If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. (SUN TZU, The Art of War)
Across the Korea Strait events of importance were taking place in Japan that would soon have an impact on the Korean scene. In Tokyo, General MacArthur on 30 June instructed General Walker, commander of Eighth Army, to order the 24th Infantry Division to Korea at once. Its proximity to Korea was the principal reason General MacArthur selected it for immediate commitment. [N6-1] General Walker gave Major General William F. Dean, Commanding General, 24th Division, preliminary verbal instructions concerning the division.
These instructions were formalized in an Eighth Army Operation Order at 0315 1 July which provided that (1) a delaying force of two rifle companies, under a battalion commander, reinforced by two platoons of 4.2-inch mortars and one platoon of 75-mm. recoilless rifles was to go by air to Pusan and report to General Church for orders; (2) the division headquarters and one battalion of infantry were to go to Pusan by air at once; (3) the remainder of the division would follow by water; and (4) a base was to be established for early offensive operations. The mission of the advance elements was phrased as follows: “Advance at once upon landing with delaying force, in accordance with the situation, to the north by all possible means, contact enemy now advancing south from Seoul towards Suwon and delay his advance.” [N6-2] The order also stated that General Dean would assume command of all U.S. Army Forces in Korea (USAFIK) upon his arrival there.
[N6-1 Schnabel, FEC, GHQ Support and Participation in Korean War, ch. III, p. 1, citing Msg CX 56978, CINCFE to CG 8th Army, 30 Jun 50.]
[N6-2 EUSAK WD, Opns Ord 2, 010315K Jul 50.]
In the next few days Eighth Army transferred a total of 2,108 men to the 24th Division from other units to bring it up to full authorized strength, most of them from the other three infantry divisions. The division, thus readied for the movement to Korea, numbered 15,965 men and had 4,773 vehicles. [N6-3]
[N6-3 troop list accompanying Opns Ord 2; Ibid., Prologue, 25 Jun-13 Jul 50, Incl 1, Rpt of G-1 Activities, 1-12 Jul 50, pp. 1-2.]
Task Force Smith Goes to Korea
On the evening of 30 June, Lieutenant Colonel Charles B. Smith, Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, went to bed at 9 o’clock in his quarters at Camp Wood near Kumamoto, Kyushu, tired and sleepy after having been up all the previous night because of an alert. An hour and a half later his wife awakened him, saying, “Colonel Stephens is on the phone and wants you.” At the telephone Smith heard Colonel Richard W. Stephens, Commanding Officer, 21st Infantry, say to him, “The lid has blown off—get on your clothes and report to the CP.” Thus began Task Force Smith as seen by its leader. Colonel Smith had been at Schofield Barracks, Oahu, on 7 December 1941 when the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, causing him hurriedly to take D Company, 35th Infantry, to form a defense position on Barbers Point. Now, this call in the night vividly reminded him of that earlier event.
At the regimental command post, Colonel Stephens told Smith to take his battalion, less A and D Companies, to Itazuke Air Base; it was to fly to Korea at once. General Dean would meet him at the airfield with further instructions.
Colonel Stephens quickly arranged to lend Smith officers from the 3rd Battalion to fill gaps in the rifle platoons of B and C Companies. By 0300 1 July Colonel Smith and his men were on trucks and started on the seventy-five mile drive from Camp Wood to Itazuke. They rode in a downpour of rain, the same monsoon deluge that descended on General Church and his ADCOM party that night on the road from Suwon to Taejon. Smith’s motor convoy reached Itazuke at 0805.
General Dean was waiting for Smith at the airfield. “When you get to Pusan,” he said to him, “head for Taejon. We want to stop the North Koreans as far from Pusan as we can. Block the main road as far north as possible. Contact General Church, If you can’t locate him, go to Taejon and beyond if you can. Sorry I can’t give you more information. That’s all I’ve got. Good luck to you, and God bless you and your men.”
Thus, the fortunes of war decreed that Colonel Smith, a young infantry officer of the West Point Class of 1939 who had served with the 25th Division in the Pacific in World War II, would command the first American ground troops to meet the enemy in the Korean War. Smith was about thirty-four years of age, of medium stature, and possessed a strong, compact body. His face was friendly and open.
Assembled at Itazuke, Colonel Smith’s force consisted of the following units and weapons of the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment: 2 understrength rifle companies, B and C; one-half of Headquarters Company; one-half of a communications platoon; a composite 75mm. recoilless rifle platoon of 4 guns, only 2 of which were airlifted; and 4 4.2-inch mortars, only 2 airlifted. The organization of B and C Companies included 6 2.36-inch bazooka teams and 4 60-mm. mortars. Each man had 120 rounds of .30-caliber rifle ammunition and 2 days of C rations. In all, there were about 440 men, of whom only 406 were destined to be in the group air-landed in Korea that day.
Smith’s force had a liberal sprinkling of combat veterans from World War II. About one-third of the officers had had combat experience either in Europe or in the Pacific. About one-half of the noncommissioned officers were World War II veterans, but not all had been in combat. Throughout the force, perhaps one man in six had had combat experience. Most of the men were young, twenty years old or less.
