Both North Korean divisions were now across the Kum River, both were ready to advance to the attack of Taejon itself. The 3rd Division was closer to the city and approaching it from the northwest. The 4th Division, in the Kongju-Nonsan area, was northwest and west of the city and in a position to join with the 3rd Division in a frontal attack or to move south and then east in a flanking movement that would bring it to the rear of Taejon. The road net from Kongju and Nonsan permitted both these possibilities, or a combination of them. After its successful crossing of the Kum on the 14th, the 4th Division apparently had been gathering its forces and waiting on the 3rd to complete its crossing effort so that the two could then join in a co-ordinated attack.
In the North Korean plan, a third division, the 2nd, was supposed to join the 4th and the 3rd in the attack on Taejon. This division was advancing on the east of the other two and had been heavily engaged for some days with ROK troops in the ChInchon-Chongju area, where it suffered crippling casualties. As events turned out, this division did not arrive in time to join in the attack, nor did the other two need it.
Had it come up as planned it would have appeared on the east and southeast of Taejon, a thing that General Dean very much feared and which he had to take into account in his dispositions for the defense of the city.
If past practice signified anything for the future, the North Koreans would advance against Taejon frontally with a force strong enough to pin down the defenders and attack first with tanks in an effort to demoralize the defenders. Thus far, their tanks had led every advance and nothing had been able to stop them. While this frontal action developed, strong flanking forces would be moving to the rear to cut off the main escape routes. This North Korean maneuver had been standard in every major action. The N.K. 4th Division was in a favored position to execute just such a flanking maneuver against Taejon from the west and southwest. Had the 2nd Division arrived on the scene as planned it would have been in a position to do the same thing from the east and southeast. The 3rd Division was in position between these two divisions and undoubtedly was expected to exert the main frontal pressure in the forthcoming attack.
In any deployment of his forces against the North Koreans in front of Taejon, General Dean faced the fact that he had only remnants of three defeated regiments. Each of them could muster little more than a battalion of troops. Osan, Chonui, and Chochiwon had reduced the 21st Infantry to that state; Pyongtaek , Chonan, and the Kum River had left only a decimated 34th Infantry; and 16 July at the Kum River had sadly crippled the 19th Infantry. In addition to numerical weakness, all the troops were tired and their morale was not the best. General Dean braced himself for the job ahead. He himself was as worn as his troops; for the past two weeks he had faced daily crises and had pushed himself to the limit.
Dean’s Plan at Taejon
After dark on 16 July, the 34th Infantry on orders from General Dean fell back approximately twenty miles from the vicinity of Nonsan to new defensive positions three miles west of Taejon. Colonel Charles E. Beauchamp, who had flown to Korea from Japan to take command of the regiment, established his command post at the Taejon airstrip just to the northwest of the city. General Dean consolidated all remaining elements of the divisional artillery, except the 155-mm. howitzers of the 11th Field Artillery Battalion, into one composite battalion and emplaced it at the airstrip for the defense of the city. The airstrip itself closed to ordinary traffic. Early in the afternoon of the 17th the 34th Infantry took over the entire defensive line north and west of Taejon. Except for General Dean and three or four other officers, the 24th Division headquarters left for Yongdong, 28 miles southeast on the main highway and rail line. Remaining with Dean at Taejon were Lieutenant Clarke, an aide; Captain Richard A. Rowlands, Assistant G-3; Captain Raymond D. Hatfield, Transportation Officer and Assistant G-4; and two drivers. Dean instructed Major David A. Bissett to establish an office for him at the 21st Infantry command post at Okchon so that he could from there more easily keep informed of affairs east of Taejon. Dean said that he would spend nights at Okchon. “But,” commented Bissett, “he never did, and indeed none of us there expected him to.”
Before the battle of the Kum, Dean had selected two regimental positions three miles west of Taejon for the close-in defense of the city. These positions were on a 500-foot high, 3-mile long ridge behind (east of) the Kap-chon River. Each extremity covered a bridge and a road immediately to its front. The position was a strong one and well suited to a two-regimental front. It was known as the Yusong position. A village of that name lay across the Kap-chon River about a mile from the northern end of the ridge. Dean’s plan had been to place the 19th Infantry on the northern part of the line covering the main Seoul-Pusan highway where it curved around the northern end of the ridge and to place the 34th Infantry on the southern part to cover the Nonsan-Taejon road where it passed along a narrow strip of low ground at the southern end of the ridge. But with the 19th Infantry combat-ineffective after the ordeal of the 16th and at Yongdong for re-equipping, the defense of the entire line fell upon the 34th Infantry.
General Dean had no intention of fighting a last-ditch battle for Taejon. He looked upon it as another in the series of delaying actions to which the 24th Division had been committed by General MacArthur to slow the North Korean advance, pending the arrival of sufficient reinforcements to halt and then turn back the enemy. Expecting that the North Koreans would arrive before the city just as soon as they could get their tanks across the Kum River and carry out an envelopment with ground forces, General Dean on 18 July made plans to evacuate Taejon the next day. Anticipating an early withdrawal, engineer demolition teams with Colonel Stephens’ 21st Infantry at the Okchon position prepared the tunnels east of Taejon for destruction.
But Dean’s plan was changed by the arrival of General Walker at the Taejon airstrip before noon of the 18th. After the North Korean crossing of the Kum River, General Walker had asked his Chief of Staff, Colonel Landrum, to assemble troop and logistical data bearing on Eighth Army’s capability in the face of the growing crisis in Korea. At his office in Yokohama, Colonel Landrum and his staff spent a hectic day on the telephone gathering the information Walker wanted. Then Landrum called Walker at Taegu and relayed to him the status of all troops in Korea or en route there; an estimate of United States military build-up in Korea during the next ten days, with particular emphasis on the 1st Cavalry Division; the status of supplies and especially of ammunition; and a report on General Garvin’s progress in organizing the supply base at Pusan.
