe de Tunis is only a few hundred yards. The coastal plain is thus readily defensible against an armored force by troops possessing the heights and equipped with appropriate weapons.

Cap Bon is at the northeastern tip of a peninsula approximately fifty miles long and from fifteen to twenty-five miles wide. A ridge extending from Hammamet to Cap Bon falls away in a great series of shoulders and gullies to coastal lowlands and, except near the base, confines the roads to a loop around the outer edge. The peninsula has no sheltered ports of any consequence, but its long coast line has many stretches of beach and several small ports which could be used for the reinforcement, supply, or the evacuation of troops by small craft. The Allies were alert in April to the possibility that the Cap Bon peninsula might be used as the site of a last-ditch, Bataan-like defense which could drag out the operations in Tunisia and disrupt preparations to seize Sicily.

The Allied Plan of Attack

Allied plans for the attack were under consideration at the highest levels of command even before operations in southern and south central Tunisia were at full scale. General Alexander’s thorniest problems were to determine the axis of main attack and the mission for U.S. II Corps. He had retained General Anderson in command of British First Army, to whose operations he himself gave close personal attention, and he decided to follow General Eisenhower’s suggestion that the chief effort be made toward the east through First Army’s sector.

Allied concentration and preparation there could be completed sooner, and subsequent maintenance would be easier. First Army, which may have felt that its hard fighting had not been properly recognized by the general public, would thus have its chance to gain renown. But what would be done with II Corps? “I desire that you make a real effort to use the II U.S. Corps right up to the bitter end of the campaign, even if maintenance reasons compel it to be stripped down eventually to a total of two divisions and supporting Corps troops,” wrote the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, at the same time that he suggested a major role for First Army. It should be given a mission, he prescribed, which would keep it committed aggressively. If any Allied sector was to be narrowed or pinched out by the northward progress of Eighth Army and the eastward drive by First Army, the best interests of the Allied military effort required that the sector not be that of the U.S. II Corps. That force must be used fully until the enemy capitulated, both in order to furnish experience which would be devoted subsequently to training the only great body of Allied reserves-that being organized in the U.S. and to serve the needs of American morale.

In conformity with these suggestions, General Alexander’s staff drafted plans by 8 April which included provision for a II Corps zone at the northern flank of the Allied front. The Combined Chiefs of Staff approved the project on 9 April, and on the next day the plans were back in General Alexander’s hands with instructions to execute them. He then issued preliminary instructions to the commanders of British First Army and Eighth Army. He directed Anderson to prepare to make the main attack about 22 April.

He instructed Montgomery, who had requested on 11 April the immediate transfer of the British 6th Armoured Division to his operational command, that the Eighth Army was to conduct a subsidiary operation rather than to attempt a sudden piercing of the Enfidaville position, and that Montgomery was to release an armored division and an armored car brigade to strengthen First Army’s attack.

On 12 April, discussing with General Alexander the role of II Corps, General Patton objected to a proposal that II Corps, which had operated since 8 March directly under 18 Army Group, should be subordinated once more to British First Army.

On 14 April, General Eisenhower flew to Haidra to confer with Generals Alexander, Anderson, Patton, and Bradley on the plans, and in particular on the arrangements respecting II Corps. British 9 Corps’ attribution of the blame for failure at Fondouk el Aouareb to inferior performance by the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, the low regard in which General Alexander and some of his staff held the U.S. 1st Armored Division, and the reluctance of Alexander’s logistical advisers to see the Allied line of supply in the north burdened by the requirements of a full four-division American corps, were all factors which had led Alexander to reconsider the subject of fully using American troops under American command during the next phase of the Tunisian campaign. At the insistence of the Americans, he assented to these arrangements.

On 16 April, 18 Army Group issued the final plan. The Allied operations were intended to tighten the cordon around the enemy, to drive a wedge dividing the portion of his bridgehead adjacent to Tunis from that near Bizerte, to seal off the Cap Bon peninsula, and to overwhelm first the defenders of Tunis and next the defenders of Bizerte. A program to strangle the Axis line of supply was ready as well as another operation to forestall the evacuation of substantial forces to Sicily or Italy.