Only six C-54 planes were available for the transport job. The first plane was airborne at 0845. The first and second planes upon arrival over the small runway near Pusan found it closed in with fog and, unable to land, they returned to Japan. Colonel Smith was on the second plane but he could not land in Korea until the tenth flight—between 1400 and 1500. Colonel Emmerich, who the previous afternoon had received instructions to have the airstrip ready, a few other KMAG officers, and a great number of South Korean civilians met the first elements when they landed about 1100. [N6-7]
[N6-7 Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, and Emmerich, 5 Dec 51. The 24th Division War Diary, 1 July 1950, erroneously states that 24 C-54 planes were available for the airlift. Smith denies this.]
A miscellaneous assortment of about a hundred Korean trucks and vehicles assembled by Colonel Emmerich transported the men of Task Force Smith the seventeen miles from the airstrip to the railroad station in Pusan. Cheering crowds lined the streets and waved happily to the American soldiers as they passed. The city was in gay spirits-flags, banners, streamers, and posters were everywhere. Korean bands at the railroad station gave a noisy send-off as the loaded train pulled out at 2000.
The train with Task Force Smith aboard arrived at Taejon the next morning, 0800 2 July. There Lieutenant Colonel LeRoy Lutes, a member of ADCOM, met Colonel Smith and took him to General Church’s headquarters where the general was in conference with several American and ROK officers. Church greeted Smith and, pointing to a place on the map, explained, “We have a little action up here. All we need is some men up there who won’t run when they see tanks. We’re going to move you up to support the ROKs and give them moral support.”
Colonel Smith then suggested that he would like to go forward and look over the ground. While his men went to their bivouac area, Smith and his principal officers got into jeeps and set out over the eighty miles of bad, bumpy roads to Osan. All along the way they saw thousands of ROK soldiers and refugees cluttering the roads and moving south.
Three miles north of Osan, at a point where the road runs through a low saddle, drops down, and bends slightly northwest toward Suwon, Smith found an excellent infantry position which commanded both the highway and the railroad. An irregular ridge of hills crossed the road at right angles, the highest point rising about 300 feet above the low ground which stretched northward toward Suwon. From this high point both the highway and railroad were in view almost the entire distance to Suwon, eight miles to the north.
After looking over the ground, Smith issued verbal orders for organizing a position there. A flight of enemy fighters, red stars plainly visible on their wings, passed overhead, but their pilots apparently did not see the few men below. Its purpose accomplished, the group returned to the Taejon airstrip well after dark.
That night, 2 July, Smith received an order to take his men north by train to Pyongtaek and Ansong. The former is 15 miles south, and the latter 20 miles southeast, of Osan. Smith loaded his men into trains and they rolled north into the night. One company dug in at Pyongtaek ; the other at Ansong 12 miles away. Smith established his command post with the group at Pyongtaek on the main highway.
The next day at Pyongtaek Colonel Smith and his men witnessed a demonstration of aerial destructiveness. A northbound ammunition train of nine boxcars on its way to ROK units pulled into Pyongtaek . While the train waited for further instructions, four Mustangs flown by Royal Australian Air Force pilots made six strafing runs over it firing rockets and machine guns. The train was blown up, the station demolished, and parts of the town shot up. All night ammunition kept exploding. Many residents of Pyongtaek died or were injured in this mistaken air strike.
That same afternoon friendly air also attacked Suwon and strafed a South Korean truck column near the town. ROK rifle fire damaged one plane and forced the pilot to land at Suwon Airfield. There, KMAG and ROK officers “captured” a highly embarrassed American pilot. One KMAG officer with the ROK Army headquarters at Suwon said he was under attack by friendly planes five different times on 3 July. This same officer in a letter to a friend a few days later wrote of these misplaced air attacks, “The fly boys really had a field day! They hit friendly ammo dumps, gas dumps, the Suwon air strip, trains, motor columns, and KA [Korean Army] Hq.” In the afternoon, four friendly jet planes made strikes on Suwon and along the Suwon-Osan highway setting fire to gasoline at the railroad station in Suwon and destroying buildings and injuring civilians. On the road they strafed and burned thirty South Korean trucks and killed 200 ROK soldiers. Because of these incidents throughout the day, General Church sent a strong protest to FEAF asking that air action be held to Han River bridges or northward.[N6-10]
[N6-10 Ltr, Scott to friend, ca. 6-7 Jul 50; Interv, author with Hazlett, 11 Jun 54 (Colonel Hazlett was in the Suwon area on 3 July); Msg 239, 24th Div G-2 Jnl, 25 Jun-3 Jul 50.]