During the conversation Walker had at hand a set of terrain maps and terrain estimates of the roads, railroads, and corridors running from north to south and from south to north and their relationship to enemy operations and Eighth Army’s build-up in Korea. He repeatedly interjected the question, “When and where can I stop the enemy and attack him?” General Walker’s final decision in this conference was that the 24th Division and the ROK Army should execute maximum delay on the North Koreans in order to assure stopping them west and north of the general line Naktong River to Yongdok on the east coast. He hoped to get the 1st Cavalry Division deployed in the Okchon area and south of Taejon along the Kumsan road, thinking this might provide the opportunity to stop the enemy between Taejon and Taegu. Walker felt that if he was forced to fall back behind the Naktong River he could stand there until Eighth Army’s troop and equipment build-up would permit him to take the offensive. Upon concluding this conference with Landrum, General Walker particularly instructed him to keep this estimate to himself, although authorizing him to consider it in reviewing staff plans.
General Walker had this concept of future operations in Korea in his mind when he talked with General Dean at the 34th Infantry command post. He spoke of the 1st Cavalry Division landing which had started that morning at Pohang-dong on the southeast coast. Walker said he would like to hold Taejon until the 1st Cavalry Division could move up to help in its defense or get into battle position alongside the 24th Division in the mountain passes southeast of Taejon. He said he needed two days’ time to accomplish this. After his conference with Dean, Walker flew back to Taegu. He informed Colonel Landrum that he had told General Dean he needed two days’ delay at Taejon to get the 1st Cavalry Division up and into position. Landrum asked Walker how much latitude he had given Dean.
Walker replied, in substance, “Dean is a fighter; he won’t give an inch if he can help it. I told him that I had every confidence in his judgment, and that if it became necessary for him to abandon Taejon earlier, to make his own decision and that I would sustain him.”
This conference changed Dean’s plan to withdraw from Taejon the next day, 19 July. Shortly after noon Dean informed the headquarters of the 21st Infantry that the withdrawal from Taejon planned for the 19th would be delayed 24 hours. The regiment passed this information on to the engineer demolition teams standing by at the tunnels.
At this point it is desirable to take a closer look at the geography and communications which necessarily would affect military operations at Taejon. In 1950 Taejon, with a population of about 130,000 was in size the sixth city of South Korea, a rapidly growing inland commercial center, 100 miles south of Seoul and 130 miles northwest of Pusan. A long and narrow city, Taejon lay in the north-south valley of the Taejon River at the western base of the middle Sobaek range of mountains. Extensive rice paddy ground adjoined the city on the north and west. The railroad ran along its eastern side with the station and extensive yards in the city’s northeast quarter. Two arms of the Taejon River, the main one flowing northwest through the center of the city and the other curving around its eastern side, joined at its northern edge. Two miles farther north the Yudung River emptied into it and the Taejon then flowed into the Kap-chon, a large tributary of the Kum.
The highway net can be visualized readily if one imagines Taejon as being the center of a clock dial. Five main routes of approach came into the city. The main rail line and a secondary road ran almost due south from the Kum River to it. On this approach, 3 miles north of the city, a platoon of I Company, 34th Infantry, established a road and rail block. From the east at 4 o’clock the main Pusan highway entered the city, and astride it some 6 miles eastward the 21st Infantry held a defensive blocking position in front of Okchon with the regimental command post in that town. There were two railroad and two highway tunnels between Taejon and Okchon. One of each of them was between Taejon and the 21st Infantry position. From the south, the Kumsan road entered Taejon at 5 o’clock. General Dean had the Reconnaissance Company at Kumsan to protect and warn the division of any enemy movement from that direction in its rear.
At 8 o’clock the Nonsan road from the southwest slanted into the Seoul-Pusan highway a mile west of the city. Astride this road 3 miles southwest of Taejon a platoon of L Company, 34th Infantry, held a roadblock at the bridge over the Kap-chon River at the southern end of the 34th Infantry defense position. The Seoul highway slanted toward the city from the northwest at 10 o’clock, and of all approaches it had to be considered the most important. At the western edge of Taejon (700 yards from the densely built-up section) where the Nonsan road joined it, the highway turned east to enter the city. The Taejon airstrip lay on a little plateau north of the road two miles from the city. A mile in front of the airstrip the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, was in. battle position astride the highway at Hill 138 just east of the Kapchon River. A mile farther west B Company occupied an advanced position.
Behind the 1st Battalion, a mile and a half away, the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, held a ridge east of the airfield and between it and the city. The composite battalion of artillery supporting the infantry was emplaced at the airfield where it could fire on the expected avenues of enemy approach.
[N11-66 Interv, author with Beauchamp, 1 Aug 52; Overlay of 34th Inf positions 18 Jul 50, prepared by Beauchamp for author, Aug 52; Ltr, Ayres to author, 3 Oct 52; Ltr, Maj Jack E. Smith (Actg CO 3rd Bn, 34th Inf, 20 Jul 50) to author, 21 Jul 55.]
