Korean War: Delaying Action: Pyongtaek to Chochiwon July 1950 (7)

Elements of the 34th Infantry began arriving at Pusan by ship late in the afternoon of 2 July. The next afternoon two LST’s arrived with equipment. All that night loading went on at the railroad station. Just after daylight of 4 July the 1st Battalion started north by rail; by evening the last of the regiment was following. Colonel Jay B. Lovless commanded the regiment, which had a strength of 1,981 men.

When Colonel Lovless saw General Dean at Taejon early on 5 July the General told him that Lieutenant Colonel Harold B. Ayres (an experienced battalion combat officer of the Italian campaign in World War II), whom Lovless had never seen and who had just flown to Korea from his 1st Battalion at Pyongtaek. Colonel Ayres had arrived at Pyongtaek that morning about 0500 with the 1st Battalion. Dean told Lovless that he would like the 3d Battalion to go to Ansong, if possible, and that the 34th Regimental command post should be at Songhwan-ni. As requested by General Dean, the 3d Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel David H. Smith, went to Ansong, twelve miles east of Pyongtaek to cover the highway there. Colonel Lovless set up his regimental headquarters that day, 5 July, at Songhwan-ni, six miles south of P’yongt’aek, on the main highway and rail line.  

Once south of Pyongtaek , the Korean peninsula broadens out westward forty-five miles and a road net spreads south and west there permitting the outflanking of the Seoul-Taegu highway positions. East of Ansong, mountains come down close to that town, affording some protection there to a right (east) flank anchored on it. Pyongtaek and Ansong were key points on the two principal highways running south between the Yellow Sea and the west central mountains.  

If enemy troops succeeded in penetrating south of Pyongtaek , delaying and blocking action against them would become infinitely more difficult in the western part of Korea. General Dean was expecting too much, however, to anticipate that one battalion in the poor state of training that characterized the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, and without artillery, tank, or antitank weapon support, could hold the Pyongtaek position more than momentarily against the vastly superior enemy force that was known to be advancing on it.

The Retreat From Pyongtaek  

When General Barth reached Pyongtaek from the Osan position the morning of 5 July he found there, as he had expected, Colonel Ayres and the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry. He told Ayres of the situation at Osan and said that probably enemy tanks would break through there and come on down the road. He asked Ayres to send some bazooka teams on ahead to intercept the expected tanks.

 Lieutenant Charles E. Payne with some infantrymen started north. Approaching the village of Sojong they discovered tank tracks in the muddy road where an enemy tank had turned around. Payne stopped the trucks and dismounted his men. A South Korean soldier on horseback, wearing foliage camouflage on his helmet, rode up to them and yelled, “Tanks, tanks, go back!” Payne eventually located the enemy tank on the railroad track about a mile ahead at the edge of Sojong-ni, five miles south of Osan. In an exchange of fire about 1600 between his bazooka teams and the tank at long range, enemy machine gun fire killed Private Kenneth Shadrick. The bazooka teams withdrew, bringing Shadrick’s body with them. The group returned to Pyongtaek and reported the futile effort to Barth and Ayres.

 That evening after dark General Dean and his aide, 1st Lieutenant Arthur M. Clarke, drove to Pyongtaek . There was still no word from Smith and his men, but the presence of enemy tanks south of Osan raised all sorts of conjectures in Dean’s mind. After midnight, he started back to Taejon full of forebodings about Task Force Smith.

 Four survivors of the Osan fight arrived at Ayres’ command post at Pyongtaek shortly after General Dean had left it and told an exaggerated story of the destruction of Task Force Smith. A few minutes later, Colonel Perry arrived from Ansong and made his report of what had happened to Task Force Smith. Barth and Ayres then decided to keep the 1st Battalion in its blocking position but to destroy the highway bridge just north of the town now that enemy tanks must be expected momentarily. Members of the 1st Battalion blew the bridge at 0300, 6 July. General Barth instructed Colonel Ayres to hold as long as he could but to withdraw if his battalion was in danger of being outflanked and cut off. He was “not to end up like Brad Smith.”

 General Barth left the 1st Battalion command post at Pyongtaek about 0130, 6 July, and started south. He arrived at Colonel Lovless’ regimental command post at Songhwan-ni about an hour later. Already Colonel Smith with the remnant (about eighty-six men) of his task force had passed through there from Ansong on the way to Chonan, leaving four badly wounded men with Lovless. Colonel Lovless had not received any instructions from General Dean about General Barth, yet now he learned from the latter that he was giving orders to the regiment, and also independently to its battalions. General Barth told Lovless about the position of his 1st Battalion at Pyongtaek . According to Colonel Lovless, Barth then told him to consolidate the regiment in the vicinity of Chonan. Barth directed that the 3rd Battalion, less L Company (the regimental reserve) which was near Pyongtaek , should move from Ansong to Chonan. Colonel Lovless thereupon directed L Company to act as a rear guard and delay on successive positions when the 1st Battalion should withdraw from Pyongtaek . As events later proved, the company did not carry out that order but closed directly on Chonan when the withdrawal began. Barth left the 34th Infantry command post for Chonan before daylight.

 The men of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, in their positions at the river line two miles north of Pyongtaek had an uncomfortable time of it as dawn broke on 6 July in fog and rain. With water in their foxholes, the men huddled in small groups beside them as they broke open C ration cans for an early breakfast. Colonel Ayres came down the road and stopped where a group of them manned a roadblock, and then he climbed the hill west of the highway to the A Company command post.

 On the hill, Platoon Sergeant Roy F. Collins was eating his C ration breakfast when the sound of running motors caused him suddenly to look up. He saw in the fog the outline of tanks on the far side of the blown bridge. From the company command post, Colonel Ayres and Captain Leroy Osburn, A Company commander, saw the tanks about the same time. Beyond the first tanks, a faint outline of soldiers marching in a column of twos on the left side of the road and a line of more tanks and trucks on the right side, came into view. Some of those watching speculated that it might be part of the 21st Infantry Task Force Smith coming back from Osan. But others immediately said that Task Force Smith had no tanks. It required only a minute or two for everyone to realize that the force moving up to the blown bridge was North Korean. It was, in fact, elements of the North Korean 4th Division.