The next day, 4 July, Smith’s divided command reunited at Pyongtaek , and was joined there by a part of the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion. This artillery contingent comprised one-half each of Headquarters and Service Batteries and all of A Battery with 6 105-mm. howitzers, 73 vehicles, and 108 men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Miller O. Perry. It had crossed from Japan on an LST 2 July, disembarking at Pusan late that night. Two trains the next day carried the unit to Taejon. There General Church ordered Perry to join Smith at Pyongtaek , and about 2100 that night Perry’s artillery group entrained and departed northward. Because of the destroyed railroad station at Pyongtaek , the train stopped at Songhwan-ni, where the artillerymen unloaded and drove on the six miles to Pyongtaek before daylight.
Meanwhile, the 34th Infantry Regiment loaded at Sasebo during the night of 1 July, and arrived at Pusan the next night. After Task Force Smith had left Japan the rest of the 21st Infantry Regiment, except A and D Companies which sailed from Moji, loaded at Sasebo 3 July and departed for Pusan, arriving there early the next morning.
General Dean also was on his way to Korea. Failing on 2 July to land at Taejon because his pilot could not find the airstrip in the dark, General Dean the next morning at Ashiya Air Base joined Captain Ben L. Tufts on his way to Korea by General Almond’s order to act as liaison between Army and the press. Tufts’ pilot knew the Taejon airstrip and landed his plane there about 1030, 3 July. General Dean and Captain Tufts went directly to the two-story yellow brick building serving as General Church’s ADCOM Headquarters.
That afternoon a message from General MacArthur notified General Dean that United States Army Forces in Korea was activated under his command as of 0001 4 July. General Dean assumed command of USAFIK during the day and appointed General Church as Deputy Commander. Twenty-two other officers were named General and Special Staff officers of USAFIK. [N6-14] ADCOM provided most of the officers for the USAFIK staff, but some KMAG officers also served on it. Most of the KMAG officers who had left Korea by air on 27 June returned aboard the ammunition ship Sergeant Keathley on 2 July. [N6-15] By this time the ROK Army had assembled and partly reorganized about 68,000 men.
[N6-14 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, Msg 242, 3 Jul 50; USAFIK GO 1, 4 Jul 50, and SO 1, 4 Jul 50.]
[N6-15 Church MS; Sawyer, KMAG MS; Schnabel FEC, GHQ Support and Participation in Korean War, ch. IV, pp. 8-9. ]
Task Force Smith at Osan
Colonels Smith and Perry, and some others, went forward in the late afternoon of 4 July to make a final reconnaissance of the Osan position. At this time Perry selected the positions for his artillery. On the road ROK engineer groups were preparing demolitions on all bridges.
Back at Taejon General Dean, a big six-footer with a bristling crew cut cropping his sand-colored hair, and beanpole General Church, slightly stooped, always calm seemingly to the point of indifference, discussed the probability of imminent American combat with the enemy. The third general officer to come to the forward area in Korea, Brigadier General George B. Barth, acting commanding general of the 24th Division artillery, now arrived in Taejon in the early afternoon. General Dean decided to send Barth forward to represent him, and with instructions for Task Force Smith. So, at 1500 4 July, General Barth started north by jeep for Pyongtaek . [N-16] When he found Smith, General Barth relayed his orders to “take up those good positions near Osan you told General Church about.” [N6-17 Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51; Dean and Worden, General Dean’s Story, p. 20. Barth says Smith had already started his men forward when he arrived at Pyongtaek . MS review comments, 24 Feb 58.]
[N6-16 Brigadier General G. B. Barth, 25th Div Unit Hist, Tropic Lightning and Taro Leaf in Korea (prepared in 1951), MS in OCMH (hereafter cited as Barth MS); General Barth, MS review comments, 24 Feb 58.]
A little after midnight the infantry and artillery of Task Force Smith moved out of Pyongtaek . Colonel Smith had to commandeer Korean trucks and miscellaneous vehicles to mount his men. The native Korean drivers deserted when they found that the vehicles were going north. American soldiers took over in the drivers’ seats. General Barth and Colonel Smith followed the task force northward. On the way, General Barth tried to halt the ROK demolition preparations by telling the engineer groups that he planned to use the bridges. At one bridge, after talk failed to influence the ROK engineers, Barth threw the boxes of dynamite into the river. It was only twelve miles to Osan, but it took two and a half hours to get there because ROK soldiers and civilians fleeing south filled the road and driving was under blackout conditions.
About 0300 on 5 July, the delaying force reached the position which Smith had previously selected. The infantry units started setting up weapons and digging in at the predesignated places. Colonel Perry moved his guns into the positions behind the infantry that he had selected the previous afternoon. All units were in place, but not completely dug in, before daylight.
In seeking the most favorable place to pass through the ridge, the railroad bent eastward away from the highway until it was almost a mile distant. There the railroad split into two single-track lines and passed over low ground between hills of the ridge line. On his left flank Colonel Smith placed one platoon of B Company on the high knob immediately west of the highway; east of the road were B Company’s other two rifle platoons. Beyond them eastward to the railroad tracks were two platoons of C Company. This company’s third platoon occupied a finger ridge running south, forming a refused right flank along the west side of the railroad track. Just east of the highway B Company emplaced one 75-mm. recoilless rifle; C Company emplaced the other 75-mm. recoilless rifle just west of the railroad.
