Korean War: North Koreans Cross the Han River (5)

Deployment of U.S. Forces in the Far East, June 1950: At the beginning of the Korean War, United States Army ground combat units comprised 10 divisions, the European Constabulary (equivalent to 1 division), and 9 separate regimental combat teams. The Army’s authorized strength was 630,000; its actual strength was 592,000. Of the combat units, four divisions—the 7th, 24th, and 25th Infantry Divisions and the 1st Cavalry Division (infantry)—were in Japan on occupation duty. Also in the Pacific were the 5th Regimental Combat Team in the Hawaiian Islands and the 29th Regiment on Okinawa. The divisions, with the exception of the one in Europe, were understrength, having only two instead of the normal three battalions in an infantry regiment, and they had corresponding shortages in the other combat arms. The artillery battalions, for instance, were reduced in personnel and weapons, and had only two of the normal three firing batteries. There was one exception in the organizations in Japan. The 24th Regiment, 25th Division, had a normal complement of three battalions, and the 159th Field Artillery Battalion, its support artillery, had its normal complement of three firing batteries.

The four divisions, widely scattered throughout the islands of Japan, were under the direct control of Eighth Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker. The 7th Division, with headquarters near Sendai on Honshu, occupied the northernmost island at Hokkaido and the northern third of Honshu. The 1st Cavalry Division held the populous central area of the Kanto Plain in Honshu, with headquarters at Camp Drake near Tokyo. The 25th Division was in the southern third of Honshu with headquarters at Osaka. The 24th Division occupied Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan, with headquarters at Kokura, across the Tsushima (Korea) Strait from Korea. These divisions averaged about 70 percent of full war strength, three of them numbering between 12,000 and 13,000 men and one slightly more than 15,000.[N5-2] They did not have their full wartime allowances of 57-mm. and 75-mm. recoilless rifles and 4.2-inch mortars. The divisional tank units then currently organized had the M24 light tank. Nearly all American military equipment and transport in the Far East had seen World War II use and was worn.

In June 1950, slightly more than one-third of the United States naval operating forces were in the Pacific under the command of Admiral Arthur W. Radford. Only about one-fifth of this was in Far Eastern waters. Vice Admiral Charles Turner Joy commanded U.S. Naval Forces, Far East. The naval strength of the Far East Command when the Korean War started comprised 1 cruiser, the Juneau; 4 destroyers, the Mansfield, Dehaven, Collett, and Lyman K. Swenson; and a number of amphibious and cargo-type vessels. Not under MacArthur’s command, but also in the Far East at this time, was the Seventh Fleet commanded by Vice Admiral Arthur D. Struble. It comprised 1 aircraft carrier, the Valley Forge; 1 heavy cruiser, the Rochester; 8 destroyers, a naval oiler, and 3 submarines. Part of the Seventh Fleet was at Okinawa; the remainder was in the Philippines.

The Fleet Marine Force was mostly in the United States. The 1st Marine Division was at Camp Pendleton, Calif.; the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C. One battalion of the 2nd Marine Division was in the Mediterranean with fleet units.

[N5-2: EUSAK WD, Prologue, 25 Jun-12 Jul 50, pp. ii, vi. The aggregate strength of the four divisions in Japan as of 30 June 1950 was as follows: 24th Infantry Division, 12,197; 25th Infantry Division, 15,018; 1st Cavalry Division, 12,340; 7th Infantry Division, 12,907. Other troops in Japan included 5,290 of the 40th Antiaircraft Artillery, and 25,119 others, for a total of 82,871.]

At the beginning of hostilities in Korea, the U.S. Air Force consisted of forty-eight groups. The largest aggregation of USAF strength outside continental United States was the Far East Air Forces (FEAF), commanded by General Stratemeyer. On 25 June, there were 9 groups with about 350 combat-ready planes in FEAF. Of the 18 fighter squadrons, only 4, those based on Kyushu in southern Japan, were within effective range of the combat zone in Korea. [N4-4] There were a light bomb wing and a troop carrier wing in Japan. The only medium bomb wing (B-29’s) in the Far East was on Guam.

At the end of May 1950, FEAF controlled a total of 1,172 aircraft, including those in storage and being salvaged, of the following types: 73 B-26’s; 27 B-29’s; 47 F-51’s; 504 F-80’s; 42 F-82’s; 179 transports of all types; 48 reconnaissance planes; and 252 miscellaneous aircraft. The Far East Air Forces, with an authorized personnel strength of 39,975 officers and men, had 33,625 assigned to it.