 The lead tank stopped at the edge of the blown bridge and its crew members got out to examine the damage. Other tanks pulled up behind it, bumper to bumper, until Sergeant Collins counted thirteen of their blurred shapes. The North Korean infantry came up and, without halting, moved around the tanks to the stream, passing the blown bridge on both sides. Colonel Ayres by this time had ordered the 4.2-inch mortars to fire on the bridge area. Their shells destroyed at least one enemy truck. The enemy tanks opened fire with their tank guns on A Company’s position. American return fire was scattered and ineffective.

 After watching the first few minutes of action and seeing the enemy infantry begin fanning out on either flank, Colonel Ayres told Captain Osburn to withdraw A Company, leaving one platoon behind briefly as a screening force. Ayres then started back to his command post, and upon reaching it telephoned withdrawal orders to B Company on the other (east) side of the highway.

 The 4.2-inch mortar fire which had started off well soon lapsed when an early round of enemy tank fire stunned the mortar observer and no one else took over direction of fire. Within half an hour after the enemy column had loomed up out of the fog and rain at the blown bridge, North Korean infantrymen had crossed the stream and worked sufficiently close to the American positions for the men in A Company to see them load their rifles.

 When he returned to his command post, Colonel Ayres talked with Major John J. Dunn, S-3 of the 34th Infantry, who had arrived there during his absence. About 0300 that morning, Dunn had awakened at the regimental command post to find everyone in a state of great excitement. News had just arrived that the enemy had overrun Task Force Smith. The regiment had no communication with its 1st Battalion at Pyongtaek. The distances between Ansong, Pyongtaek , and Songhwan-ni were so great the command radios could not net. Land lines were laid from Songhwan-ni to Pyongtaek but it was impossible to keep them intact. Retreating South Korean soldiers and civilian refugees repeatedly cut out sections of the telephone wire to improvise harness to carry packs and possessions. The only communication was liaison officers or messengers.

 Accordingly, orders and reports often were late and outdated by events when received. Dunn asked Colonel Lovless for, and got, permission to go forward and determine the situation. Before he started, Dunn asked for any instructions to be delivered to Colonel Ayres. Lovless spread a map on a table and repeated General Earth’s instructions to hold as long as possible without endangering the battalion and then to withdraw to a position near Chonan, which he pointed out on the map. Dunn set out in a jeep, traveling northward through the dark night along a road jammed with retreating ROK soldiers and refugees. In his conversation with Ayres at the 1st Battalion command post, Major Dunn delivered the instructions passed on to him. The decision as to when to withdraw the 1st Battalion was Ayres’; the decision as to where it would go to take up its next defensive position apparently was General Barth’s as relayed by Lovless.

 Colonel Ayres started withdrawing his battalion soon after his conversation with Major Dunn. By midmorning it was on the road back to Chonan. That afternoon it began arriving there. Last to arrive in the early evening was A Company. Most of the units were disorganized. Discarded equipment and clothing littered the Pyongtaek -Chonan road.

 Night Battle at Chonan

 When General Barth arrived at Chonan that morning he found there two troop trains carrying A and D Companies and a part of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry. They were the parts of the battalion not airlifted to Korea on 1 July with Task Force Smith. Barth put them in a defensive position two miles south of Chonan.  

When General Barth returned to Chonan in the early afternoon the advance elements of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, were already there. He ordered the 1st Battalion to join elements of the 21st Infantry in the defensive position he had just established two miles south of the town. Lovless had already telephoned from Chonan to Dean at Taejon giving him the Pyongtaek news. Familiar aspects of war were present all day in Chonan. Trains going south through the town were loaded with ROK soldiers or civilians. Everyone was trying to escape southward.  

Dean that evening started for Chonan. There he presided over an uncomfortable meeting in Colonel Lovless’ command post Dean was angry. He asked who had authorized the withdrawal from Pyongtaek . Colonel Ayres finally broke the silence, saying he would accept the responsibility. Dean considered ordering the regiment back north at once, but the danger of a night ambuscade caused him to decide against it. Instead, he ordered a company to go north the next morning after daylight. General Barth remained at Chonan overnight and then started for Taejon. He remained in command of the 24th Division artillery until 14 July when he assumed command of his regular unit, the 25th Division artillery.

 As ordered, the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, had arrived at Chonan from Ansong the afternoon of 6 July and during that night. Colonel Lovless gave its L Company the mission of advancing north of Chonan to meet the North Koreans the morning of the 7th. With the regimental Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon in the lead, the little force started out at 0810. Only some South Korean police were in the silent town. The civilian population had fled. At this point Lovless received a message from General Dean. It read, “Time filed 1025, date 7 July 50. To CO 34th Inf. Move one Bn fwd with minimum transportation. Gain contact and be prepared to fight delaying action back to recent position. PD air reports no enemy armor south of river. CG 24 D.” Pursuant to these instructions, the 3rd Battalion moved up behind L Company.

 Colonel Robert R. Martin had now arrived at Chonan from Taejon. He was wearing low-cut shoes, overseas cap, and had neither helmet, weapons, nor equipment. General Dean and Colonel Martin had been good friends since they served together in the 44th Division in Europe in World War II. Dean had the highest opinion of Martin as a regimental commander and knew him to be a determined, brave soldier. As soon as he was ordered to Korea, General Dean requested the Far East Command to assign Martin to him. Arriving by air from Japan, Colonel Martin had been at Taejon approximately one day when on the morning of 7 July Dean sent him northward to the combat area.

 As the 3rd Battalion moved north out of Chonan it passed multitudes of South Koreans going south on foot and on horseback. Lovless and others could see numerous armed troops moving south on the hills to the west. Lovless asked the interpreter to determine if they were North or South Koreans. The latter said they were South Koreans. Some distance beyond the town, men in the point saw enemy soldiers on high ground where the road dipped out of sight. The time was approximately 1300. These enemy troops withdrew several times as the point advanced cautiously. Finally, about four or five miles north of Chonan enemy small arms fire and some mortar shells came in on the I & R Platoon. The advance halted. It was past midafternoon. An artillery officer reported to Lovless and Martin (the latter accompanied Lovless during the day) that he had one gun. Lovless had him emplace it in a gap in the hills about three miles north of Chonan; from there he could place direct fire in front of L Company.  A liaison plane now came over and dropped a message for Lovless which read, “To CO 34th Infantry, 1600 7 July. Proceed with greatest caution. Large number of troops on your east and west flanks. Near Ansong lots of tanks (4050) and trucks. Myang-Myon large concentration of troops. Songhwan-ni large concentration of troops trying to flank your unit. [Sgd] Dean.”