Taejon—The First Day
In the afternoon of 18 July General Dean went to the 24th Division command post at Yongdong and there in the evening he took steps to bolster the defense of Taejon for an extra day, as desired by General Walker. He ordered the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, to move back to Taejon from Yongdong and B Battery of the 13th Field Artillery Battalion to return to the Taejon airstrip from the vicinity of Okchon. At the same time he ordered the Reconnaissance Company to be released from division control and attached to the 34th Infantry Regiment. Up to this time the Reconnaissance Company had been based at Kumsan. The division order to the Reconnaissance Company releasing it to regimental control moved it to Taejon the next day. As a result, the division became blind to what the enemy was doing on its southern flank. General Dean subsequently considered his releasing the Reconnaissance Company to the regiment as one of his most serious errors at Taejon. His purpose in releasing it to Colonel Beauchamp’s command was to ensure the 34th Infantry getting direct and immediate information as to conditions on its southern flank; he had not anticipated that the division order would send it to Taejon.
[N11-7 Dean, MS review comments, 20 Jan 58; 21st Inf WD, 18 Jul 50; 19th Inf WD, 18 Jul 50; Interv, author with Major Leon B Cheek (Ex Off, 13th FA Bn, Jul 50), 7 Aug 51; 24th Recon Co WD, 18-20 Jul 50.]
General Dean also discussed again with Colonel Stephens the role of the 21st Infantry in the next few days. It was to keep open the withdrawal road out of Taejon. Stephens pointed out that his troops were astride that road and on the hills between Taejon and Okchon and asked if he should change their disposition. General Dean answered no, that he did not want that done, as he also feared an enemy penetration behind his Taejon position from the east through the ROK Army area there and he had to guard against it. Dean decided that the 21st Infantry should stay where it was but patrol the terrain north of the Taejon-Okchon road and send patrols periodically up the road into Taejon.8
The North Korean attack against Taejon got under way the morning of 19 July. The first blow was an air strike against communication lines in the rear of the city. At 0720, six YAK’s flew over the lines of the 21st Infantry and dropped four bombs on the railroad bridge two miles northwest of Okchon. One bomb damaged the bridge, but by noon B Company of the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion had repaired it and restored rail traffic in both directions. The YAK’s strafed near the regimental command post and dropped propaganda leaflets signed by three American officers and three noncommissioned officers captured at Osan two weeks earlier. Four planes then strafed the Taejon airstrip. Later in the day, the crews of A Battery, 26th Antiaircraft Battalion, supporting the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, shot down two YAK’s near Yusong, just west of Taejon.
[N11-9 24th Div WD, 19 Jul 50, Narr Summ of Enemy Info; 21st Inf WD, 19 Jul 50, includes copies of this enemy leaflet; Btry A, 26th AAA (AW) Bn WD, 19 Jul 50; Antiaircraft Journal (January-February, 1951), article by Corporal John S. Aaron on 24th Div AAA claims three YAK’s shot down; 3rd Engr (C) Bn WD, 19 Jul 50, Narr Summ, Opn Highlights.]
The U.S. Air Force also went into action early on the 19th. It bombed and burned known and suspected points of enemy concentration west and southwest of Taejon. Aerial observers at noon reported that the enemy had partially repaired the bridge across the Kum River at Taepyong-ni, ten miles north of Taejon, and that tanks and artillery were moving south of the river. The Air Force operated at considerable disadvantage at this time, however, for there were only two strips in Korea suitable for use by F-51 and C-47 types of aircraft—the K-2 dirt strip at Taegu and the similar K-3 strip at Yonil near Pohang-dong. South of Chinju, the K-4 strip at Sachon was available as an emergency field. Most of the tactical planes flew from Japan.
[N11-10 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, entry 106, 190825 Jul 50; Ibid., G-2 Jnl, entry 1222, 191315 Jul 50; Hq X Corps, Staff Study, Development of Tactical Air Support in Korea, 25 Dec 50, p. 8; EUSAK WD, G-2 Daily Stf Rpt, 19 Jul 50, p. 2; FEAF Opn Hist, I, 25 Jun-1 Nov 50, 58-59.]
After completing its crossing at Kongju, the N.K. 4th Division split its forces for a two-pronged attack on Taejon. The bulk of the division, comprising the 16th and 18th Infantry Regiments, the Artillery Regiment, and most of the tanks, went south to Nonsan and there turned east toward Taejon. Some of the infantry of these regiments may have moved south out of Nonsan in a wheeling movement through Kumsan to the rear of Taejon. Others apparently moved across back country trails to strike the Kumsan road south of and below Taejon. The 5th Infantry Regiment, supported by one tank company, left Kongju on the secondary road running southeast through a mountainous area to Yusong, and apparently was the first enemy unit to arrive at the outskirts of Taejon.
[N11-12 24th Recon Co WD, 19 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, 19 Jul 50; Interv, author with Beauchamp, 1 Aug 52; Situation Overlay 34th Inf, 19 Jul 50, prepared by Beauchamp for author, Aug 52.]
At 1000, after the 24th Reconnaissance Company had arrived at Taejon, Colonel Beauchamp sent its 2nd Platoon, consisting of thirty-nine men, southwest along the Nonsan road. Half an hour later, three miles west of the Kap-chon River, enemy fire struck the patrol from both sides of the road. It withdrew to the river and there joined the platoon of L Company on the east bank of the stream. The remainder of L Company arrived and deployed.
General Dean had left Taejon that morning intending to go briefly to Yongdong. On the way he stopped at the 21st Infantry command post at Okchon. There he said suddenly about 1000 that he was worried about the disposition of the 34th Infantry and was going back to Taejon. [N11-13] When he arrived there, action already had started at the L Company roadblock on the Nonsan road. The battle of Taejon had begun. Dean stayed in Taejon.
[N11-13 Interv, author with Colonel Ned D. Moore, 20 Aug 52. (Moore was with Dean.)
The 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, arrived at Taejon from Yongdong about this time, just after noon. By 1300, Colonel McGrail, the battalion commander, had the unit ready to move out at the railroad station. There he received an order saying the North Koreans were breaking through L Company’s blocking position at the Kap-chon River and he was to attack there immediately and restore the position. When he arrived at the scene of fighting McGrail found General Dean there with two tanks, directing fire.