Commanding the United States armed forces in the Far East on 25 June 1950 was General MacArthur. He held three command assignments: (1) as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) he acted as agent for the thirteen nations of the Far Eastern Commission sitting in Washington directing the occupation of Japan; (2) as Commander in Chief, Far East (CINCFE), he commanded all U.S. military forces—Army, Air, and Navy—in the western Pacific of the Far East Command; and (3) as Commanding General, U.S. Army Forces, Far East, he commanded the U.S. Army in the Far East. On 10 July, General MacArthur received his fourth command assignment—Commander in Chief, United Nations Command. The General Headquarters, Far East Command (GHQ FEC), then became the principal part of General Headquarters, United Nations Command (GHQ UNC).

[N4-4 Memo, Off Secy Air Force for OCMH, Jun 50. Other fighter squadrons were located as follows: 7 in the industrial area of central and northern Honshu, 4 on Okinawa, and 3 in the Philippines.]

Nearly a year before, General MacArthur had established on 20 August 1949 the Joint Strategic Plans and Operations Group (JSPOG), composed of Army, Navy, and Air Force representatives. This top planning group, under the general control of General Wright, G-3, Far East Command, served as the principal planning agency for the U.N. Command in the Korean War.

In the two or three days following the North Korean crossing of the Parallel, air units moved hurriedly from bases in Japan distant from Korea to those nearest the peninsula. Most of the fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons moved to Itazuke and Ashiya Air Bases, which had the most favorable positions with respect to the Korean battle area. Bombers also moved closer to the combat zone; twenty B-29’s of the 19th Bombardment Group, Twentieth Air Force, had moved from Guam to Kadena Airfield on Okinawa by 29 June.

The air action which began on 26 June continued during the following days. One flight of U.S. planes bombed targets in Seoul on the 28th. Enemy planes destroyed two more American planes at Suwon Airfield during the day.

Land-based planes of the Far East Air Forces began to strike hard at the North Koreans by the end of June. On the 29th, the Fifth Air Force flew 172 combat sorties in support of the ROK Army and comparable support continued in ensuing days. General Stratemeyer acted quickly to augment the number of his combat planes by taking approximately 50 F-51’s out of storage. On 30 June he informed Washington that he needed 164 F-80C’s, 21 F-82’s, 23 B-29’s, 21 C-54’s, and 64 F-51’s. The Air Force informed him that it could not send the F-80’s, but would substitute 150 F-51’s in excellent condition. The F-51 had a greater range than the F-80, used less fuel, and could operate more easily from the rough Korean airfields.

Of immediate benefit to close ground support were the two tactical air control parties from the Fifth Air Force that arrived at Taejon on 3 July. These two TACP were being formed in Japan for an amphibious maneuver when the war started. They went into action on 5 July and thereafter there was great improvement in the effectiveness of U.N. air support and fewer mistaken strikes by friendly planes on ROK forces which, unfortunately, had characterized the air effort in the last days of June and the first days of July.

Concurrently with the initiation of air action, the naval forces in the Far East began to assume their part in the conflict. On 28 June the American cruiser Juneau arrived off the east coast of Korea, and the next day shelled the Kangnung-Samchok area where North Korean amphibious landings had occurred. American naval forces from this date forward took an active part in supporting American and ROK forces in coastal areas and in carrying out interdiction and bombardment missions in enemy rear areas. Naval firepower was particularly effective along the east coastal corridor.

Acting on instructions he had received from Washington on 1 July to institute a naval blockade of the Korean coast, General MacArthur took steps to implement the order. Just after midnight, 3 July, he dispatched a message to Washington stating that an effective blockade required patrolling the ports of Najin, Chongjin, and Wonsan on the east coast, Inchon, Chinnampo, Anju, and Sonchon on the west coast, and any South Korean ports that might fall to the North Koreans. In order to keep well clear of the coastal waters of Manchuria and the USSR, General MacArthur said, however, that he would not blockade the ports of Najin, Chongjin, and Sonchon. On the east coast he planned naval patrols to latitude 41° north and on the west coast to latitude 38° 30′ north. General MacArthur said his naval forces would be deployed on 4 July to institute the blockade within the limits of his existing naval forces.

