Yongdok and the East Coastal Corridor: While the battles of the Kum River and Taejon were being fought on the main axis south from Seoul, many miles eastward, the enemy 5th Division pressed forward against Yongdok, a key point where a lateral road came in from the mountains to meet the coastal road. The ROK 3rd Division had orders to hold Yongdok. It was certain that heavy battles would be fought there.
On 13 July Colonel Emmerich and the KMAG detachment with the ROK 3rd Division forwarded to Eighth Army a demolition plan for use on the coastal road and bridges. Major Clyde Britton, one of the KMAG officers, was to be responsible for giving authority to blow any of the bridges. The long bridge at Yongdok was recognized as the most important feature on the coastal road, and it was to be held intact unless enemy armor was actually crossing it.
At this time interrogation of an enemy prisoner disclosed that the North Koreans had a plan to blow a bridge near An’gang-ni, on the lateral corridor from Taegu to Pohang-dong and to blow both ends of the Ch’ongdo railroad tunnel between Pusan and Taegu. Destruction of the tunnel would constitute a serious blow to the logistical support for the front-line troops. Two American officers with two platoons of ROK troops went to the tunnel to protect it.
On 14 July, Brigadier General Lee Chu Sik, Commanding General, ROK 3rd Division, indicated that he wanted to move the division command post to Pohangdong and to withdraw his troops south of Yongdok. Colonel Emmerich told him this could not be done—that the east coast road had to be held at all costs. General Walker had given a great deal of attention to the east coast situation because he knew it was isolated from the rest of the ROK command and needed close watching, and Colonel Allan D. MacLean of the Eighth Army G-3 staff was in constant communication with Colonel Emmerich.
Support of the ROK 3rd Division had stabilized to the extent that large fishing vessels moved from Pusan up and down the coast, supplying the ROK’s with ammunition and food, without being targets of the United States Navy. News that a railhead would be established at Pohang-dong and a daily supply train would arrive there from Pusan promised soon to relieve the situation still further. On land, each ROK commander had his own system of recruiting help and had large numbers of untrained combat troops and labor groups carrying supplies into the hills on A-frames. At this stage of the war, typical food of the ROK soldier was three rice balls a day—one for each meal—supplemented along the coast by fish. The rice was usually cooked behind the lines by Korean women, then scooped out with a large cup which served as a measuring device, pressed into a ball about the size of an American softball, and wrapped in a boiled cabbage leaf. Whether his rice was warm or cold or whether flies and other insects had been on it, seemed to have little effect on the ROK soldier. Apparently the Korean people had become immune to whatever disease germs, flies, and other insects carry.
[N12-1 Col Rollins S. Emmerich, MS review comments, 30 Nov 57; Interv, author with Darrigo (KMAG adviser to ROK 17th Regt, Jul-Aug 50), 5 Aug 53.]
As the east coast battle shaped up, it became apparent that it would be of the utmost importance to have a fire direction center to co-ordinate the 81mm. mortars, the artillery, the fighter aircraft, and the naval gunfire. Such a center was set up in a schoolhouse south of Yongdok with Captain Harold Slater, the KMAG G-3 adviser to the 3rd Division, in charge of it and Captain John Airsman as artillery adviser. The ROK 3rd Division artillery at this time consisted of three batteries of four 75-mm. pack howitzers and one battery of 105mm. howitzers.
On 14 July ROK troops withdrew in front of the advancing North Koreans and set off demolitions at two bridges, two tunnels, and two passes between Yonghae and Yongdok on the coastal road. United States naval vessels bombarded roadside cliffs next to the sea to produce landslides that would block the road and delay the North Koreans.
Two days later the ROK 23rd Regiment gave way and streamed south. The KMAG advisers considered the situation grave. In response to an inquiry from Colonel Collier of Eighth Army, Colonel Emmerich sent the following message: Situation deplorable, things are popping,
trying to get something established across the front, 75% of the 23rd ROK Regiment is on the road moving south. Advisers threatening and shooting in the air trying to get them assembled, Commanding General forming a straggler line. If straggler line is successful we may be able to reorganize and re-establish the line. If this fails I am afraid that the whole thing will develop in complete disintegration. The Advisory Group needs food other than Korean or C rations and needs rest.
On 17 July the North Koreans drove the disorganized regiment south of Yongdok. The loss of this town so quickly was a demoralizing blow, and Eighth Army became at once concerned about it. During the day the first United States artillery to support the ROK’s on the east coast, C Battery of the 159th Field Artillery Battalion, entered the fight.
[N12-3 159th FA Bn WD (25th Div), 17 Jul 50. 4 Emmerich, MS review comments, 30 Nov 57.]