[N11-14 19th Inf WD, 19 Jul 50; Interv, author with McGrail, 20 Aug 52; Interv, author with Montesclaros (S-3 Sec, 2nd Bn, 19th Inf, Jul 50), 20 Aug 52.]
McGrail’s battalion attacked immediately with two companies abreast astride the Nonsan road, E on the left (south) and F on the right (north). On the right an enemy force was in the act of enveloping the north flank of L Company, 34th Infantry. F Company raced this enemy force for possession of critical high ground, taking and holding it in the ensuing fight. On the left, E Company moved up south of the road, and G Company occupied a hill position a mile behind it. Even with the newly arrived battalion now deployed covering the Nonsan road, there was still a mile-wide gap of high ground between it and the left of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, to the north.
[N11-15 Intervs, author with McGrail and Montesclaros, Aug 52; Situation Overlay, 1st Bn, 34th Inf, 19 Jul 50, prepared by Colonel Ayres for author. ]
Co-ordinated with the North Korean advance along the Nonsan road was an enemy approach on the main Seoul highway. There in the Yusong area, B Company of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, came under heavy attack. Enemy flanking parties cut off two platoons half a mile north of Yusong. In the fighting there both platoon leaders were wounded and several men killed. Colonel Ayres from his observation post east of the Kap-chon River could see large groups of North Koreans assembling and artillery going into position in the little valley northwest of Yusong. He directed artillery fire and called in air strikes on these concentrations. In the afternoon he requested and received authority from Colonel Beauchamp to withdraw B Company from its exposed position at Yusong to the main battalion position back of the Kap-chon River. The company successfully withdrew in the evening.
Meanwhile, just before noon, the North Koreans began shelling the Taejon airstrip with counterbattery fire. This fire, coming from the north and northwest, built up to great intensity during the afternoon. That evening, General Dean told Major Bissett that he had seen as much incoming artillery fire at the Taejon Airfield that day as he had ever seen in one day in Europe in World War II. Frequent artillery concentrations also pounded the main battle positions of the 34th Infantry.
[N11-17 Interv, author with Beauchamp, 1 Aug 52; Ltr, Ayres to author, 3 Oct 52; Ltr, Bissett to author, 14 May 52. General Order 112, 30 August 1950, 24th Division, awarded the Bronze Star Medal to Corporal Robert D. Jones, Headquarters Battery, 63rd Field Artillery Battalion.]
By early afternoon, Colonel Ayres was convinced that a major enemy attack was impending. At 1400 he recommended to Colonel Beauchamp that the regiment withdraw that night. Beauchamp rejected this, thinking they could hold the enemy out of Taejon another day, and he so told General Dean. After dark, however, Beauchamp moved his 34th Infantry command post from the airfield into Taejon. At the same time all the supporting artillery displaced from the airfield to positions on the south edge of the city.
As darkness fell, Colonel Ayres ordered his motor officer to move the 1st Battalion vehicles into Taejon. He did not want to run the risk of losing them during a night attack. Only one jeep for each rifle company, two jeeps for the Heavy Weapons Company, the battalion command jeep, and the radio vehicle were left at the battle positions.
On the left of the defense position F Company of the 19th Infantry had been under attack all afternoon. After dark men there heard noises on their right flank, and it became apparent that enemy soldiers were moving into, and possibly through, the mile-wide gap between them and the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry.
Taejon was ominously quiet during the evening. Occasional showers from the edge of a typhoon that had narrowly missed the area settled the stifling dust raised by the vehicular traffic in the city. As the night wore on the quiet gave way to ominous noises. At his command post Colonel Ayres about 2200 heard the rumble of tanks on his right. He sent a patrol out to investigate. It never reported back. Ayres telephoned Beauchamp and told him he thought enemy troops were moving around the city and again recommended withdrawal.
Before midnight a report came in to the 34th Infantry command post that an enemy unit was six miles south of Taejon on the Kumsan road. With nine members of the 24th Reconnaissance Company 1st Lieutenant George W. Kristanoff started down the road on a jeep patrol to investigate. Six miles below Taejon an enemy roadblock stopped them. Kristanoff reported the beginning of the action by radio. At 0300, 20 July, a platoon of the Reconnaissance Company drove cautiously out of Taejon down the same road to check on security. Enemy fire stopped the platoon at the same roadblock. There platoon members saw the bodies of several men of the earlier patrol and their four destroyed jeeps. A little earlier, at 0200, word had come in to Taejon that a jeep had been ambushed on the Okchon road.
[N11-21 24th Recon Co WD, 19-20 July 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1313, 201040 Jul 50; General Order in, 30 August 1950, 24th Division, awarded the Silver Star to Lieutenant Kristanoff.]
It would seem clear from these incidents that enemy units were moving around to the rear of Taejon during the night—in just what strength might only be guessed. But for reasons that cannot now be determined these events were not so evaluated at the time of their occurrence. General Dean has stated that he did not know of the enemy roadblock on the Kumsan road—apparently it was not reported to him. He did learn of the jeep incident on the Okchon road but dismissed it as the work of a few infiltrators and of no special importance because the road subsequently seemed to be clear. Taejon—The Second Day
Shortly after 0300, 20 July, the S-2 of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, who since dark had remained in the battalion forward observation post, ran into Colonel Ayres’ command post and said that the North Koreans had overrun the observation post and penetrated the battalion main line of resistance. Ayres has said that this was his first knowledge of the enemy’s general attack. He could now hear small arms fire to the front and right and see flares bursting at many points over the battalion position. There seemed to be no action on the battalion left in C Company’s position.