 Lovless and Martin now drove to the command post of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, to acquaint Colonel Ayres with this intelligence and the situation north of Chonan. When they arrived there they found Brigadier General Pearson Menoher, Assistant Division Commander, 24th Division, and General Church.

 General Menoher gave Colonel Lovless an order signed by General Dean relieving him of command of the 34th Infantry and directing that he turn over command to Colonel Martin. Martin likewise received an order to assume command. The change of command took place at 1800. Lovless had been in command of the regiment only a month or two before the Korean War started. He had replaced an officer who had failed to bring the regiment to a desired state of training. It appears that Lovless inherited a chaotic situation in the regiment; the state of training was unsatisfactory and some of the officers wholly unfitted for troop command. Before the regiment’s initial commitment in Korea, Lovless had not had time to change its condition appreciably.

 While the change of command scene was taking place at the 1st Battalion command post, Major Dunn had gone forward from the regimental command post to find the 3rd Battalion moving into a good defensive position north of Chonan with excellent fields of fire. While he talked with Colonel Smith, the battalion commander, the I&R Platoon leader drove up in a jeep. There were bullet holes in his canteen and clothing. He reported that an estimated forty enemy soldiers had ambushed his platoon in a small village a mile ahead. The platoon had withdrawn, he said, but three of his men were still in the village.

 Dunn started forward with the leading rifle company, intending to attack into the village to rescue the men. As he was making preparations for this action, Major Boone Seegars, the battalion S-3, came from the direction of the village with several soldiers and reported that he had found the missing men. Dunn then canceled the planned attack and directed the company to take up a blocking position. As the company started back to do this a small group of North Koreans fired on it from the west. The company returned the fire at long range. Dunn kept the company moving and got it into the position he had selected, but he had trouble preventing it from engaging in wild and indiscriminate firing. Friendly mortar fire from the rear soon fell near his position and Dunn went back to find Colonel Smith and stop it. Upon arriving at the 3rd Battalion defensive position he found the battalion evacuating it and falling back south along the road. He could find neither the battalion commander nor the executive officer.

 Dunn went to the command post and explained to the group that the 3rd Battalion was abandoning its position. One of the colonels (apparently Colonel Martin) asked Dunn if the regiment would take orders from him. Dunn replied, “Yes.” The colonel then ordered, “Put them back in that position.”

 Dunn headed the retreating 3rd Battalion back north. Then with Major Seegars, two company commanders, and a few men in a second jeep, Dunn went on ahead. Half a mile short of the position that Dunn wanted the battalion to reoccupy, the two jeeps were fired on from close range. Majors Dunn and Seegars were badly wounded; others were also hit. Dunn crawled to some roadside bushes where he worked to stop blood flowing from an artery in a head wound. An enlisted man pulled Seegars to the roadside. Dunn estimates there were about thirty or forty enemy advance scouts in the group that ambushed his party. An unharmed officer ran to the rear, saying he was going for help.

From his position on a little knoll, Dunn could see the leading rifle company behind him deploy when the firing began, drop to the ground, and return the enemy fire. The men were close enough that he could recognize them as they moved into line. But they did not advance, and their officers apparently made no attempt to have them rescue the wounded men. After a few minutes, Dunn heard an officer shout, “Fall back! Fall back!” and he saw the men leave the skirmish line and move to the rear. This exhibition of a superior force abandoning wounded men without making an effort to rescue them was, to Dunn, “nauseating.” Dunn, who was captured and held thirty-eight months a prisoner in North Korea, said the main enemy moving up, crosses the path of ROK troops and body did not arrive for two hours. Major Seegars apparently died that night.

 The battalion, in withdrawing to Chonan, abandoned some of its mortars. By the time the battalion reached the town its units were mixed up and in considerable disorder. South of the town, Colonel Smith received an order to return to Chonan and defend it. Colonel Martin led a Headquarters Company patrol north of Chonan and recovered jeeps and other abandoned 3rd Battalion equipment.

 By 1700, 7 July, the 3rd Battalion was in a defensive position along the railroad tracks west of Chonan and along the northern edge of the town. Some of the troops organized the concrete platform of the railroad station as a strongpoint. Others mined a secondary road running from the northwest into the town to prevent a surprise tank attack from that direction.

 In the early part of the evening some enemy pressure developed from the west. At 2000 a battery of the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion, newly arrived in Korea, emplaced south of Chonan to support the 34th Infantry. Soon thereafter it fired its first fire mission, employing high explosive and white phosphorus shells, against a column of tanks and infantry approaching the town from the east, and reportedly destroyed two tanks. This enemy force appears to have made the first infiltration into Chonan shortly before midnight.

 After midnight, reports to the regimental command post stated that approximately eighty men and Colonel Martin, who had gone into the town, were cut off by enemy soldiers. Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Wadlington, the regimental executive officer, reported this to General Dean at Taejon, and, at the same time, said the regimental ammunition supply was low and asked for instructions. Dean instructed Wadlington to fight a delaying action and to get word to Martin in Chonan to bring his force out under cover of darkness. Dean learned with great relief from a message sent him at 0220 8 July that Colonel Martin had returned from the town and that the supply road into Chonan was open.

 Sometime before daylight Colonel Martin went back into Chonan. About daylight a 2½-ton truck came from the town to get ammunition. Returning, the driver saw an enemy tank approaching on the dirt road running into Chonan from the northwest. Others were following it. They came right through the mine field laid the day before. Enemy soldiers either had removed the mines under cover of darkness or the mines had been improperly armed; none exploded. The driver of the truck turned the vehicle around short of the road intersection and escaped. (N7-1616 Interv, author with Colonel Stephens, 8 Oct 51; Interv, Mitchell with Smith, 29 Jul 50; Interv, Mitchell with Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Dawson (CO 63rd FA Bn), 27 Jul 50; Interv, Mitchell with Menninger, 31 Jul 50.]