The enemy entry into Yongdok began three weeks of fighting for this key coastal town, with first one side and then the other holding it. Two or three miles of ground immediately south of it became a barren, churned up, fought-over no man’s land. The first ROK counterattack came immediately. On 18 July at 0545 an air strike came in on the enemy front lines. Heavy naval gunfire pounded the Yongdok area after the strike. At 0600 the United States light cruiser Juneau fired two star shells over the ROK line of departure. Newly arrived reinforcements took part in the attack as ROK troops advanced behind the screen of naval gunfire to close rifle range with the North Koreans. At the same time, other naval guns placed interdiction fire on the North Korean rear areas. These heavy support fires were largely responsible for a North Korean withdrawal to a point about three miles north of Yongdok for reorganization.
But this success was short lived. Elements of the N.K. 5th Division regained the town the next day, driving the ROK’s back to their former positions south of it.
On 20 July Colonel Emmerich went to Yonil Airfield to discuss with Colonel Robert Witty, commanding the 35th Fighter-Interceptor Group, the co-ordination of air strikes at Yongdok. These promised to become more numerous, because on that day the 40th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron became operational at Yonil. General Walker and General Partridge flew to Yonil Airfield from Taegu to join in the discussions, and General Kean of the 25th Division also joined the group there. Emmerich briefed the commanders thoroughly on the situation. General Walker ordered that the 3rd ROK Division must retake Yongdok. When Colonel Emmerich relayed Walker’s orders to General Lee of the ROK division the latter was upset, but he received instructions from higher ROK authority to obey the Eighth Army commander.
The second battle for Yongdok began on the morning of 21 July. This was a savage and bloody fight at close quarters. Naval reinforcements had arrived off the coast during the night of 19 July, and Rear Admiral J. M. Higgins informed Emmerich that the destroyers Higbee, Mansfield, DeHaven, and Swenson, and the British cruiser Belfast would add their gunfire to the battle. This naval gunfire,
U.S. artillery and mortar fire, and air strikes enabled the ROK’s to retake the town, only to be driven out again by nightfall. In this action unusually accurate enemy mortar and artillery fire caused very heavy ROK casualties. The second battle of Yongdok left the area from Kanggu-dong to a point about two miles north of Yongdok a smoldering no man’s land. The pounding of the artillery, naval gunfire, and air strikes had stripped the hills of all vegetation and reduced to rubble all small villages in the area.
In the attack on the 21st, observers estimated that naval gunfire from the Juneau alone killed 400 North Korean soldiers. Even though enemy troops again held Yongdok they were unable to exploit their success immediately because they were held under pulverizing artillery and mortar fire, naval gunfire, and almost continuous daylight air strikes. In their efforts to execute wide enveloping moves around the flank of the ROK troops over mountainous terrain, barren of trees and other cover, they came under decimating fire. On 24 July alone the North Koreans lost 800 casualties to this gunfire, according to prisoners. One enemy battalion was virtually destroyed when naval gunfire from the east and air strikes from the west pocketed it and held it under exploding shells, bombs, and strafing fires.
[N12-6 EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 20-24 Jul 50; EUSAK POR 26, 21 Jul 50; GHQ FEC Sitrep, 21 Jul 50; 35th Inf Regt WD, Unit Rpt, 1st Bn, 22 Jul 50; 159th FA Bn WD, 23-24 Jul 50; Emmerich, MS review comments, 30 Nov 57; Karig, et al., Battle Report: The War in Korea, p. 101.]
The reconstituted ROK 22nd Regiment arrived from Taegu, and about 500 men of the ROK naval combat team and its engineer battalion were sent to buttress the east coast force. [N12-7] All the troops on the east coast were now reorganized into a new ROK 3rd Division.
[N12-7 EUSAK WD, G-3 Jnl, 24 Jul 50; GHQ FEC G-3 Opn Rpt 30, 24 Jul 50 and 31, 25 Jul 50.]
Beginning on 9 July a succession of American units had performed security missions at Yonil Airfield below Pohang-dong; first the 3rd battalion of the 19th Infantry, then the 2nd Battalion of the 27th Infantry, next the 1st Battalion of the 35th Infantry, and that in turn gave way to the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. Thus, in the course of two weeks, battalion-size units of all three United States divisions then in Korea had constituted a security force in the Pohang-dong area behind the ROK 23rd Regiment.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter D. Clainos’ 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, had orders to support the ROK troops with fire only. But on 23 July, North Koreans surrounded the 81-mm. mortar platoon of D Company, forcing it to fight at close range. That same day, C Company on Round Top (Hill 181), at the southern outskirts of Yongdok, watched in silence as North Korean and ROK troops fought a seesaw battle in its vicinity. That night North Koreans surrounded the hill and C Company troops spent a sleepless night. The next day when the ROK’s regained temporary possession of Yongdok the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division replaced Colonel Clainos’ battalion in the blocking mission behind the ROK’s at Yongdok.
[N12-8 EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 16-22 Jul 50; Ibid., Summ, 13-31 Jul 50; Clainos, Notes for author, May 1954; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1533, 230935 Jul 50.]