The enemy attack, infantry and armor, came down both sides of the highway and rolled up the battalion right flank. Other enemy infantry attacked from the north against this flank. The North Koreans penetrated to the 81-mm. and 4.2inch mortar positions behind the rifle companies and then struck Headquarters Company. About 0400 small arms fire hit the Korean house in which the 1st Battalion command post was located and riflemen from the overrun front line began coming into the Headquarters Company area. Ayres tried, and failed, to communicate with his front line companies.
He sent a message to the regimental headquarters that tanks had penetrated his position and were headed toward the city. There is some evidence that the infantry bazooka teams abandoned their positions along the road when the attack began. And rifle companies certainly did not fight long in place. In the growing confusion that spread rapidly, Ayres decided to evacuate the command post. Major Leland R. Dunham, the battalion executive officer, led about 200 men from the Heavy Mortar Company, the Heavy Weapons Company, and the 1st Battalion Headquarters southward from the Yudung valley away from the sound of enemy fire. Colonel Ayres and his S-3 followed behind the others. Day was dawning.
[N11-24; Interv, Blumenson with 2nd Lieutenant George H. Wilcox (Plat Ldr, D Co, 34th Inf), 25 Aug 51; Gugeler, Combat Actions in Korea, “Withdrawal Action,” pp. 16-17, recording interview with Master Sergeant Zack C. Williams of A Co, 34th Inf.]
In Taejon, Colonel Beauchamp received Ayres’ report that enemy tanks were in the 1st Battalion position. Later, telephone communication to the 1st Battalion ended and Beauchamp sent linemen out to check the wires. They came back and said they could not get through —that enemy infantry were on the road near the airfield. The regimental S-3 did not believe this report. Beauchamp went to his jeep and started down the road toward the 1st Battalion command post to find out for himself just what the situation was. At the road junction half a mile west of Taejon, where the main Seoul highway comes in from the northwest to join the Nonsan road, an enemy tank suddenly loomed up out of the darkness. The tank fired its machine gun just as Beauchamp jumped from his jeep; one bullet grazed him, others set the vehicle afire. Beauchamp crawled back some hundreds of yards until he found a 3.5-inch bazooka team. He guided it back to the road junction. This bazooka team from C Company, 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion, set the enemy tank on fire with rockets and captured the crew members. It then took a position to guard the road intersection. Later in the morning this rocket launcher team and one from the 24th Reconnaissance Company destroyed two more T34 tanks approaching from the direction of the airfield.
This action at the crossroads just west of Taejon in the predawn of 20 July is the first verifiable use of the 3.5-inch rocket launcher against the T34 tanks. This rocket launcher had been under development since the end of World War II, but none had been issued to troops because of the difficulty in perfecting its ammunition. The ammunition had been standardized and in production only fifteen days when the Korean War started. General MacArthur on 3 July requested that the new rocket launcher be airlifted to Korea. The first of the launchers, together with an instruction team, left Travis Air Force Base in California on 8 July and arrived at Taejon on the 10th. The first delivery of the new weapon arrived at Taejon on 12 July. That same day selected members of the 24th Infantry Division began to receive instructions in its use. The 3.5inch rocket launcher was made of aluminum and weighed about fifteen pounds. It looked like a 5-foot length of stovepipe. It was electrically operated and fired a 23-inch-long, eight-and-a-half-pound rocket from its smooth bore, open tube. The rocket’s most destructive feature was the shaped charge designed to burn through the armor of any tank then known.
When Beauchamp returned to his command post after his encounter with the enemy tanks he found that there was still no communication with the 1st Battalion. A little later, however, a regimental staff officer told him radio communication with the battalion had been re-established and that it reported its condition as good. It was learned afterward that the 1st Battalion had no communication with the regiment after Ayres reported the enemy penetration of his position. The only plausible explanation of this incident is that North Koreans used Colonel Ayres’ captured radio jeep to send a false report to the regiment.
Disturbed by reports of enemy penetrations of the regimental defense position, Colonel Beauchamp after daylight ordered the 3rd Battalion to attack into the gap between the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, and the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry. K Company with part of M Company started to execute this order but it never reached the designated area. On the road leading to the airfield it had a sharp encounter with an enemy force. Six T34 tanks and an estimated battalion of enemy infantry scattered part of the troops. In this action, Sergeant First Class Robert E. Dare of K Company courageously covered and directed the withdrawal of the advanced platoon at the cost of his own life. The entire force withdrew to its former 3rd Battalion position.
[N11-27 Ltr, Major Jack E. Smith to author, 18 Jun 55; Comments, Wadlington for author, 1 Apr 53; Ltr, Wadlington to author, 23 Jun 53; Comments, Beauchamp for author, 3 Jan 53. Department of the Army General Order 16, 20 March 1951, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously to Sergeant First Class Robert E. Dare, K Company, 34th Infantry, for heroism at Taejon, 20 July 1950.]
In its defensive positions on the ridge east of the airfield, the 3rd Battalion remained undisturbed by enemy action throughout the morning except for a small amount of mortar and artillery fire. A peculiar incident had occurred, however, which no one in the battalion could explain. The battalion commander, Major Lantron, disappeared. Lantron got into his jeep about 0930, drove off from his command post, and simply did not return. Colonel Wadlington learned of Lantron’s disappearance about 1100 when he visited the 3rd Battalion. In Lantron’s absence, Wadlington ordered Captain Jack E. Smith to assume command of the battalion. Some weeks later it was learned that Lantron was a prisoner in North Korea.