 This group of five or six tanks entered Chonan and opened fire on the railroad station, the church, several buildings suspected of harboring American soldiers, and all vehicles in sight. In the street fighting that followed, members of the 3rd Battalion reportedly destroyed two tanks with bazookas and grenades. Private Leotis E. Heater threw five grenades onto one tank and set it burning. Enemy infantry penetrated into the city about 0600 and cut off two rifle companies.

 In this street fighting, Colonel Martin met his death about 0800. Martin had obtained a 2.36-inch rocket launcher when the tanks entered Chonan and posted his self in a hut on the east side of the main street. He acted as gunner and Sergeant Jerry C. Christenson of the regimental S-3 Section served as his loader. Sergeant Christenson told Major Dunn a month later when both were prisoners at the North Korean prison camp at Pyongyang that an enemy tank came up and pointed its gun at their building. Colonel Martin aimed the rocket launcher but the tank fired its cannon first, or at the same time that Martin fired the rocket launcher. Its 85-mm. shell cut Martin in two. Concussion from the explosion caused one of Christenson’s eyes to pop from its socket but he succeeded in getting it back in place. On 11 July, the Far East Command awarded Martin posthumously the first Distinguished Service Cross of the Korean War. [N7-1717 Ltr, Dunn to author, 17 Jun 54; Ltr and Comments, Colonel Wadlington to author, 1 Apr 53; Interv, author with Colonel Green (G-3 of ADCOM staff in Korea and temporarily on Dean’s staff), 28 Sep 51; 34th Inf WD, 8 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, 8 Jul 50; FEC GO 12, 11 Jul 50. According to Dunn, Sergeant Christenson died in a North Korean prison camp in December 1950.]

 After Martin’s death, the enemy tanks and increasing numbers of infiltrating enemy soldiers quickly caused confusion in the thinning ranks of the 3rd Battalion. It soon became a question whether any appreciable number of the men would escape from the town. Artillery laid down a continuous white phosphorus screen and under its cloak some of the 3rd Battalion escaped from Chonan between 0800 and 1000. The battalion commander, Colonel Smith, was completely exhausted physically and was evacuated a day or two later. Colonel Wadlington placed Major Newton W. Lantron, the senior officer left in the battalion, in charge of the men at the collecting point. At 1000 the artillery began to displace southward. The 1st Battalion still held its blocking position south of the town.

 Back at Taejon, Dean had spent a sleepless night as the messages came in from the 34th Regiment. In the morning, General Walker flew in from Japan and told Dean that the 24th Division would soon have help—that the Eighth Army was coming to Korea. Walker and Dean drove north to the last hill south of Chonan. They arrived in time to watch the remnants of the 3rd Battalion escape from the town. There they learned the news of Martin’s death.

 Dean ordered Wadlington to assume command of the regiment and to withdraw it toward the Kum River. Just south of Chonan the highway splits: the main road follows the rail line southeast to Chochiwon ; the other fork runs almost due south to the Kum River at Kongju. Dean ordered the 21st Infantry to fight a delaying action down the Chochiwon road; the 34th Infantry was to follow the Kongju road. The two roads converged on Taejon. Both had to be defended.

 In the afternoon, a count at the collecting point showed that 175 men had escaped from Chonan, all that were left of the 3rd Battalion. The 34th Regimental Headquarters also had lost many officers trapped in the town. Survivors were in very poor condition physically and mentally. The North Korean radio at Pyongyang claimed sixty prisoners at Chonan. The 3rd Battalion lost nearly all its mortars and machine guns and many individual weapons. When the 34th Infantry began its retreat south toward the Kum in the late afternoon, enemy troops also moving south were visible on the ridge lines paralleling its course.

 The enemy units that fought the battle of Chonan were the 16th and 18th Regiments of the N.K. 4th Division, supported by tank elements of the 105th Armored Division. The third regiment, called up from Suwon, did not arrive until after the town had fallen. Elements of the 3rd Division arrived at Chonan near the end of the battle and deployed east of the town. [N7-2020 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. th Div), p. 45; Ibid., Issue 96 (N.K. 3rd Div), p. 31.]

 The 21st Infantry Moves Up

 The 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division had now crossed from Japan to Korea. Colonel Stephens, commanding officer of the regiment, arrived at Taejon with a trainload of his troops before noon on 7 July. Stephens, a bluff, rugged soldier, reported to General Dean for instructions. Within the hour Dean sent him northward to take up a delaying position at Chochiwon, support the 34th Infantry, and keep open the main supply road to that regiment.

 At Chochiwon all was confusion. There were no train schedules or train manifests. Supplies for the 24th Division and for the ROK I Corps troops eastward at Chongju arrived all mixed together. The South Korean locomotive engineers were hard to manage. At the least alarm they were apt to bolt south with trains still unloaded, carrying away the supplies and ammunition they had just brought up to the front. American officers had to place guards aboard each locomotive.

 Colonel Stephens placed his 3rd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Carl C. Jensen, in position along the highway six miles north of Chochiwon. A little more than a mile farther north, after they withdrew from their Chonan positions, he placed A and D Companies of the 1st Battalion in an advanced blocking position on a ridge just east of the town of Chonui. Chonui is approximately twelve miles south of Chonan and three miles below the point where the Kongju road forks off from the main highway. [N7-2323 21st Inf WD, 7-8 Jul 50; Ltr, with sketch map showing positions of A and D Companies at Chonui, Brigadier General Richard W. Stephens to author, 24 Mar 52.]