Alexander directed Eighth Army to exert continuous pressure on its front, and to advance on the axis Enfidaville-Hammamet Tunis in order to bar access to the Cap Bon peninsula. First Army was to capture Tunis, then aid U.S. II Corps in capturing Bizerte, and be prepared to aid the Eighth Army if the enemy should succeed in withdrawing onto the Cap Bon peninsula. British Eighth Army prepared to attack.

The II Corps was to remain under 18 Army Group but with First Army authorized to issue directly the orders necessary for co-ordinating the corps’ operations with those of First Army. In effect, First Army commanded II Corps in the name of the army group, but the Commanding General, II Corps, was free to bring any matter of serious disagreement to Alexander for decision. Enfidaville line on the night of 19-20 April, an operation timed to draw enemy reinforcements to that portion of the front, where they were to be held by continued pressure.

West of the Eighth Army, at the southwestern corner of the enemy’s bridgehead, British First Army had directed the French XIX Corps to attack on the axis Rebaa Oulad Yahia~Pont-du-Fahs in order to reopen the road and make possible progress toward Zarhouan. This mission involved the clearing of Djebel Chirich and Djebel Fkirine (988) on the south side of the road and Djebel Mansour on the north side of the road, an effort which was to be started only after the attack on each flank had reached a suitable stage.

British 9 Corps was to mount its attack from an area southwest of Bou Arada, with its objective the high ground adjacent to the Sebkret el Kourzia, northwest of Pontdu-Fahs. From this point 9 Corps could threaten the main highway between Pontdu-Fahs and Tunis, and could also assist British 5 Corps.

British 5 Corps was to make the main effort. It was first to regain Longstop Hill and “Peter’s Corner” (southeast of Medjez el Bab on the Medjez el Bab-Massicault highway; see Map VII) and next to gain the high ground between El Bathan and Massicault. The attacks by British 9 and 5 Corps were both to be launched on 22 April, the former at daybreak and the latter shortly after dark.

On the northern flank, the U.S. II Corps was expected to advance eastward from Bab ja to Chouigui, and at the same time, nearer the northern coast, to expel the enemy from Bald and Green Hills (known as the Djefna position) and gain control of high ground dominating a road junction northwest of Garaet Ichkeul.

An elaborate Allied air forces’ program to choke off the air supply line from Italy became effective during the planning. Known as Operation FLAX and postponed for various reasons since February, it began as the enemy came under attack in the Chott Position on 5 April. Two Allied flights struck formations of enemy transports en route to Tunisia over the Sicilian straits early that morning, while a little later B-17’s hit the Bizerte and Tunis airdromes in an effort to catch those transports which got through. Other bombers went to Sicily to destroy any transport aircraft which might be staging there in a second flight en route from Italy to Tunisia. Fighter sweeps contributed to the whole operation, which may have destroyed as many as 161 aircraft on the ground and 40 in the air.

[NOTE 31-4NA: First Army Opn Instruc 37, 19 Apr 43, copy in II Corps AAR, 15 May 43. The order of battle for British First Army and U.S. II Corps was given as follows: U.S. II Corps; British 5 Corps; British 9 Corps;1st Armored Division (less 1st Armored Regiment); 1st Infantry Division; 9th Infantry Division; 34th Infantry Division; Corps Franc d’Afrique (three battalions); 1st Infantry Division; 4th Infantry Division; 78th Infantry Division; 25th Tank Brigade (less 51st Royal Tank Regiment); 1st Armoured Division; 6th Armoured Division; 46th Infantry Division; 51st Royal Tank Regiment; French XIX Corps; Moroccan Division; Algiers Division; Oran Division; Tank Battalion (Valentines and Somuas); 18th King’s Dragoon Guards; ]

The Western Desert Air Force soon afterward occupied bases from which its fighters could operate over the Golfe de Tunis and join in intercepting enemy air transports. On 18 April, five squadrons intercepted a mixed and scattered formation of Junkers 52’s and Messerschmitt 323’s at a very low altitude and already in sight of the coast, and striking from the right rear, destroyed thirty-eight of them.” Next day, a smaller success was achieved, and as the ground offensive began on 22 April, thirty-nine more enemy transports were intercepted and destroyed. Some burst into flames as if carrying cargoes of gasoline. Thereafter, the enemy limited his air supply route to night operations and to individual rather than formation flights.’ Allied night fighters interfered with that method, too. The Enemy’s Plans and Regrouping However desperate the Axis position might seem after the loss of the Chott Position, Hitler did not budge from his determination to hold on.