[N11-28 ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 12, Rpt 1708, p. 26, 1st Lieutenant Bill M. McCarver, and Rpt 1775, p. 214, 1st Lieutenant Henry J. McNichols, Jr.]
The predawn attack against the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, the first tank approaches to the edge of Taejon, and the subsequent North Korean repulse of the K and M Companies’ attack force near the airfield apparently were carried out by the 5th Regiment, N.K. 4th Division, together with its attached armored support. This regiment claims to have captured the Taejon airfield by 0400, 20 July. But after these spectacular successes which started the wholesale withdrawal of the 1st Battalion from its positions west of the city, the enemy force apparently halted and waited for certain developments elsewhere. This probably included completion of the enveloping maneuver to the rear of the city. Only tanks and small groups of infiltrators, most of the latter riding the tanks, entered Taejon during the morning. All these actions appeared to be related parts of the enemy plan.
Neither Colonel Beauchamp nor his executive officer at the time knew of the North Korean repulse of the K and M Company attack force that was supposed to close the gap between the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, and the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry. About the time this event was taking place near the airfield, Colonel Beauchamp told General Dean of his early morning experience with tanks at the edge of the city, and Dean also was informed erroneously that the 1st Battalion was holding in its original battle positions. From the vantage point of Taejon everything seemed all right. At this time, however, General Dean instructed Beauchamp to plan a withdrawal after dark on the Okchon road. Dean then telephoned this information to the 24th Division command post at Yongdong.
[N11-30 Interv, author with Beauchamp, 1 Aug 52; Dean, MS review comments, 20 Jan 58. 31 Intervs, author with McGrail and Montesclaros, 20 Aug 52; Intervs, Blumenson with 2nd Lieutenant Joseph S. Szito (81-mm. Mortar Plat, H Co, 19th Inf), 25 Aug 51, and 2nd Lieutenant Robert L. Herbert (G Co, 19th Inf), 31 Jul 51.]
In the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, positions covering the Nonsan road there had been alarms during the night, and some false reports had reached Taejon that the enemy had overrun the battalion position. Actually, E Company held its position near the bridge, but north of the road F Company under enemy pressure withdrew approximately 200 yards about daylight.31
When Major Dunham led the 1st Battalion and the 34th Infantry Headquarters group south, followed at a short interval by Colonel Ayres and his small party, it was just after daylight. These men passed along a protected route behind the high ground held by F Company, 19th Infantry. They had expected to reach the Nonsan road about three miles away and there turn east on it to enter Taejon. As Ayres neared the road he could see F Company on the hill mass to his right (west) engaged in what he termed a “heavy fire fight.” As he watched he saw the company begin to leave the hill. He continued on and saw ahead of him the main body of his headquarters group climbing the mountain on the other side of the Nonsan road.
Major Dunham, on reaching the road with this group, met and talked briefly there with Colonel McGrail who told him he had had reports that enemy tanks had cut that road into Taejon. Upon hearing this, Dunham led his party across the road into the mountains. When Ayres reached the road enemy machine gun fire was raking it and the bridge over the Yudung. Ayres led his party under the bridge, waded the shallow stream, and followed the main group into the mountains southward. These two parties of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, united on high ground south of Taejon about an hour before noon. Even earlier, the rifle companies of the battalion, for the most part, had scattered into these mountains.
The rumor of enemy tanks on the Nonsan road that caused the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, group to go into the mountains instead of into Taejon had come to Colonel McGrail soon after daylight. A jeep raced up to his command post east of the Yudung bridge. The men in it said that three enemy tanks blocked the road junction just outside the city (they had seen the tanks from a distance, apparently, and had not known they had been knocked out) and that they had seen three more tanks approaching the junction from the airfield. Colonel McGrail could see smoke hanging over Taejon and hear explosions and gunfire. He turned to 2nd Lieutenant Robert L. Herbert and ordered him to take his G Company’s 2nd Platoon and open the road into the city. On the way Herbert encountered a bazooka team which he persuaded to accompany him. He also passed a rifle company getting water in a streambed. This unit identified itself as Baker Company, 34th Infantry; it continued south toward the mountains. Upon arriving at the road junction, Herbert found two T34 tanks burning and a third one that had been destroyed earlier. Lieutenant Little and a reinforced squad armed with two bazookas held the road fork. The burning wreckage of the Heavy Mortar Company, 34th Infantry, littered the road back toward the airfield. A mile to the north three enemy tanks stood motionless. Some men of H Company, 19th Infantry, passed the road fork on their way into Taejon. Herbert’s platoon joined Little’s squad.
After Herbert’s platoon had departed on its mission, Colonel McGrail lost communication with Colonel Beauchamp’s command post. He had now learned from Major Dunham that the enemy had overrun the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, on the Yusong road to the north of him. His own F Company had started to fall back. The general feeling of McGrail’s 2nd Battalion staff was that enemy troops had cut the road between the battalion and Taejon and were probably in the city itself. About 1100 Captain Montesclaros of the S-3 Section volunteered to try to get into Taejon and reach the regimental headquarters for instruction. Colonel McGrail gave him his jeep and driver for the trip.
Montesclaros reached the road junction without incident, saw the burning enemy tanks, met Lieutenant Herbert’s platoon at the roadblock, and, much to his surprise, found the road into the city entirely open. At the edge of the city, Montesclaros encountered General Dean. Montesclaros reported to him, gave the position of the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, and asked for instructions. General Dean patted Montesclaros on the back and replied, “My boy, I am not running this show, Beauchamp isn’t.” Dean took Montesclaros to the 34th Infantry command post. Beauchamp was not present, but from a member of his staff Montesclaros obtained a written order. Before placing it in his shirt pocket, Montesclaros glanced at the order. It directed McGrail to bring his battalion back to the west edge of Taejon.