 Late in the day on 8 July, General Dean issued an operational order confirming and supplementing previous verbal and radio instructions. It indicated that the 24th Division would withdraw to a main battle position along the south bank of the Kum River, ten miles south of Chochiwon, fighting delaying actions at successive defensive positions along the way. The order stated, “Hold Kum River line at all costs. Maximum repeat maximum delay will be effected.” The 34th Infantry was to delay the enemy along the Kongju road to the river; the 21st Infantry was to block in front of Chochiwon . Dean ordered one battery of 155-mm. howitzers of the 11th Field Artillery Battalion to Chochiwon for direct support of the 21st Infantry. Also in support of the regiment were A Company, 78th Heavy Tank Battalion (M24 light tanks: Chaffee), less one platoon of four tanks, replacing the 24th Reconnaissance Company tanks, and B Company of the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion. The 3rd itself was to prepare roadblocks north of Kongju along the withdrawal route of the 34th Infantry and to prepare all bridges over the Kum River for demolition.

 Messages from General Dean to Colonel Stephens emphasized that the 21st Infantry must hold at Chochiwon , that the regiment must cover the left flank of the ROK forces eastward in the vicinity of Chongju until the latter could fall back, and that he could expect no help for four days. General Dean’s intent was clear. The 34th and 21st Infantry Regiments were to delay the enemy’s approach to the Kum River as much as possible, and then from positions on the south side of the river make a final stand. The fate of Taejon would be decided at the Kum River line.

 The Fight at Chonui

 On the morning of 9 July, the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, completed moving into the positions north of Chochiwon, and Colonel Jensen began registering his 81-mm. and 4.2-inch mortars. Engineers blew bridges in front of Chonui. By noon the 21st Regimental Headquarters received a report that enemy tanks were moving south from Chonan.

 In midafternoon, Captain Charles R. Alkire, in command at the forward blocking position at Chonui, saw eleven tanks and an estimated 200-300 enemy infantry move into view to his front. He called for an air strike which came in a few minutes later. Artillery also took the tanks under observed fire. Five of the eleven tanks reportedly were burning at 1650. Enemy infantry in Chonui came under 4.2-inch mortar and artillery fire. Observers could see them running from house to house. The men on the low ridge east of Chonui saw columns of black smoke rise beyond the hills to the northwest and assumed that the planes and artillery fire had hit targets there. Aerial observers later reported that twelve vehicles, including tanks, were burning just north of Chonui. At dusk another air report stated that of about 200 vehicles on the road from Pyongtaek to Chonui approximately 100 were destroyed or burning. The third and fourth tactical air control parties to operate in the Korean War (Air Force personnel) directed the strikes at Chonui. [N7-2626 21st Inf WD, 9 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entries 315, 091900 and 317, 091950 Jul 50; Ibid., G-3 Jnl, entries 211, 091820, and 217, 091945 Jul 50; Ltr, Stephens to author, 17 Apr 52; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 4 (Enemy Forces), p. 39. Captured North Koreans said later this aerial and artillery action destroyed twenty of their tanks north of Chonui. New York Herald Tribune, July 12, 1950, Bigart dispatch; USAF Hist Study 71, p. 25. L.Booth]

While this heavy bombardment of the enemy column was still in progress, Colonel Stephens arrived at the forward position about dusk and announced he was going to stay overnight. [N7-2727] In their front, burning Chonui relieved the blackness of the night. Enemy patrols probed their position. Unless all signs failed there would be action on the morrow.

[N7-2727 New York Herald Tribune, July 12, 1950, article by H. Bigart, “From a Foxhole in Korea.” This account is a delayed dispatch written by Bigart on 10 July. He occupied a foxhole with Stephens, Alkire, and 1st Lieutenant Earl Babb, commanding officer of A Company, on the ridge east of Chonui. Bigart kept a log of events as they occurred, describing what he saw and heard from his foxhole and consulting his watch for each recording.]

 About 500 men of A and D Companies and fillers for B and C Companies who had arrived at Pusan too late to join Task Force Smith for the Osan action comprised the composite battalion of the 21st Infantry at the Chonui position. They occupied a three-quarter mile front on a low ridge 500 yards east of Chonui and on a higher hill 800 yards south of the town. Rice paddy land lay between this high ground and Chonui. The railroad and highway passed between the ridge and the hill. Still another hill westward dominated the left flank but there were too few troops to occupy it.

 From the low ridge east of Chonui one normally could see the road for a mile beyond the town, but not on the morning of 10 July. The day dawned with a ground fog billowing up from the rice paddies. With it came the North Koreans. At 0555 the American soldiers could hear enemy voices on their left. Fifteen minutes later those on the ridge at the center of the position heard an enemy whistle at the left; then firing began in that direction. Soon, some of the men near Colonel Stephens began shooting blindly into the fog. He promptly stopped them. At 0700, enemy mortar fire began falling on the ridge.

 Lieutenant Ray Bixler with a platoon of A Company held the hill on the left. The rate of small arms fire increased and those in the center could hear shouting from Bixler’s platoon. It was apparent that the main enemy attack centered there, coming from the higher hill beyond it. A concentration of friendly registered mortar fire covered the little valley between the two hills and in the early part of the morning prevented the enemy from closing effectively with Bixler’s platoon. But an enemy force passed to the rear around the right flank of the battalion and now attacked the heavy mortar positions. At the same time, enemy tanks came through Chonui on the highway and passed through the infantry position. The men on the ridge could hear the tanks but could not see them because of fog.

 At 0800 the fog lifted. Chonui was still burning. Four tanks came into view from the north and entered the village. Stephens radioed for an air strike. Then the men heard tank fire to their rear. The enemy tanks that had passed through the lines earlier were joining their flanking infantry force in an attack on the American heavy mortar position. Stephens had already lost wire communication with the mortar-men; now he lost radio communication with them. The mortars fell silent, and it seemed certain that the enemy had overrun and destroyed them. Although artillery still gave support, loss of the valuable close-in support of the 4.2-inch mortars proved costly.

 North Korean infantry came from Chonui at 0900 and began climbing the ridge in a frontal attack against the center of the position. The artillery forward observers adjusted artillery fire on them and turned them back. Men watching anxiously on the ridge saw many enemy fall to the ground as they ran. The T34’s in Chonui now moved out of the town and began spraying the American-held ridge with machine gun fire.