On 8 April he had to confront Mussolini, now deeply concerned about the expected Allied invasion of Italy, when the Duce arrived at Schloss Klessheim, with an Italian delegation, for the annual conference of the Axis partners. As in previous discussions with Gӧring and Ciano, Mussolini pleaded that Germany come to terms with the USSR and turn all its energies against the Allies in the Mediterranean. His plan for preventing the Allied invasion of the European mainland was to hold in Tunisia and fall on the Allied forces from the rear by attacking through Spain and Spanish Morocco and seizing the Balearic Islands.

Hitler was interested only in holding in Tunisia. The conflict with the Soviets admitted of no compromise, and even if forces were available a move through Spain or a seizure of the Balearics would arouse the Spaniards to stubborn, unending resistance. The Axis could hold Tunisia indefinitely, and as long as the Allies were kept fighting there, they could not undertake other largescale operations; Italy, Sicily, and the French Mediterranean coast were therefore in no immediate danger. In any case, the best Axis troops were in Tunisia and their evacuation was impossible. Mussolini had to be satisfied with the old assurance that Italy and Germany would stand or fall together. Hitler even induced him, in exchange for renewed promises of reinforcements, to agree to having the Italian cruisers and destroyers still in action used to transport men and materials to Tunisia-an agreement from which Mussolini began to retreat as soon as he reached the soberer atmosphere of his own headquarters in Rome.

The Duce, conferring with Kesselring on 12 April after he got back from Germany, reiterated that the Axis had to get sufficient men, ammunition, replacement parts, and fuel to Tunisia without delay. We have to hold [he said] …. We can hold out two months. We must create a system of defense with one line behind another in depth . . . . I am convinced that the Americans will do nothing [elsewhere] before having settled the Tunisian problem. Only then will they eventually attack Sardinia, Sicily, Crete, etc. If we succeed in shifting the start of these attacks, we shall see that in the short time remaining before winter, they will do nothing . . . . Everything can happen if we persist, and therefore we shall hold.

Army Group Africa prepared to hold out in conformity with the decision of the two Axis political leaders. All men in Tunisia were to be used either to fight or to construct field fortifications. Troops of the rear were placed under the general control of Headquarters, Fifth Panzer Army, and were to be assembled in units of 500 under command of energetic officers for commitment as needed. Motor vehicles were organized in transport columns of fifty-ton capacity and held at the disposal of the army group. The primitive Enfidaville line was to be developed in depth. Coastal defense as well as retention of interior sectors became the responsibility of the two Axis armies. After the front was firmly established, with German and Italian battalions interspersed, and with all Axis tanks and at least two armored divisions available for a mobile reserve, the armored forces were to be placed under the control of Headquarters, German Africa Corps. Italian tanks would pass to Division Centauro, which would in turn be attached to a German armored division.

Kesselring reported to Mussolini on the situation in Tunisia on 17 April, directly after making his last personal visit there. The Axis line had been rendered satisfactory, he said, in all but two points: at Medjez el Bab and on the coastal plain near Enfidaville. Here General von Arnim was withdrawing the main line to stronger and more favorable positions and, while preparing a second line, was already planning a third. Axis reserves were being flown to Tunisia at a daily rate expected to average from 1,800 to 2,000 men, after a week in which air transports brought in 4,000, while destroyer-transports brought others at a slower rate. He would hold in Italy a pool of about 12,000 from which to draw.

On 20 April, as a birthday gift to the Führer, he planned to make an attack, despite some materiel shortages, especially in fuel. Allied aviation was ominously quiet but Allied airfields were being kept under close surveillance and were about to be subjected to Axis attacks. Although Allied tank strength was still greatest on the coastal plain in the southwest, Kesselring expected much of the British armor to be shifted to the north before the Allied attack began.