Admiral Joy received from General MacArthur instructions with respect to the blockade and instituted it on 4 July. Three blockade groups initially executed the blockade plan: (1) an east coast group under American command, (2) a west coast group under British command, and (3) a south coast group under ROK Navy command. Before the organization of these blockade groups, the cruiser U.S.S. Juneau and 2 British ships at daylight on 2 July sighted 4 North Korean torpedo boats escorting 10 converted trawlers close inshore making for Chumunjin-up on the east coast of Korea. The Juneau and the two British ships turned to engage the North Korean vessels, and the torpedo boats at the same time headed for them. The first salvo of the naval guns sank 2 of the torpedo boats, and the other 2 raced away. Naval gunfire then sank 7 of the 10 ships in the convoy; 3 escaped behind a breakwater.

The first U.N. carrier-based air strike of the war came on 3 July by planes from the U.S.S. Valley Forge and the British H.M. S. Triumph, of Vice Admiral Struble’s Seventh Fleet, against the airfields of the Pyongyang-Chinnampo west coast area.

The River Crossing

While United States air and naval forces were delivering their first blows of the war, the South Koreans were trying to reassemble their scattered forces and reorganize them along the south bank of the Han River.

On the 29th, when General MacArthur and his party visited the Han River, it seemed to them that elements of only the ROK 1st and 7th Divisions there might be effective within the limits of the equipment they had salvaged. Parts of the 5th Division were in the Yongdungpo area opposite Seoul, and, farther west, elements of the Capital Division still held Inchon. Remnants of the 2nd Division were eastward in the vicinity of the confluence of the Han and Pukhan Rivers; the 6th Division was retreating south of Chunchon in the center of the peninsula toward Wonju; and, on the east coast, the 8th Division had started to withdraw inland and south. The 23rd Regiment of the ROK 3rd Division had moved from Pusan through Taegu to Ulchin on the east coast, sixty-five miles above Pohang-dong, to block an anticipated enemy approach down the coastal road.

On the last day of the month, American planes dropped pamphlets over South Korea bearing the stamp of the United Nations urging the ROK soldiers, “Fight with all your might,” and promising, “We shall support your people as much as we can and clear the aggressor from your country.”

Meanwhile, the victorious North Koreans did not stand idle. The same day that Seoul fell, 28 June, elements of the enemy’s 6th Division started crossing the Han River west of the city in the vicinity of Kimpo Airfield and occupied the airfield on the 29th.[N5-15] After capturing Seoul the North Korean 3rd and 4th Divisions spent a day or two searching the city for South Korean soldiers, police, and “national traitors,” most of whom they shot at once. The North Koreans at once organized “People’s Committees” from South Korean Communists to assume control of the local population. They also took steps to evacuate a large part of the population. Within a week after occupying Seoul, the victors began to mobilize the city’s young men for service in the North Korean Army.

[N5-15 ATIS, Enemy Docs, Issue 4, Diary of N.K. soldier (unidentified), 16 Jun-31 Aug 50, entrys for 28-29 Jun, p. 10; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 100 (N.K. 6th Div), p. 33; Gen Paik Sun Yup, MS review comments, 11 Jul 58.]

The N.K. 3rd Division, the first into Seoul, was also the first to carry the attack to the south side of the Han River opposite the city. It spent only one day in preparation. North Korean artillery fire which had fallen on the south side of the Han sporadically on 28 and 29 June developed in intensity the night of the 29th. The next morning, 30 June, under cover of artillery and tank fire the 8th Regiment crossed from Seoul to the south side of the Han in the vicinity of the Sobinggo ferry. Some of the men crossed in wooden boats capable of carrying a 2½-ton truck or twenty to thirty men. Others crossed the river by wading and swimming. [N5-17] These troops drove the South Koreans from the south bank in some places and began to consolidate positions there. But they did not penetrate far that first day nor did they occupy Yongdungpo, the big industrial suburb of Seoul south of the river and the key to the road and rail net leading south. General Church directed General Chae to counterattack the North Koreans at the water’s edge, but enemy artillery prevented the ROK troops from carrying out this order.