Colonel Smith placed the 4.2-inch mortars on the reverse, or south, slope of the ridge about 400 yards behind the center of B Company’s position. The infantry line formed a 1-mile front, not counting the refused right flank along the railroad track. The highway, likely to be the critical axis of enemy advance, passed through the shallow saddle at the infantry position and then zigzagged gently downgrade northward around several knoblike spurs to low ground a little more than a mile away. There it crossed to the east side of the railroad track and continued on over semi level ground to Suwon.
Two thousand yards behind the infantry, Colonel Perry pulled four 105mm. howitzers 150 yards to the left (west) off the highway over a small trail that only jeeps could travel. Two jeeps in tandem pulled the guns into place. Near a cluster of houses with rice paddies in front and low hills back of them, the men arranged the guns in battery position. Perry emplaced the fifth howitzer as an antitank gun on the west side of the road about halfway between the main battery position and the infantry. From there it could place direct fire on the highway where it passed through the saddle and the infantry positions. [N6-21]
Volunteers from the artillery Headquarters and Service Batteries made up four .50-caliber machine gun and four 2.36-inch bazooka teams and joined the infantry in their position. The infantry parked most of their miscellaneous trucks and jeeps along the road just south of the saddle. The artillerymen left their trucks concealed in yards and sheds and behind Korean houses along the road just north of Osan. There were about 1,200 rounds of artillery ammunition at the battery position and in two trucks parked inside a walled enclosure nearby. One or two truckloads more were in the vehicles parked among the houses just north of Osan. Nearly all this ammunition was high explosive (HE); only 6 rounds were high explosive antitank (HEAT), and all of it was taken to the forward gun. [N6-22] When the 52nd Field Artillery was loading out at Sasebo, Japan, the battalion ammunition officer drew all the HEAT ammunition available there—only 18 rounds. He issued 6 rounds to A Battery, now on the point of engaging in the first battle between American artillery and the Russian-built T34 tanks
[N6-21 Intervs, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Eversole, 1 Aug 51; Ltr, Perry to author, 5 Dec 51. The sixth howitzer had been left at Pyongtaek because of trouble with the prime mover.]
[N6-22 Ltr, Perry to author, 5 Dec 51; Intervs, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Eversole, 1 Aug 51. 23 Interv, author with 1st Lieutenant Percy R. Hare, 5 Aug 51. (Hare was Ammunition and Trains Officer, 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, when the battalion left for Korea.)].
At the Osan position as rainy 5 July dawned were 540 Americans: 389 enlisted men and 17 officers among the infantry and 125 enlisted men and 9 officers among the artillerymen. [N6-24] When first light came, the infantry test-fired their weapons and the artillerymen registered their guns. Then they ate their C ration breakfasts. In spite of the rain Smith could see almost to Suwon. He first saw movement on the road in the distance near Suwon a little after 0700. In about half an hour a tank column, now easily discernible, approached the waiting Americans. In this first group there were eight tanks. About 0800 the men back in the artillery position received a call from the forward observer with the infantry for a fire mission. [N6-25]
[N6-24 Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51; Ltr, Perry to author, 5 Dec. 51. The official army records contain many inaccuracies with respect to Task Force Smith. To note only a few: one FEC G-2 report gives the date of the Osan action as 6 July, the 24th Division War Diary gives it as 4 July. Both are wrong. Several sources state that enemy tank fire destroyed all the American 105-mm. howitzers at Osan; only one was destroyed.]
[N6-25 Ltr, Smith to author, 4 May 52; Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, and Eversole, 1 Aug 51. Eversole says he looked at his watch when the request for a fire mission came in from the forward observer and noted the time as 0745, Barth thinks the time was closer to 0800. Smith told the author he first saw the enemy column about 0700 and that it was about half an hour in moving up in front of his position. In an interview with the 24th Division G-2 on 7 July 1950, two days after the action, Colonel Smith gave the time as 0745 when the tank column approached his position. See 24th Div G-3 Jnl, 6-10 Jul 50, entry 64, 071720. A telephone call from USAFIK headquarters in Taejon to GHQ in Tokyo at 1105, 5 July, gave the time of initial contact as 0818. Memo, Gen Wright, FEC G-3, for CofS ROK, 051130 Jul 50.]
At 0816 the first American artillery fire of the Korean War hurtled through the air toward the North Korean tanks. The number two howitzer fired the first two rounds, and the other pieces then joined in the firing. The artillery took the tanks under fire at a range of approximately 4,000 yards, about 2,000 yards in front of the American infantry. [N6-26] The forward observer quickly adjusted the fire and shells began landing among the tanks. But the watching infantrymen saw the tanks keep on coming, undeterred by the exploding artillery shells.
To conserve ammunition Colonel Smith issued orders that the 75-mm. recoilless rifle covering the highway should withhold fire until the tanks closed to 700 yards. The tanks stayed in column, displayed little caution, and did not leave the road. The commander of the enemy tank column may have thought he had encountered only another minor ROK delaying position.