 Shortly after 1100, intense small arms fire erupted again at Lieutenant Bixler’s position on the left. The absence of the former heavy mortar fire protecting screen enabled the enemy to close with him. The fog had lifted and men in the center could see these enemy soldiers on the left. Bixler radioed to Stephens at 1125 that he needed more men, that he had many casualties, and asked permission to withdraw. Stephens replied that he was to stay—”Relief is on the way.” Five minutes later it came in the form of an air strike. Two American jet planes streaked in, rocketed the tanks without any visible hits, and then strafed the enemy infantry on the left. The strafing helped Bixler; as long as the planes were present the enemy kept under cover. Soon, their ammunition expended, the planes departed. Then the enemy infantry resumed the attack.

 While the air strike was in progress, survivors from the overrun recoilless rifle and mortar positions in the rear climbed the ridge and joined the infantry in the center of the position. At 1132, according to Bigart’s watch, friendly artillery fire began falling on the ridge. Apparently the artillerymen thought that enemy troops had overrun the forward infantry position and they were firing on them. Enemy fire and tanks had destroyed wire communication from the battle position to the rear, and the artillery forward observer’s radio had ceased working. There was no communication. Stephens ran to his radio jeep, 100 yards to the rear of the foxholes, and from there was able to send a message to the regiment to stop the artillery fire; but it kept falling nevertheless.

 As the men on the ridge crouched in their foxholes under the shower of dirt and rocks thrown into the air by the exploding artillery shells, Stephens at 1135 received another report from Bixler that enemy soldiers surrounded him and that most of his men were casualties. That was his last report. The enemy overran Bixler’s position and most of the men there died in their foxholes.

 Even before the friendly artillery fire began falling, some of the men on the north (right) end of the ridge had run off. About the time of Bixler’s last radio message, someone yelled, “Everybody on the right flank is taking off!” Stephens, looking in that direction, saw groups running to the rear. He yelled out, “Get those high priced soldiers back into position! That’s what they are paid for.” A young Nisei from Hawaii, Corporal Richard Okada, tried to halt the panic on the right but was able to get only a few men together. With them he formed a small perimeter.

 At 1205 Colonel Stephens decided that those still on the ridge would have to fall back if they were to escape with their lives. On a signal from him, the small group leaped from their foxholes and ran across open ground to an orchard and rice paddies beyond. There they learned, as thousands of other American soldiers were to learn, that crossing flooded rice paddies in a hurry on the narrow, slippery dikes was like walking a tightrope. While they were crossing the paddies, two American jet planes strafed them, thinking them enemy soldiers. There were no casualties from the strafing but some of the men slipped knee-deep into mud and acquired a “lifelong aversion to rice.” Stephens and his small group escaped to American lines. [N7-32]

 In this action at Chonui, A Company had 27 wounded and 30 missing for a total of 57 casualties out of 181 men; D Company’s loss was much less, 3 killed and 8 wounded. The Heavy Mortar Company suffered 14 casualties. Of the total troops engaged the loss was about 20 percent. [N7-33]

 Upon reaching friendly positions, Stephens ordered Colonel Jensen to counterattack with the 3rd Battalion and regain the Chonui positions. Jensen pressed the counterattack and regained the ridge in front of the town, but was unable to retake Bixler’s hill south of the railroad. His men rescued about ten men of A and D Companies who had not tried to withdraw under the shell fire.

 [N7-32 Bigart, “From a Foxhole in Korea,” op. cit.; 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, entry 255 gives Stephens’ message to Dean immediately after his return to American lines.]

 [N7-33 Dr. J. O’Sullivan, the Rand Corp., Casualties of United States Eighth Army in Korea, Battle of Chochiwon, 10-11 July 1950.]

 Jensen’s counterattack in the afternoon uncovered the first known North Korean mass atrocity perpetrated on captured American soldiers. The bodies of six Americans, jeep drivers and mortar men of the Heavy Mortar Company, were found with hands tied in back and shot through the back of the head. Infiltrating enemy soldiers had captured them in the morning when they were on their way to the mortar position with a resupply of ammunition. An American officer farther back witnessed the capture. One of the jeep drivers managed to escape when the others surrendered. [N7-34]

 American tanks on the morning of 10 July near Chonui engaged in their first fight of the Korean War. They performed poorly. In the afternoon, tanks participated in the 3rd Battalion counterattack and did better. One of them got in a first shot on an enemy tank and disabled it. Two American light tanks were lost during the day. [N7-35]

 Elements of the N.K. 4th Division had pressed on south after the capture of Chonan and they had fought the battle of Chonui. Leading elements of the N.K. 3rd Division, following the 4th by one day, apparently came up to Chonui late on the 10th. They found the town such a mass of rubble that the reserve regiment bypassed it. [N7-36]

 On the afternoon of 10 July American air power had one of its great moments in the Korean War. Late in the afternoon, a flight of jet F-80 planes dropped down through the overcast at Pyongtaek, twenty-five air miles north of Chonui, and found a large convoy of tanks and vehicles stopped bumper to bumper on the north side of a destroyed bridge. Upon receiving a report of this discovery, the Fifth Air Force rushed every available plane to the scene— B-26’s, F-80’s, and F-82’s—in a massive air strike. Observers of the trike reported that it destroyed 38 tanks, 7 half-track vehicles, 117 trucks, and a large number of enemy soldiers. This report undoubtedly exaggerated unintentionally the amount of enemy equipment actually destroyed. But this strike, and that of the previous afternoon near Chonui, probably resulted in the greatest destruction of enemy armor of any single action in the war.

 [N7-34 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 420, 101445 and entry 424, 101505 Jul 50; Ltr, Stephens to author, 17 Apr 52; Bernard, MS review comments, 24 Feb 57; New York Herald Tribune, July 11, 12, 1950, Bigart dispatches.]

 [N7-35 21st Inf WD, 10 Jul 50; Interv, author with Stephens, 8 Oct 51; Ltr, Stephens to author, 17 Apr 52; TAS, Employment of Armor in Korea—the First Year (Ft. Knox, 1952), p. 49. Signal Corps Photo 50-3965, taken 10 July 1950, shows a tank named “Rebels Roost,” captioned as the first American tank to see action in Korea.]