The enemy’s main crossing effort, aimed at Yongdungpo , came the next morning. The 4th Division prepared to make the attack. For the assault crossing, it committed its 5th Regiment which had been in reserve all the way from the 38th Parallel to Seoul. The 3rd Battalion of the regiment started crossing the river southwest of Seoul at 0400 1 July, and upon reaching the south side it immediately began a two-day battle for Yongdungpo . The remainder of the 4th Division followed the lead battalion across the river and joined in the battle. Yongdungpo fell to the division about 0800 3 July. ROK troops waged a bitter battle and North Korean casualties were heavy. The enemy 4th Division lost 227 killed, 1,822 wounded, and 107 missing in action at Yongdungpo . [N5-18]

[N5-17 Church MS; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 96 (N.K. 3rd Div), p. 30.]

 [N5-18 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), pp. 44-45; GHQ FEC, History of the N.K. Army, p. 58. The N.K. 6th Division claims to have entered Yongdungpo 1 July, but this could have been only an approach to the city’s edge. Ibid., Issue 100 (N.K. 6th Div), p. 33]

The North Koreans fought the battle for Yongdungpo without tank support and this may account in large part for the ROK troops’ stubborn defense and excellent showing there. The first North Korean tanks crossed the Han River on 3 July after one of the railroad bridges had been repaired and decked for tank traffic. Four enemy tanks were on the south side by midmorning. [N5-19] While the battle for Yongdungpo was in progress, the remainder of the N.K. 3rd Division crossed the Han on 3 July. As the battle for Yongdungpo neared its end, part of the N.K. 6th Division reached the edge of Inchon. That night an enemy battalion and six tanks entered the port city. By the morning of 4 July two of the best divisions of the North Korean People’s Army stood poised at Yongdungpo. With tank support at hand they were ready to resume the drive south along the main rail-highway axis below the Han River.

[N5-19 Issue 4 (Enemy Forces), p. 37; ADCOM G-3 Log, 3 Jul 50. Colonel Green, the ADCOM G-3 from GHQ, made this handwritten log available to the author in Tokyo in 1951. KMAG G-2 Unit History, 4 Jul 50.]

ADCOM Abandons Suwon

On the first day of the invasion, President Syngman Rhee, Ambassador Muccio, and KMAG notified United States authorities of the need for an immediate flow of military supplies into Korea for the ROK Army. General MacArthur with Washington’s approval, ordered Eighth Army to ship to Pusan at once 105,000 rounds of 105-mm. howitzer, 265,000 rounds of 81-mm. mortar, 89,000 rounds of 60-mm. mortar, and 2,480,000 rounds of .30-caliber ball ammunition. The Sergeant Keathley, a Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) ship, left North Pier, Yokohama, at midnight 27 June bound for Pusan, Korea, with 1,636long tons of ammunition and twelve 105-mm. howitzers on board. Early the next day, 28 June, a second ship, the MSTS Cardinal O’Connell, feverishly loaded a cargo from the Ikego Ammunition Depot.

Airlift of ammunition began also on the 28th from Tachikawa Air Base near Tokyo. The first C-54 loaded with 105mm. howitzer shells took off at 0600 28 June for Suwon, Korea. By 1517 in the afternoon, transport planes had departed Japan with a total of 119 tons of ammunition.

In ground action the situation deteriorated. At noon, 30 June, American observers at the Han River sent word to General Church that the ROK river line was disintegrating. About this time, Lieutenant General Chung Il Kwon of the South Korean Army arrived from Tokyo to replace General Chae as ROK Army Chief of Staff.

At 1600 General Church sent a radio message to Tokyo describing the worsening situation. Three hours later he decided to go to Osan (Osan-ni), twelve miles south of Suwon, where there was a commercial telephone relay station, and from there call Tokyo. He reached Major General Edward M. Almond, MacArthur’s Chief of Staff, who told him that the Far East Command had received authority to use American ground troops, and that if the Suwon airstrip could be held the next day two battalions would be flown in to help the South Koreans. General Church agreed to try to hold the airstrip until noon the next day, 1 July.

Back at Suwon, during General Church’s absence, affairs at the ADCOM headquarters took a bad turn. A series of events were contributory. An American plane radioed a message, entirely erroneous, that a column of enemy was approaching Suwon from the east. Generals Chae and Chung returned from the Han River line with gloomy news.

About dusk ADCOM and KMAG officers at the Suwon command post saw a red flare go up on the railroad about 500 yards away. To one observer it looked like an ordinary railroad warning flare. However, some ADCOM officers queried excitedly, “What’s that? What’s that?” Another replied that the enemy were surrounding the town and said, “We had better get out of here.”