General Barth had gone back to the artillery just before the enemy came into view and did not know when he arrived there that an enemy force was approaching. After receiving reports from the forward observer that the artillery fire was ineffective against the tanks, he started back to alert the 1st Battalion of the 34th Infantry, whose arrival he expected at Pyongtaek during the night, against a probable breakthrough of the enemy tanks. [N6-27]
[N6-26 Intervs, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Eversole, 1 Aug 51; Barth, MS review comments, 28 Feb 58. Knowing the action was of historic importance, Barth looked at his watch when the artillery opened fire. He says it was 0816.]
[N6-27 Barth MS; Interv, author with Captain Ben M. Huckabay, 2 Aug 51. (Huckabay was a corporal at Osan with the 52nd Field Artillery.)
When the enemy tank column approached within 700 yards of the infantry position, the two recoilless rifles took it under fire. They scored direct hits, but apparently did not damage the tanks which, firing their 85-mm. cannon and 7.62-mm. machine guns, rumbled on up the incline toward the saddle. When they were almost abreast of the infantry position, the lead tanks came under 2.36-inch rocket launcher fire. Operating a bazooka from the ditch along the east side of the road, 2nd Lieutenant Ollie D. Connor, fired twenty-two rockets at approximately fifteen yards’ range against the rear of the tanks where their armor was weakest. Whether they were effective is doubtful. The two lead tanks, however, were stopped just through the pass when they came under direct fire of the single 105-mm. howitzer using HEAT ammunition. Very likely these artillery shells stopped the two tanks, although the barrage of close-range bazooka rockets may have damaged their tracks. [N6-28]
The two damaged tanks pulled off to the side of the road, clearing the way for those following. One of the two caught fire and burned. Two men emerged from its turret with their hands up. A third jumped out with a burp gun in his hands and fired directly into a machine gun position, killing the assistant gunner. This unidentified machine gunner probably was the first American ground soldier killed in action in Korea. [N6-29] American fire killed the three North Koreans. The six rounds of HEAT ammunition at the forward gun were soon expended, leaving only the HE shells which ricocheted off the tanks. The third tank through the pass knocked out the forward gun and wounded one of its crew members.
[N6-28 Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, and Perry, 13 Dec 51. Smith told the author that the bazooka ammunition had deteriorated because of age.]
[N6-29 Interv, author with 1st Lieutenant Lawrence C. Powers, 2 Aug 51. Powers was Headquarters Company Communications Officer, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, at Osan, 5 July. He said he saw this action.]
The tanks did not stop to engage the infantry; they merely fired on them as they came through. Following the first group of 8 tanks came; others at short intervals, usually in groups of 4. These, too, went unhesitatingly through the infantry position and on down the road toward the artillery position. In all, there were 33 tanks in the column. The last passed through the infantry position by 0900, about an hour after the lead tanks had reached the saddle. In this hour, tank fire had killed or wounded approximately twenty men in Smith’s position. [N6-30]
Earlier in the morning it was supposed to have been no more than an academic question as to what would happen if tanks came through the infantry to the artillery position. Someone in the artillery had raised this point to be answered by the infantry, “Don’t worry, they will never get back to you.” One of the artillerymen later expressed the prevailing opinion by saying, “Everyone thought the enemy would turn around and go back when they found out who was fighting.”] Word now came to the artillerymen from the forward observer that tanks were through the infantry and to be ready for them. The first tanks cut up the telephone wire strung along the road from the artillery to the infantry and destroyed this communication. The radios were wet and functioning badly; now only the jeep radio worked. Communication with the infantry after 0900 was spotty at best, and, about 1100, it ceased altogether.
[N6-30 Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Huckabay, 2 Aug 51, and Sergeant Jack L. Ruffner, 2 Aug 51.]
The tanks came on toward the artillery pieces, which kept them under fire but could not stop them. About 500 yards from the battery, the tanks stopped behind a little hill seeking protection from direct fire. Then, one at a time, they came down the road with a rush, hatches closed, making a run to get past the battery position. Some fired their 85-mm. cannon, others only their machine guns. Their aim was haphazard in most cases for the enemy tankers had not located the gun positions. Some of the tank guns even pointed toward the opposite side of the road. Only one tank stopped momentarily at the little trail where the howitzers had pulled off the main road as though it meant to try to overrun the battery which its crew evidently had located. Fortunately, however, it did not leave the road but instead, after a moment, continued on toward Osan. The 105-mm. howitzers fired at ranges of 150-300 yards as the tanks went by, but the shells only jarred the tanks and bounced off. Altogether, the tanks did not average more than one round each in return fire.
Three bazooka teams from the artillery had posted themselves near the road before the tanks appeared. When word came that the tanks were through the infantry, two more bazooka teams, one led by Colonel Perry and the other by Sergeant Edwin A. Eversole, started to move into position. The first tank caught both Perry and Eversole in the rice paddy between the howitzers and the highway. When Eversole’s first bazooka round bounced off the turret of the tank, he said that tank suddenly looked to him “as big as a battleship.” This tank fired its 85-mm. cannon, cutting down a telephone pole which fell harmlessly over Eversole who had flung himself down into a paddy drainage ditch. A 105-mm. shell hit the tracks of the third tank and stopped it. The other tanks in this group went on through. The four American howitzers remained undamaged.