The enemy’s forward line was under steady and sometimes overwhelming Allied pressure as the main offensive was being prepared. At the northern end, the British 46th Division forced Division von Manteuffel to give ground so that when the U.S. 9th Infantry Division took over the British positions at 1800, 14 April, most of the area gained by Axis attacks since 26 February had already been recovered by the British.

Just before the Allied attacks began on 19 April, that portion of the Axis front ran, therefore, from a cape north of Djebel Dardyss (294) through the Djefna position to the vicinity of Sidi Nsir. The 334th Division (Korpsgruppe Weber) had successfully withstood the attacks of the British 4th Division toward Sidi Nsir and the hills south of it, but after stubborn defense northwest and north of Medjez el Bab, was pushed back from the crest of Djebel Bech Chekaoui (667) and neighboring heights. From these bold ridges Allied observers could keep “Longstop Hill” (290) under surveillance and see over it to the Med jerda river plain beyond.

East of Medjez el Bab and south of the main highway to Tunis, the Hermann Gӧring Division (-) held a section of the front extending to Djebel Mansour, in contact there with the right flank of the German Africa Corps. After the withdrawal into the Enfidaville Position, this corps had assumed command of the zone between the Fifth Panzer and Italian First Armies with the Superga, 10th Panzer and 21st Panzer Divisions, and the remaining Italian troops of the XXX Corps and 50th Special Brigade. Starting on 21 April the armored and mobile elements of the panzer divisions were gradually withdrawn from this sector which was mountainous. The 10th Panzer Division (-) was initially moved to the Medjerda plain west of Tunis to serve as mobile Fifth Panzer Army reserve against the expected Allied thrust against Tunis.

[N31-12AK: (I) Maps, Lage Nordafrika (1 :500,000) GenStdH/ Op Abt IIIb, Pruef Nr. 19457 and 19629,18, 19 Apr 43. (2) Daily Rpts, Army Group Africa to OKH/GenStdH/Op Abt, 19-21 Apr 43, in OKH/GenStdH/Op Abt, Tagesmeldungen H. Gr. Afrika vom l.lV.-12.v.43 (cited hereafter as Army Group Africa, Sit reps ). (3) Contemporary estimate at AFHQ of these units was as follows: Division von Manteuffel, 4,500; 334th Division, 9,450 ; Hermann Gӧring Division, 10,000; 10th Panzer Division, 10,000. Units of the 999th Division, part of which was used to reinforce Division von Manteuffel, 5,800.]

The southeastern portion of the bridgehead was defended by Italian First Army, with XXI and XX Corps headquarters. The Spezia Division was farthest inland, then the 164th Light Africa Division, and on hills farther east, the Pistoia, Young Fascists, and Trieste Divisions. On the coastal plain was the 90th Light Africa Division, with the 15th Panzer Division under Army Group Africa’s control in a second, supporting position southeast of Zarhouan. The remnants of the Luftwaffe Parachute Brigade, now commanded by a Major von der Heydte, the 19th Flak Division, and Division Centauro were used to strengthen this part of the bridgehead’s defense. German elements of Italian First Army were controlled through General Bayerlein. A Bizerte Coast Defense Command under General Kurt Bassenge of the 20th Flak Division furnished small units used in the northern sector but was principally concerned with operation of the coastal and antiaircraft guns used to defend that port and its neighboring airfield. The Tunis Coast Defense Command had similar duties.

Allied Regrouping

Allied regrouping along the new line involved the transfer of a considerable force from the British Eighth Army on the coastal plain near Kairouan to the zone of British 9 Corps east of Le Kef, and the shifting of over 90,000 men of the U.S. II Corps from south central Tunisia to a new zone northeast of Bedja. Since it had been in prospect for nearly a month the movement by U.S. Strength of the German units was estimated, 18 April, to be as follows: 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions, 5,600 each; 90th Light Africa Division, 6,000; 164th Light Africa Division, 3,000; 19th and 20th Flak Divisions, 13,000 ; Marseh Battalions, 14,930.