 [N7-36 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), p. 46; Ibid., Issue 96 (N.K. 3rd Div), p. 31; ORO-R-1 (FEC), The Employment of Armor in Korea, vol. I, p. 138.]

 Perhaps a word should be said about the close air support that aided the ground troops in their hard-pressed first weeks in Korea. This support was carried out by United States Air Force, Navy, Marine, and Australian fighter planes and some U.S. fighter-bombers. Beginning early in the war, it built up as quickly as resources would permit. On 3 July the Far East Air Forces established a Joint Operations Center at Itazuke Air Base, on Kyushu in Japan, for control of the fighter planes operating over the Korean battlefield. This center moved to Taejon in Korea on 5 July, and on 14 July to Taegu, where it established itself near Eighth Army headquarters. By 19 July, heavy communications equipment arrived and a complete tactical air control center was established in Korea, except for radar and direction-finding facilities. Advance Headquarters, Fifth Air Force, opened at Taegu on 20 July.

 The forward element in the control system of the close air support was the tactical air control party, consisting of a forward air controller (usually an officer and an experienced pilot), a radio operator, and a radio repair man who also served as jeep driver. Six of these parties operated with the 24th Division in Korea in the early days of the war. As soon as others could be formed, one joined each ROK corps and division, and an Air Liaison Officer joined each ROK corps to act as adviser on air capabilities for close support.

 The Fifth Air Force began using T-6 trainer aircraft to locate targets on and behind enemy lines. The controllers in these planes, using the call sign “Mosquito,” remained over enemy positions and directed fighter planes to the targets. Because of the call sign the T-6’s soon became known in Army and Air Force parlance as Mosquitoes. The Mosquito normally carried an Air Force pilot and a ground force observer. The plane was equipped with a Very High Frequency radio for contact with tactical air control parties and fighter aircraft in the air. It also had an SCR-300 radio for contact with front-line ground troops. The ground force observer and the pilot in the Mosquito, the control party, and the forward infantry elements co-ordinated their information to bring fighter aircraft to targets where they delivered their strikes, and also to direct ground fire on enemy targets in front of the infantry. [N7-388 “Air War in Korea,” Air University Quarterly Review, IV, No. 3 (Spring, 1951), 56; Hq X Corps, Analysis of the Air-Ground Operations System, 28 Jun-8 Sep 50, Staff Study, 25 Dec 50; Major Louis H. Aten, Debriefing Rpt 75, Arty School, Ft. Sill, Okla, 5 Mar 52.]

 In the early part of the war the F-51 (Mustang), a propeller-driven fighter, predominated in the Air Force’s close support effort. This plane had shown to good advantage in World War II in low-level close support missions. It had greater range than the jet F-80 and could use the rough, short fields in Korea. Most important of all, it was available. For close support of Marine troops when they were committed later, a tried and tested plane, the Marine F4U Corsair, was used. The F-51 was capable of carrying 6 5-inch rockets and 2x110gallon napalm tanks, and it mounted 6x.50-caliber machine guns. The F-80 could carry 2×110-gallon napalm tanks, and mounted 6x.50-caliber machine guns with about the same ammunition load as the F-51. It could also carry 2×5-inch rockets if the target distance was short.

 Both the F-51 and the F-80 could carry 2,000 pounds of bombs if the mission required it. The F4U could carry 8×5-inch rockets, 2×110-gallon napalm tanks, and it mounted 4×20-mm. cannon with 800 rounds of ammunition. If desired it could carry a 5,200-pound bomb load. The F-51 had a 400-mile operating radius, which could be increased to 760 miles by using external gas tanks. The F-80’s normal radius was 125 miles, but it could be increased to 550 miles with external tanks. The F4U had a shorter operating range. With external tanks it reached about 335 miles. [N7-3939: X Corps Study, p. 14; Operations Research Office, Close Air Support Operations in Korea, ORO-R-3 (FEC), pp. 13-14.]


Just before midnight of 10 July Colonel Jensen began to withdraw the 3rd Battalion from the recaptured ridge east of Chonui, bringing along most of the equipment lost earlier in the day. When the battalion arrived at its former position it received a surprise: enemy soldiers occupied some of its foxholes. Only after an hour’s battle did K Company clear the North Koreans from its old position.

 In a message to Colonel Stephens at 2045 General Dean suggested withdrawing the 3rd Battalion from this position. But he left the decision to Stephens, saying, “If you consider it necessary, withdraw to your next delaying position prior to dawn. I am reminding you of the importance of the town of Chochiwon . If it is lost, it means that the SKA [South Korean Army] will have lost its MSR [Main Supply Route].” An hour later, in talking to a regimental staff officer, Dean authorized falling back four miles to the next delaying position two miles north of Chochiwon , but ordered, “Hold in your new position and fight like hell. I expect you to hold it all day tomorrow.”

 Meanwhile, Task Force Smith, reequipping at Taejon, had received 205 replacements and on 10 July it received orders to rejoin the 21st Regiment at Chochiwon. Smith arrived there with B and C Companies before dawn of 11 July. A and D Companies had reequipped at Chochiwon and they joined with B and C Companies to reunite the 1st Battalion. Colonel Smith now had his battalion together in Korea for the first time. At 0730, 11 July, the 1st Battalion was in position along the highway two miles north of Chochiwon. Four miles north of it Colonel Jensen’s 3rd Battalion was already engaged with the North Koreans in the next battle.

 At 0630 that morning, men in the 3rd Battalion position heard tanks to their front on the other side of a mine field, but could not see them because of fog. Within a few minutes four enemy tanks crossed the mine field and loomed up in the battalion area. Simultaneously, enemy mortar fire fell on the battalion command post, blowing up the communications center, the ammunition supply point, and causing heavy casualties among headquarters troops. Approximately 1,000 enemy infantry enveloped both flanks of the position. Some forward observers had fine targets but their radios did not function. In certain platoons there apparently was no wire communication. Consequently these forward observers were unable to call in and direct mortar and artillery fire on the North Koreans.