After these tanks had passed out of sight, Colonel Perry took an interpreter and worked his way up close to the immobilized enemy tank. Through the interpreter, he called on the crew to come out and surrender. There was no response. Perry then ordered the howitzers to destroy the tank. After three rounds had hit the tank, two men jumped out of it and took cover in a culvert. Perry sent a squad forward and it killed the two North Koreans.
During this little action, small arms fire hit Colonel Perry in the right leg. Refusing to be evacuated, he hobbled around or sat against the base of a tree giving orders and instructions in preparation for the appearance of more tanks. [NOTE: Intervs, author with Eversole, 1 Aug 51, and Huckabay, 2 Aug 51. Special Order 76, 20 September 1950, awarded Colonel Perry the Distinguished Service Cross. ]
In about ten minutes the second wave of tanks followed the last of the first group. This time there were more—”a string of them,” as one man expressed it. They came in ones, twos, and threes, close together with no apparent interval or organization.
When the second wave of tanks came into view, some of the howitzer crew members started to “take off.” As one present said, the men were “shy about helping.” The officers had to drag the ammunition up and load the pieces themselves. The senior noncommissioned officers fired the pieces. The momentary panic soon passed and, with the good example and strong leadership of Colonel Perry and 1st Lieutenant Dwain L. Scott before them, the men returned to their positions.
Many of the second group of tanks did not fire on the artillery at all. Again, the 105-mm. howitzers could not stop the oncoming tanks. They did, however hit another in its tracks, disabling it in front of the artillery position.[N6-37] Some of the tanks had one or two infantrymen on their decks. Artillery fire blew off or killed most of them; some lay limply dead as the tanks went by; others slowly jolted off onto the road. Enemy tank fire caused a building to burn near the battery position and a nearby dump of about 300 rounds of artillery shells began to explode. The last of the tanks passed the artillery position by 1015. These tanks were from the 107th Tank Regiment of the 105th Armored Division, in support of the N.K. 4th Division. [N6-40]
[N6-37 Intervs, author with Eversole, 1 Aug 51, and Perry, 13 Dec 51. The 24th Division General Order 111, 30 August 1950, awarded Lieutenant Scott the Silver Star for action at Osan, 5 July 1950.]
Colonel Perry estimates that his four howitzers fired an average of 4 to 6 rounds at each of the tanks, and that they averaged perhaps 1 round each in return. After the last tank was out of sight, rumbling on toward Osan, the score stood as follows: the forward 105mm. howitzer, and 2.36-inch bazookas fired from the infantry position, had knocked out and left burning 1 tank and damaged another so that it could not move; the artillery had stopped 2 more in front of the battery position, while 3 others though damaged had managed to limp out of range toward Osan. This made 4 tanks destroyed or immobilized and 3 others slightly damaged but serviceable out of a total of 33.
For their part, the tanks had destroyed the forward 105-mm. howitzer and wounded one of its crew members, had killed or wounded an estimated twenty infantrymen, and had destroyed all the parked vehicles behind the infantry position. At the main battery position the tanks had slightly damaged one of the four guns by a near miss. Only Colonel Perry and another man were wounded at the battery position.
Task Force Smith was not able to use any antitank mines—one of the most effective methods of defense against tanks—as there were none in Korea at the time. Colonel Perry was of the opinion that a few well-placed antitank mines would have stopped the entire armored column in the road. [N6-42]
[N6-40 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 4 (Enemy Forces), p. 37.]
After the last of the tank column had passed through the infantry position and the artillery and tank fire back toward Osan had subsided, the American positions became quiet again. There was no movement of any kind discernible on the road ahead toward Suwon. But Smith knew that he must expect enemy infantry soon. In the steady rain that continued throughout the morning, the men deepened their foxholes and otherwise improved their positions.
Perhaps an hour after the enemy tank column had moved through, Colonel Smith, from his observation post, saw movement on the road far away, near Suwon. This slowly became discernible as a long column of trucks and foot soldiers. Smith estimated the column to be about six miles long. [N6-43] It took an hour for the head of the column to reach a point 1,000 yards in front of the American infantry. There were three tanks in front, followed by a long line of trucks, and, behind these, several miles of marching infantry. There could be no doubt about it, this was a major force of the North Korean Army pushing south—the 16th and 18th Regiments of the N.K. 4th Division, as learned later. [N6-44]
[N6-42 Intervs, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Powers, 2 Aug 51: Ltr, Smith to author, 4 May 52.]
[N6-43 Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51.]
[N6-44 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), p. 45. The division’s third regiment, the5th, remained behind in Suwon.]