9th Infantry Division to the northern end of the line of commitment under British 5 Corps was accomplished as soon as the fighting near El Guettar had ceased. The division moved northward in eastern Algeria along the main road between Tebessa and Souk Ahras, and thence northeastward through the cork forest near Tabarka and the village of Djebel Abiod to the hills near Sedjenane. The 47th Infantry Regiment began relieving elements of the British 46th Division on the night of 12-13 April. The decision to install the whole U.S. II Corps in that part of the Allied front was reached later and less firmly, so that planning and preparations to move it were more hurried. To regulate the heavy transverse movement of II Corps across the very active east-west supply routes of First Army, and to shift British armored troops from the east coast through the II Corps area to that of British 9 Corps, required a high degree of co-ordination between staffs of II Corps and of First Army. Most of the mileage covered by II Corps units lay within British First Army’s zone, where a new corps area was not established until after the bulk of the American troops had arrived, and where all troop movements were under First Army’s control.

Actual arrangements were preceded by a road reconnaissance in which representatives of the G-3, provost marshal, and Engineer sections of II Corps joined officers of the Movement Controls Branch, British First Army. They selected a route along which, it was believed, control points could be established and traffic be regulated to meet an average rate of 100 vehicles per hour.

The most direct route from Tebessa to Roum es Souk (about fifteen miles southwest of Tabarka and in the cork forest) totaled about 140 miles. It ran through Haldra to Tadjerouine to Le Kef, a road junction on an important British supply route from Souk Ahras eastward. North of Le Kef the second half of the route became twisting, narrow, and subject to poor visibility and to one-way traffic except at limited passing points. Bridges were narrow and grades often steep. At Souk el Arba, the route crossed the principal highway and railroad from Souk Ahras to Tunis, and continued through Fernana and Ain Draham to the Roum es Souk area. The northbound traffic crossed the two major west-east highway and railroad routes, and made use of almost ten miles of one of these roads in approaching the road junction at Le Kef. The narrow road north of Le Kef was used alternately for traffic going in each direction.

In order to make the fullest use of the time allowed for American northbound columns, the II Corps vehicles assembled near its southern terminus in numbers calculated to make fullest use of each allotted period, and to take advantage of any unscheduled additional opportunities. Besides the 1st Infantry, 1st Armored, and 34th Infantry Divisions, the corps had to transfer its headquarters and approximately forty Ordnance, Medical, Quartermaster, Engineer, Chemical Warfare Service, and Signal units of varying size. The divisions were subdivided into combat teams, which along with the corps troops, were given priorities in a tentative schedule providing for 2,400 vehicles per day. Each day’s contemplated movements were reported on the previous day through the British Movements Control liaison officer at Tebessa to Headquarters, First Army, which regulated traffic across its area to the vicinity of Roum es Souk. The II Corps assembled its units in the Tebessa area at those periods between 14 and 18 April which were best adapted to the whole volume of transportation within First Army’s area, and fed them from these assembly points to the southern terminus of the main, one-way bottleneck. There the intermediate assembly served as a sort of reservoir, with earlier arrivals marching out as often and as long as the route farther north could be held open, while others were arriving from the initial points of departure.

The plan thus created was modified on army group instructions during 17 and 18 April, when all II Corps units were sent to Roum es Souk by the longer road which part of the 9th Infantry Division had used a week earlier, the one through Morsott, Souk Ahras, and Le Tarf, thus avoiding the congestion near Le Kef. The 1st Infantry Division moved northward over this route on 18 April. The U.S. 1st Armored Division, leaving its Combat Command A to move by way of Morsott, started north behind the British 1st Armoured Division and King’s Dragoon Guards. The division assembled near Sbeitla and moved up the road through Sbiba to Le Kef on 19 April.

The British column which preceded them had covered the characteristically tawny paint on 4,000 British Eighth Army vehicles with the dark green of First Army, and left the coastal plain in a wide southerly loop through Faid pass, Sbeiltla, and Ksour to Le Kef. The 105 tank transporters which had been placed at the head of the long column were released temporarily to supplement those of the U.S. 2622nd Tank Transporter Company in moving Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division’s medium tanks through Le Kef to a staging point near Rhardimaou. Meanwhile lighter elements of the division passed through Souk el Arba to the cork forest near Roum es Souk.