Montesclaros drove back down the road to the 2nd Battalion command post. He found it deserted. Not a living person was in sight; a dead Korean lay in the courtyard. Puzzled, Montesclaros turned back toward Taejon. After driving a short distance, he turned back to the command post to make sure no one was there; he found it the same as before. No one, neither friend nor foe, was in sight. A strange stillness hung over the spot. Again he turned back toward Taejon. He overtook E Company on the road and instructed it to go into position there. At the edge of Taejon, Montesclaros met 1st Lieutenant Tom Weigle, S-2 of the battalion, who told him that McGrail had established a new command post on a high hill south of the road, and pointed out the place. Montesclaros set out for it and after walking and climbing for forty-five minutes reached the place. Colonel McGrail and his command post were not there, but a few men were; they knew nothing of Colonel McGrail’s location.
Montesclaros started down the mountain with the intention of returning to Taejon. On his way he met Lieutenant Lindsay and E Company climbing the slope. They said the enemy had overrun them on the road. Looking in that direction, Montesclaros saw an estimated battalion of North Korean soldiers marching toward the city in a column of platoons. A T34 tank was traveling west on the road out of Taejon. As it approached the enemy column, the soldiers scurried for the roadside and ducked under bushes, apparently uncertain whether it was one of their own. Montesclaros decided not to try to get into Taejon but to join E Company instead.
What had happened at the command post of the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry? Simply this, believing that the enemy had cut him off from Taejon, Colonel McGrail decided to move his command post to high ground south of the Nonsan road. He instructed E Company to fall back, and then his radio failed. McGrail and his battalion staff thereupon abandoned the command post shortly before noon and climbed the mountain south of Taejon.36 Already F Company had given way and was withdrawing into the hills.
Soon not a single unit of the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, was in its battle position west of Taejon. Nearest to the city, G Company was the last to leave, its place. From his hill position, Captain Barszcz, the company commander, had seen enemy tanks two and a half miles away enter Taejon just after daylight and had reported this by radio to Colonel McGrail’s headquarters. Later in the morning he lost radio communication with McGrail. Shortly after noon, Captain Kenneth Y. Woods, S-3, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, arrived at G Company’s position and gave Captain Barszcz instructions to join the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, group that had passed him in the morning headed south, and to withdraw with it. The G Company 60-mm. mortars were firing at this time. About 1300 Barszcz issued his orders for the withdrawal. The 3rd Platoon was to follow the Weapons Section and bring up the rear. In the withdrawal, however, unknown to Captain Barszcz, the Weapons Platoon leader asked the 3rd Platoon leader to precede him, as he had some mortar ammunition he wanted to expend. The Weapons Section never got out—the entire section of one officer and eighteen enlisted men was lost to enemy action.
Except for the small group at the road junction half a mile west of the city, all the infantry and supporting weapons units of the two battalions in the battle positions west of Taejon had been driven from or had left those positions by 1300. All of them could have come into Taejon on the Nonsan road. Instead, nearly all of them crossed this road approximately two miles west of the city and went south into the mountains.
Back at Taejon, the first North Korean tanks had reached the edge of the city before dawn. They came from the northwest along the Yusong road and from the airfield. There is no evidence that the 3.5-inch bazooka teams of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, posted along the Yusong road engaged these tanks.
Soon after daylight two enemy tanks entered the city from somewhere to the northwest. They were soon followed by a third. Enemy soldiers crowded their decks. These tanks drove to the center of Taejon and there unloaded soldiers who spread quickly into buildings and began the sniping that continued throughout the day. The two tanks then turned back past the large compound where the Service Company of the 34th Infantry had established the regimental kitchen and motor pool. The 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, also had its kitchen trucks in this compound. Approximately 150 men were there when the two enemy tanks opened fire on it with their tank cannon. This fire killed several men, destroyed vehicles, and set an ammunition truck on fire. After shooting up the compound, the tanks rumbled away and fired at various targets of opportunity.
[N11-38 3rd Engr (C) Bn WD, 20 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1367, 19-20 Jul 50 (I&R Plat Rpt with sketch map); Interv, author with Beauchamp, 1 Aug 52; Interv, Blumenson with 2nd Lieutenant Robert E. Nash (S-4, 2nd Bn, 19th Inf, July 50), 22 Aug 51. Nash was in the compound at the time of the tank attack.]
Not until after the tanks had left the compound area did any of the men there locate a 3.5-inch bazooka. Then, in trying to drive out snipers from nearby buildings, someone fired a 3.5-inch white phosphorus rocket into a building setting it afire. The fire spread rapidly to other wood and straw structures in the city until large parts of Taejon were burning, from this and other causes.
Bazooka teams from the 24th Reconnaissance Company set out after the two tanks. These tanks, meanwhile, encountered two jeeploads of men at the Medical Company headquarters, killed all but two, and wounded them. One tank ran over one of the wounded as he lay helpless in the road. A bazooka man finally got in a shot against one of these tanks, hitting it in the side and bouncing it off the ground, but the tank kept on going. At the railroad station, this tank fired into supplies and equipment, starting large fires. There, with a track off, it came to the end of its journeys. Rifle fire killed the tank commander. A rocket hit the second tank and knocked a piece of armor three feet square from its front plate. A third tank for a period survived a rocket that penetrated the top turret. Private First Class Jack E. Lowe and Corporal Robert B. Watkins of the 24th Reconnaissance Company were the bazooka men who scored the destructive hits on these tanks.
[N11-39 24th Recon Co WD, 20 Jul 50 and Summ, 25 Jun-22 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1304, 200850.]