Whether the enemy column knew that American ground troops had arrived in Korea and were present in the battle area is unknown. Later, Sr. Colonel Lee Hak Ku, in early July operations officer of the N.K. II Corps, said he had no idea that the United States would intervene in the war, that nothing had been said about possible U.S. intervention, and that he believed it came as a surprise to North Korean authorities. [N6-45]
With battle against a greatly superior number of enemy troops only a matter of minutes away, the apprehensions of the American infantry watching the approaching procession can well be imagined. General MacArthur later referred to his commitment of a handful of American ground troops as “that arrogant display of strength” which he hoped would fool the enemy into thinking that a much larger force was at hand.[N6-46]
When the convoy of enemy trucks was about 1,000 yards away, Colonel Smith, to use his own words, “threw the book at them.” Mortar shells landed among the trucks and .50-caliber machine gun bullets swept the column. Trucks burst into flames. Men were blown into the air; others sprang from their vehicles and jumped into ditches alongside the road. The three tanks moved to within 200-300 yards of the American positions and began raking the ridge line with cannon and machine gun fire. Behind the burning vehicles an estimated 1,000 enemy infantry de-trucked and started to deploy. Behind them other truckloads of infantry stopped and waited. It was now about 1145.[N6-47]
[N6-45 ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 9 (N.K. Forces), pp. 158-74, Interrog of Sr Col Lee Hak Ku.]
[N6-46 Senate MacArthur Hearings, pt. I, p. 231.]
[N6-47 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), p. 45; 24th Div G-3 Jnl, Rpt of Interrog of Col Smith, 071720, entry 64; Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51.]
The enemy infantry began moving up the finger ridge along the east side of the road. There, some of them set up a base of fire while others fanned out to either side in a double enveloping movement. The American fire broke up all efforts of the enemy infantry to advance frontally. Strange though it was, the North Koreans made no strong effort to attack the flanks; they seemed bent on getting around rather than closing on them. Within an hour, about 1230, the enemy appeared in force on the high hill to the west of the highway overlooking and dominating the knob on that side held by a platoon of B Company. Smith, observing this, withdrew the platoon to the east side of the road. Major Floyd Martin, executive officer of the 1st Battalion, meanwhile supervised the carrying of available ammunition stocks to a central and protected area back of the battalion command post. The 4.2-inch mortars were moved up closer, and otherwise the men achieved a tighter defense perimeter on the highest ground east of the road. [N6-48] In the exchange of fire that went on an increasing amount of enemy mortar and artillery fire fell on the American position. Enemy machine guns on hills overlooking the right flank now also began firing on Smith’s men.
Earlier, Colonel Perry had twice sent wire parties to repair the communications wire between the artillery and the infantry, but both had returned saying they had been fired upon. At 1300 Perry sent a third group led by his Assistant S-3. This time he ordered the men to put in a new line across the paddies east of the road and to avoid the area where the earlier parties said they had received fire.
[N6-48 21st Inf Regt WD, 5 Jul 50; Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, and Powers, 2 Aug 51.]
About 1430, Colonel Smith decided that if any of his command was to get out, the time to move was at hand. Large numbers of the enemy were now on both flanks and moving toward his rear; a huge enemy reserve waited in front of him along the road stretching back toward Suwon; and his small arms ammunition was nearly gone. A large enemy tank force was already in his rear. He had no communications, not even with Colonel Perry’s artillery a mile behind him, and he could hope for no reinforcements. Perry’s artillery had fired on the enemy infantry as long as the fire direction communication functioned properly, but this too had failed soon after the infantry fight began. The weather prevented friendly air from arriving at the scene. Had it been present it could have worked havoc with the enemy-clogged road.
Smith planned to withdraw his men by leapfrogging units off the ridge, each jump of the withdrawal covered by protecting fire of the next unit ahead. The selected route of withdrawal was toward Osan down the finger ridge on the right flank, just west of the railroad track. First off the hill was C Company, followed by the medics, then battalion headquarters, and, finally, B Company, except its 2nd Platoon which never received the withdrawal order. A platoon messenger returned from the company command post and reported to 2nd Lieutenant Carl F. Bernard that there was no one at the command post and that the platoon was the only group left in position. After confirming this report Bernard tried to withdraw his men. At the time of the withdrawal the men carried only small arms and each averaged two or three clips of ammunition. They abandoned all crew-served weapons—recoilless rifles, mortars, and machine guns. They had no alternative but to leave behind all the dead and about twenty-five to thirty wounded litter cases. A medical sergeant, whose name unfortunately has not been determined, voluntarily remained with the latter. The slightly wounded moved out with the main units, but when enemy fire dispersed some of the groups many of the wounded dropped behind and were seen no more.
Task Force Smith suffered its heaviest casualties in the withdrawal. Some of the enemy machine gun fire was at close quarters. The captain and pitcher of the regimental baseball team, 1st Lieutenant Raymond “Bodie” Adams, used his pitching arm to win the greatest victory of his career when he threw a grenade forty yards into an enemy machine gun position, destroying the gun and killing the crew. This particular gun had caused heavy casualties.