 This attack on the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, was one of the most perfectly co-ordinated assaults ever launched by North Koreans against American troops. The North Koreans who had been driven from the 3rd Battalion’s position shortly after midnight, together no doubt with other infiltrators, apparently had provided detailed and accurate information of the 3rd Battalion’s defenses and the location of its command post. The attack disorganized the battalion and destroyed its communications before it had a chance to fight back. Enemy roadblocks behind the battalion prevented evacuation of the wounded or resupplying the battalion with ammunition. For several hours units of the battalion fought as best they could. Many desperate encounters took place. In one of these, when an enemy machine gun placed a band of fire on K Company’s command post, Private Paul R. Spear, armed with only a pistol, charged the machine gun emplacement alone, entered it with his pistol empty and, using it as a club, routed the enemy gunners. Enemy fire seriously wounded him. [N7-4343 21st Inf WD, 11 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, entry 292, 110650 Jul 50; Bernard (1st Plat Ldr L Co at time), MS review comments, 24 Feb 57. General Order 55, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to Private Spear. EUSAK WD, 7 Sep 50.]

 The North Koreans overran the 3rd Battalion. Before noon, survivors in small groups made their way back toward Chochiwon . Enemy fire killed Colonel Jensen, the battalion commander, and Lieutenant Leon J. Jacques, Jr., his S-2, when they tried to cross a stream in the rear of their observation post. The battalion S-1 and S-3, Lieutenants Cashe and Lester, and Captain O’Dean T. Cox, commanding officer of L Company, were reported missing in action. The 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, lost altogether nearly 60 percent of its strength in this action. Of those who escaped, 90 percent had neither weapons, ammunition, nor canteens, and, in many instances, the men had neither helmets nor shoes. One officer of L Company who came out with some men said that after he and others had removed an enemy machine gun blocking their escape route many uninjured men by the side of the road simply refused to try to go on. One noncom said, “Lieutenant, you will have to go on. I’m too beat up. They’ll just have to take me.” A remnant of 8 officers and 142 men able for duty was organized into a provisional company of three rifle platoons and a heavy weapons company. But by 15 July a total of 322 out of 667 men had returned to the battalion. Four tanks of A Company, 78th Heavy Tank Battalion, were lost to enemy action north of Chochiwon on 10 and 11 July. [N7-44AR] The 21st Infantry on 10 and 11 July north of Chochiwon lost matériel and weapons sufficient to equip two rifle battalions and individual and organic clothing for 975 men.

 [N7-44AR: Ltr, Stephens to author, 24 Mar 52; Bernard, MS review comments, 24 Feb 57; 21st Inf WD, 11 Jul 50; Ibid., 12 Jul 50, Incl III, Activities Rpt, 3rd Bn; 24th Div WD, 11 Jul 50. When it regained this ground on 29 September 1950, the 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, found many American dead. See Hist, 5th Cav Regt, 1st Cav Div, Msg 49, 291825 Sep 50.]

 At Chonui the 3rd Division had passed the 4th on the main highway. It struck the blow against the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry. The 4th Division turned back from Chonui and took the right fork toward Kongju, following the retreating 34th Infantry.

 Toward evening of the 11th, after he had full information of the fate of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, General Dean ordered A Company, 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion, to prepare every possible obstacle for the defense of the Chochiwon area and to cover, if necessary, the withdrawal of the regiment. Dean also started the 19th Infantry Regiment and the 13th Field Artillery Battalion from Taegu and Pohang-dong for Taejon during the day.

 That night the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, rested uneasily in its positions two miles north of Chochiwon. It had to expect that the North Koreans would strike within hours. At dawn an enemy patrol approached C Company’s position, and members of the battalion saw hostile movement on both flanks. At 0930 an estimated enemy battalion, supported by artillery fire, attacked Smith’s left flank. Very quickly a general attack developed by an estimated 2,000 enemy soldiers. Colonel Stephens decided that the understrength 1st Battalion, with its large percentage of replacement and untried troops, would have to withdraw. At noon, 12 July, he sent the following message to General Dean: “Am surrounded, 1st Battalion left giving way. Situation bad on right. Having nothing left to establish intermediate delaying position am forced to withdraw to river line. I have issued instructions to withdraw.” [N7-4747 21st Inf WD, 12 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, entry 353, 121200 Jul 50; Interv, author with Colonel Charles B. Smith, 7 Oct 51; Interv, author with Stephens, 8 Oct 51.]

 Colonel Smith disengaged the 1st Battalion by moving one company at a time Regimental trucks loaded the troops near Chochiwon. While the infantry were displacing southward, enemy artillery began shelling the regimental command post in Chochiwon. The retreat was orderly and there was no close pursuit. By 1530 the 1st Battalion occupied new defensive positions on the south bank of the Kum River where the highway crossed it at Taepyong-ni. The 21st Infantry Regiment completed its withdrawal across the Kum at 1600, but stragglers were still crossing the river five hours later. A thin line of approximately 325 men held the new blocking position at the river—64 men from the 3rd Battalion, the rest from the 1st Battalion.

 In the series of battles between Chonui and Chochiwon the understrength two-battalion 21st Infantry Regiment had delayed two of the best North Korean divisions for three days. It was the most impressive performance yet of American troops in Korea, but the regiment paid heavily for it in loss of personnel and equipment.

 The 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, meanwhile, had covered the retreat on the Kongju road and fought a series of minor delaying actions against the leading elements of the N.K. 4th Division which had taken up the pursuit there. Four light M24 tanks of the 78th Tank Battalion joined the battalion, and D Company of the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion prepared demolitions along the road. In the afternoon of 11 July, enemy action destroyed three of the four tanks, two of them by artillery fire and the third by infantry close attack when the tank tried to rescue personnel from a litter jeep ambushed by enemy infiltrators.  

Remnants of the 3rd Battalion had led the retreat. Reorganized as a composite company and re-equipped at Taejon, it returned to Kongju on the 11th. The next day the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion and the 34th Infantry crossed the Kum. The last of the infantry and Colonel Ayres, the 1st Battalion commander, crossed at dusk. General Dean’s instructions were to “leave a small outpost across the river. Blow the main bridge only when enemy starts to cross.” To implement this order Colonel Wadlington had L Company hold the bridge and outpost the north bank for 600 yards.

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

Korean War: Central Mountains and on the East Coast July 1950 (8)

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


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