The 34th Infantry Division, in order to avoid conflict with the British 6th Armoured Division in joint use of the road between Pichon and Maktar, was brought northward in two major sections, via Le Sers and east of Le Kef to Souk el Arba and the cork forest, on the nights of 21-22 and 23-24 April.

Transfer of the bulk of II Corps to the northern zone required good administrative co-ordination but was not otherwise extraordinarily difficult. The marches were much shorter than those which many of the units had made in coming east into Tunisia from Algeria, and they were not made under air attacks of such strength and persistence that all traffic had to be done at night and under blackout conditions. The problems were principally to make effective use of all available transportation facilities and to avoid congestion at critical points.

A more threatening difficulty was the provision of sufficient supply and maintenance to the II Corps in the new zone. Simultaneously with the northward shift of troops, II Corps had to accumulate a six days level of supply at accessible forward dumps and to arrange for systematic resupply in the amount of 800 tons daily. Stocks in central Tunisia were allowed to dwindle, and a substantial quantity of ammunition was trucked from there to the vicinity of Djebel Abiod to meet initial requirements. On 20 April, out of a total requirement of 3,780 tons of ammunition, all but 1,123 were on hand or en route and the supply system was in order. Bone was the site of the Eastern Base Section’s main depot on which II Corps was expected to draw. Railheads at Bed ja, Sidi Mhimech a few miles northeast of it, and Djebel Abiod were to become the main corps supply points. Eastern Base Section and the G-4 section of II Corps under Colonel Robert W. Wilson, worked in close co-operation, the former taking over forward dumps as soon as the attack moved eastward a few miles. To have on hand the means to begin the attack during the night of 22-23 April, all available trucks were used around the clock, with alternating crews, and with headlights as needed.

The burden on Allied supply lines from the western Mediterranean was increased by the quantities they provided for the British Eighth Army. Stocks of gasoline held at Gafsa and Bou Chebka totaled 3,700 tons. Lighters began unloading supplies for the Eighth Army at Gabes on 3 April and small vessels at Sfax on 14 April. But a railhead for the Eighth Army at Sbeitla was also scheduled to receive 500 tons per day from the west. When large units were shifted from the Eighth to the First Army before and during the last battles, they drew rations and ammunition from the railroad through Le Kef to Bou Arada, or from the highway between Le Kef and Teboursouk at Le Krib.

On 15 April, command of II Corps passed quietly from Patton to his deputy commander of the past six weeks, General Bradley. Patton returned to the planning for American participation in the invasion of Sicily (Operation HUSKY) as had been contemplated when he took command of the II Corps on 6 March. Bradley’s earlier active participation in direction of the II Corps minimized the consequences of the shift. On 16 April, his headquarters moved from Gafsa to a newly established site near Bedja. The relief of the British units by the Americans and all road movements remained under control of British 5 Corps until 1800, 19 April, when Headquarters, II Corps, officially assumed command of its new area, with a forward line running from the ocean east of Cap Serrat to Hill 667, five miles west of Heidous. As the time for the attack drew near, the Allied forces moved into battle position.

General Alexander’s headquarters shifted on 20 April to a point about fifteen miles southwest of Le Kef. General Anderson was already established in a farm near the White Fathers’ monastery on the heights of Thibar, fifteen miles along the road from Bedja south to Teboursouk, and on the south side of the Medjerda river. General Bradley’s command post was organized on 15 April two miles northwest of Bedja in tents on a farm belonging to the mayor. The corps commanders of First Army explained their respective plans at a conference at Thibar on 18 April, and next morning General Bradley went over plans with his staff and division commanders.

[NOTE 31-15NA: (1) II Corps AAR, 15 May 43. (2) Msg, 18A Gp to FREEDOM, 19 Apr 43. AFHQ CofS Cable Log. (3) Colonel William B. Kean relieved General Hugh Gaffey as chief of staff, and Colonel Robert A.Hewitt resumed his functions as G-3 as Colonel Lambert took command of Combat Command A, 1stArmored Division, in place of General McQuillin.]

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: North Africa (7-32) Allied Attack Begins-Tunisia

World War Two: North Africa (6-30); Attacks at Fondouk el Aouareb – Pursuit Onto the Plain