About the time B Company, the initial covering unit, was ready to withdraw, Colonel Smith left the hill, slanted off to the railroad track and followed it south to a point opposite the artillery position. From there he struck off west through the rice paddies to find Colonel Perry and tell him the infantry was leaving. While crossing the rice paddies Smith met Perry’s wire party and together they hurried to Perry’s artillery battery. Smith had assumed that the enemy tanks had destroyed all the artillery pieces and had made casualties of most of the men. His surprise was complete when he found that all the guns at this battery position were operable and that only Colonel Perry and another man were wounded. Enemy infantry had not yet appeared at the artillery position.
Upon receiving Smith’s order to withdraw, the artillerymen immediately made ready to go. They removed the sights and breech locks from the guns and carried them and the aiming circles to their vehicles. Smith, Perry, and the artillerymen walked back to the outskirts of Osan where they found the artillery trucks as they had left them, only a few being slightly damaged by tank and machine gun fire.
Perry and Smith planned to take a road at the south edge of Osan to Ansong, assuming that the enemy tanks had gone down the main road toward Pyongtaek . Rounding a bend in the road near the southern edge of the town, but short of the Ansong road, Smith and Perry in the lead vehicle came suddenly upon three enemy tanks halted just ahead of them. Some or all of the tank crew members were standing about smoking cigarettes. The little column of vehicles turned around quickly, and, without a shot being fired, drove back to the north edge of Osan. There they turned into a small dirt road that led eastward, hoping that it would get them to Ansong.
The column soon came upon groups of infantry from Smith’s battalion struggling over the hills and through the rice paddies. Some of the men had taken off their shoes in the rice paddies, others were without head covering of any kind, while some had their shirts off. The trucks stopped and waited while several of these groups came up and climbed on them. About 100 infantrymen joined the artillery group in this way. Then the vehicles continued on unmolested, arriving at Ansong after dark. There was no pursuit. The North Korean infantry occupied the vacated positions, and busied themselves in gathering trophies, apparently content to have driven off the enemy force.
The next morning, 6 July, Colonel Smith and his party went on to Chonan. Upon arrival there a count revealed that he had 185 men. Subsequently, Captain Richard Dashmer, C Company commander, came in with 65 men, increasing the total to 250. There were about 150 men killed, wounded, or missing from Colonel Smith’s infantry force when he took a second count later in the day. The greatest loss was in B Company. [N6-55] Survivors straggled in to American lines at Pyongtaek, Chonan, Taejon, and other points in southern Korea during the next several days. Lieutenant Bernard and twelve men of the reserve platoon of B Company reached Chonan two days after the Osan fight. Five times he and his men had encountered North Korean roadblocks. They arrived at Chonan only half an hour ahead of the enemy. A few men walked all the way from Osan to the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. One man eventually arrived at Pusan on a Korean sampan from the west coast. [N6-56]
[N6-55 Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51. Smith estimated his losses at 155 men. A verbal report by the 24th Division G-1, recorded in a penciled journal entry in the division G-3 Journal, entry 71, 071500, gave the total missing from the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, as 148 enlisted men and 5 officers. This total included 63 enlisted men and 2 officers from B Company, and 32 enlisted men and 2 officers from C Company.]
None of the 5 officers and 10 enlisted men of the artillery forward observer, liaison, machine gun, and bazooka group with the infantry ever came back. On 7 July 5 officers and 26 enlisted men from the artillery were still missing. [N6-57]
[N6-56 Bernard, MS review comments, 24 Feb 58; Lieutenant Bernard as told to Sergeant Al Mullikin, “The First Brutal Weeks in Korea,” the Washington Post, June 24, 1951; Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51.]
[N6-57 Ltr, Perry to author, 25 May 52; Interv, author with Huckabay, 2 Aug 51; 24th Div G-3 Jnl, Msg 67, 071935; 24th Div G-2 PW Interrog file, 6-22 Jul 50 (Paik In Soo); New York Times, July 6, 1950. One group of 36 Americans led by 2nd Lieutenant Jansen C. Cox was captured on 6 July southeast of Osan.]
The N.K. 4th Division and attached units apparently lost approximately 42 killed and 85 wounded at Osan on 5 July. [N6-58] A diary taken from a dead North Korean soldier some days later carried this entry about Osan: “5 Jul 50 … we met vehicles and American PWs. We also saw some American dead. We found 4 of our destroyed tanks. Near Osan there was a great battle.” [N6-59]
[N6-58 ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 4 (Enemy Docs), p. 3, Casualty Rpt for 16th, 17th, 18th Regts, Arty Regt and attached units, 25 Jun-10 Jul 50. A few of the enemy casualties given for Osan may have occurred at Pyongtaek the next day, but their losses at the latter place could not have been numerous. ]
[N6-59 24th Div G-2 PW Interrog File, 6-22 Jul 50. On 11 July an enemy radio broadcast from Seoul first used PW’s for propaganda purposes. Captain Ambrose H. Nugent, of the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, read a statement of about a thousand words in English. The Seoul radio said Nugent was one of seventy-two Americans captured at Osan from the 21st Infantry and the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion. See New York Times, July 6, 1950, and the New York Herald-Tribune, July 12, 1950.]
SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)