There was some discussion as to who should give the order. Colonel Wright and General Church were both absent from the command post. In a very short time people were running in and out of the building shouting and loading equipment. This commotion confused the Korean officers at the headquarters who did not understand what was happening. One of the ADCOM officers shouted that the group should assemble at Suwon Airfield and form a perimeter. Thereupon all the Americans drove pell-mell down the road toward the airfield, about three miles away.

When this panic seized the ADCOM group, communications personnel began destroying their equipment with thermite grenades. In the resultant fire the schoolhouse command post burnt to the ground. At the airfield, the group started to establish a small defensive perimeter but before long they decided instead to go on south to Taejon. ADCOM officers ordered the antiaircraft detachment at the airfield to disable their equipment and join them. About 2200, the column of ADCOM, KMAG, AAA, and Embassy vehicles assembled and was ready to start for Taejon. [N5-24]

At this point, General Church returned from Osan and met the assembled convoy. He was furious when he learned what had happened, and ordered the entire group back to Suwon. Arriving at his former headquarters building General Church found it and much of the signal equipment there had been destroyed by fire. His first impulse was to hold Suwon Airfield but, on reflection, he doubted his ability to keep the field free of enemy fire to permit the landing of troops. So, finally, in a downpour of rain the little cavalcade drove south to Osan. [N5-25]

[N5-24 Statement, Greenwood for Sawyer; Ltr, Scott to friend, ca. 6-7 Jul 50; Det X, 507th AAA AW Bn, Action Rpt, 30 Jul-3 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, 25 Jun-3 July 50, verbal rpt by Lieutenant Bailey of verbal orders he received to destroy AAA weapons and equipment at Suwon Airfield.]

[N5-25 Church MS; Interv, Captain Robert K. Sawyer with Lieutenant Colonel Winfred A. Ross, 17 Dec 53. Ross was GHQ Signal member of ADCOM and was with General Church on the trip to Osan and during the night of 30 June. ]

General Church again telephoned General Almond in Tokyo to acquaint him with the events of the past few hours, and recommended that ADCOM and other American personnel withdraw to Taejon. Almond concurred. In this conversation Almond and Church agreed, now that Suwon Airfield had been abandoned, that the American troops to be airlifted to Korea during 1 July should come to Pusan instead. In the monsoon downpour General Church and the American group then continued on to Taejon where ADCOM established its new command post the morning of 1 July.

At Suwon everything remained quiet after the ADCOM party departed. Colonels Wright and Hazlett of the KMAG staff returned to the town near midnight and, upon learning of ADCOM’s departure, drove on south to Chochiwon where they stayed until morning, and then continued on to Taejon. The ROK Army headquarters remained in Suwon. After reaching Taejon on 1 July, Colonel Wright sent five KMAG officers back to ROK Army headquarters. This headquarters remained in Suwon until 4 July.[N5-27]

[N5-27 Sawyer, KMAG MS; KMAG G-2 Jnl, 4 Jul 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpt, Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), p. 45; Ltr, Scott to friend. Colonel Scott was one of the five officers who returned to Suwon on 1 July.]

After securing Yongdungpo on 3 July, the N.K. 4th Division prepared to continue the attack south. The next morning, at 0600, it departed on the Suwon road with the 5th Regiment in the lead. Just before noon on 4 July, eleven enemy tanks with accompanying infantry were in Anyang-ni, halfway between Yongdungpo and Suwon. The road from Suwon through Osan toward Pyongtaek was almost solid with ROK Army vehicles and men moving south the afternoon and evening of 4 July. The 5th Regiment of the ROK 2nd Division attempted to delay the enemy column between Anyang-ni and Suwon, but fourteen T34 tanks penetrated its positions, completely disorganized the regiment, and inflicted on it heavy casualties. The Australian and U.S. Air Forces, striving to slow the North Korean advance, did not always hit enemy targets. On that day, 4 July, friendly planes strafed ROK troops several times in the vicinity of Osan. The ROK Army headquarters left Suwon during the day. At midnight the N.K. 4th Division occupied the town. [N5-28]

[N5-28 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), pp. 44-45; GHQ FEC, History of N.K. Army, p. 58; EUSAK WD, 20 Jul 50, G-2 Sec, ATIS Interrog Nr 89, 2nd Lt Pak Mal Bang; ADCOM G-3 Log, 4 Jul 50. ]

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

Korean War: American Ground Forces Enter the Battle (6)

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


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