General Dean and his aide, Lieutenant Clarke, had awakened about 0530 to the sound of small arms fire. As Clarke made the bed rolls he remarked to General Dean, “I don’t think we’ll sleep here again tonight.” The general agreed. Sometime later an enemy tank passed close to the 34th Infantry command post headed west out of the city. General Dean immediately started in pursuit of this tank accompanied by two 2.36-inch rocket launcher teams. The tank went through Lieutenant Herbert’s roadblock without being fired on. It was mistaken for a friendly tank until too late for action. When General Dean’s party arrived at the road fork, Herbert explained what had happened. Subsequently this tank re-entered the city and was destroyed, apparently by a 155-mm. howitzer, at the southwest edge of Taejon. During the morning, Dean and his party lost an opportunity against 2 other tanks on the airfield road when the bazooka man with them missed with his only rocket. [N11-40] By 0900, 4 of the 5 tanks known to have entered Taejon had been destroyed.
[N11-40 Ltr, Captain Arthur M. Clarke to author, 31 May 52 (consists mostly of a copy of notes Clarke made shortly after he returned to friendly lines, on 23 July, while events were fresh in his mind); Field Artillery School, Fort Sill, Debriefing Rpt 42, Dept of Training Pubs and Aids, 11 Dec 51 (contains some of Clarke’s recollections of Taejon); Dean and Worden, General Dean’s Story, pp. 30-33: Interv, Blumenson with Herbert, 25 Aug 51; 24th Recon WD, 20 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1304, 200850 Jul 50.]
At noon another tank entered Taejon. A 3.5-inch bazooka team from the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion hunted it down and destroyed it. Soon afterward still another penetrated into the city and rumbled past the regimental command post. General Dean led a group, joined later by a 3.5-inch bazooka team from the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion, in pursuit of this tank. After an hour or more of climbing over walls and fences and dodging through houses stalking it, with enemy snipers firing at them frequently, General Dean and his party brought this tank to bay. About 1400 a group including General Dean, a corporal carrying the bazooka, an ammunition bearer, and two or three riflemen entered a 2-story business building through a back courtyard and climbed to the second story. Looking out from the edge of a window, they saw the tank immediately below them. General Dean has since written that the muzzle of the tank gun was no more than a dozen feet away and he could have spat down its tube. Under General Dean’s directions the bazooka team fired into the tank. Captain Clarke has described what followed: “I remained by the corner of the building in front of the tank to use my Molotov cocktail on it if it began to move. The first round [3.5-inch rocket] hit the tank, and the occupants began to scream and moan. The second round quieted most of the screaming and the third made it all quiet. We all then withdrew to a better observation post and observed the tank burning.” [N11-41] This was the incident that led to the much-quoted remark attributed to General Dean that day, “I got me a tank.”
[N11-41 3rd Engr (C) Bn WD, 20 Jul 50; Ltr, Clarke to author, 31 May 52; Dean and Worden, General Dean’s Story, pp. 34-35; New York Herald Tribune, July 24, 1950, Bigart interview with Clarke. The author saw three T34 tanks still standing in Taejon in July 1951, each bearing a bold inscription painted in white on its sides reading, “Knocked out 20 Jul 50 under the supervision of Maj General W. F. Dean.” One tank was in the center of Taejon at a street corner; this apparently was the one destroyed under General Dean’s direction. The other two were at the Yusong and Nonsan roads’ juncture west of the city.]
General Dean’s personal pursuit of enemy tanks in Taejon was calculated to inspire his men to become tank killers. He was trying to sell to his shaky troops the idea that “an unescorted tank in a city defended by infantry with 3.5-inch bazookas should be a dead duck.” The number of enemy tanks that entered Taejon during the day cannot be fixed accurately. Most of them apparently entered Taejon singly or in small groups. It appears that American troops had destroyed 8 enemy tanks in Taejon or its immediate vicinity by 1100, 6 of them by 3.5-inch rockets and 2 by artillery fire. Engineer bazooka teams destroyed 2 more T34 tanks in the afternoon. If this is a correct count, United States, soldiers destroyed 10 enemy tanks in Taejon on 20 July, 8 of them by the new 3.5-inch rocket launcher, first used in combat that day.
[N11-43 34th Inf WD, 20 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entries 1315, 201107, and 1367, 202225 Jul 50; 24th Div Ordnance Off Stf Hist Rpt, 20 Jul 50. A 24th Division report of 19 July erroneously states that by that date the 3.5-inch bazooka had destroyed several enemy tanks. 24th Div WD, G-4 Daily Summ, 181800-198000 Jul 50.]
Not every round from a 3.5-inch bazooka stopped a T34 tank in the Taejon street fighting as has been so often stated. Three bazooka teams of the 24th Reconnaissance Company, for instance, made seven hits at close range (30 to 70 yards) on 3 tanks and stopped only 1 of them.
Fifth Air Force planes also destroyed an undetermined number of enemy tanks at Taejon. In the morning, soon after the initial penetration of approximately 15 tanks along the Yusong road, the Air Force knocked out 5 before they reached the city. An enemy tank crew member captured during the day reported that planes destroyed others north of Taejon. It appears that the North Koreans lost at least 15 tanks at Taejon, and possibly more.
[N11-44 24th Div WD, 20 Jul 50; Ibid., G-2 PW Interrog File, interrog of Kim Chong Sun, 202300 Jul 50.]
The enemy tanks largely failed in their mission within Taejon itself. They did not cause panic in the city, nor did they cause any troops to leave it. They themselves lost heavily, mostly to the new 3.5-inch bazooka which they encountered for the first time. Taejon demonstrated that for the future there was at hand an infantry weapon that, if used expertly and courageously, could stop the dreaded T34.
SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)