Despite the savage pounding it received from naval, artillery, and mortar fire and aerial bombardments, the N.K. 5th Division held on to the hills two miles south of Yongdok. The ROK’s adopted a plan of making counter and probing attacks during the day and withdrawing to prepared positions in an all-around perimeter for the night. The saturation support fires delivered by the United States Navy, Air Force, and Army day and night outside this perimeter caused many enemy casualties. Certain key pieces of terrain, such as Hill 181, often changed hands several times in one day. Unfortunately, many civilians were killed in this area as they tried to move through the lines and were caught by the supporting fires. Just south of Hill 181 and its surrounding rough ground, a small river, the Osipchon, descends the coastal range to the Sea of Japan. South of it, sheer mountain walls press the coastal road against the shoreline for ten miles in the direction of Pohang-dong, twenty-five miles away. If the ROK’s lost control of the Yongdok area, this bottleneck on the coastal road would be the scene of the next effort to stop the North Koreans.
At this time the KMAG advisers had serious trouble with “Tiger” Kim, the commander of the ROK 23rd Regiment. He was extremely brutal in his disciplinary methods. In the presence of several advisers he had his personal bodyguard shoot a young 1st lieutenant of his regiment whose unit had been surrounded for several days. This incident took place on 26 July. The next day Kim used the butt of an M1 rifle on some of the enlisted men of this unit. The KMAG advisers remonstrated at this action, and in order to avoid possible personal trouble with Kim they asked for his removal. “Tiger” Kim was removed from command of the regiment and the commander of the 1st Separate Battalion, Colonel Kim, replaced him.
[N12-9 Emmerich, MS review comments, 30 Nov 57.]
ROK troops regrouped for another desperate counterattack, to be supported by all available U.N. sea, air, and ground weapons, in an effort to hurl the North Koreans back to the north of Yongdok. At this time General Walker required hourly reports sent to his headquarters at Taegu. In action preliminary to the main attack, planned for the morning of 27 July, ROK troops during the night of the 26th captured seventeen machine guns, but took only eight prisoners. The preparatory barrages began at 0830. Then came the air strikes. The battle that then opened lasted until 2 August without letup. On that date at 1800 the ROK 3rd Division recaptured Yongdok and pursued the enemy north of the town. North Korean prisoners said that U.S. naval, artillery, and mortar fire and the air strikes gave them no rest, day or night. They said that in the two weeks’ battle for Yongdok the N.K. 5th Division had lost about 40 percent of its strength in casualties.
[N12-10 EUSAK WD, G-3 Jnl, 27 Jul 50 and 3 Aug 50; 159th FA Bn (25th Div) WD, 27 Jul 50; GHQ UNC G-3 Opn Rpts 36 and 37, 30-31 Jul, and 40, 3 Aug 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 96 (N.K. 5th Div), p. 42; Emmerich, MS review comments, 30 Nov 57.]
During the last half of July 1950, this holding battle on the east coast by the ROK 3rd Division was the only one that succeeded in all Korea. It was made possible by American air, sea, and ground fire power and the physical features of the east coast, which hampered North Korean freedom of movement and aided effective employment of American fire power.
Of particular note among the battles during the last part of July in the central mountains was the duel between the N.K. 12th Division and the ROK 8th Division for control of Andong and the upper Naktong River crossing there. This series of battles was closely related to the fighting on the east coast and the North Korean efforts to gain control of Pohang-dong and the east coast corridor to Pusan.
After crossing the upper Han River at Tanyang, the N.K. 12th Division advanced on the road through Yongju to Andong. The ROK 8th Division attacked the 12th on 21 July between the two towns. From then on to the end of the month these two divisions on the road to Andong engaged in one of the bloodiest fights of the first month of the war.
Just when it was encountering this stubborn resistance from the ROK 8th Division, the 12th received orders from the N.K. II Corps to capture Pohangdong by 26 July. This order doubtless was occasioned by the failure of the 5th Division to advance as rapidly along the east coast as had been expected. Ever since the invasion began, the N.K. Army Command had criticized its N.K. II Corps for failure to meet its schedule of advance. The Army reportedly demoted the II Corps commander, Major General Kim Kwang Hyop, to corps chief of staff, about 10 July, replacing him with Lieutenant General Kim Mu Chong. The order given to the 12th Division was almost impossible to carry out. The distance from Yongju to Pohang-dong was about seventy-five air miles, and the greater part of the route, that beyond Andong, lay across high mountain ranges traversed only by foot and oxcart trails. Just to march across these mountains by 26 July would have been no mean feat.
[N12-11 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 99 (N.K. 12th Div), p. 45; G-2 PW Interrog file, interrog of Col Lee Hak Ku; FEC, telecon TT3559, 21 Jul 50.]
In an effort to meet the deadline given it for the capture of Pohang-dong, the N.K. 12th Division resumed daylight marches. U.N. aerial attacks struck it daily. The ROK 8th Division at the same time fought it almost to a halt But, despite these difficulties the enemy division pressed slowly on toward Andong. At the end of the month it was engaged in a hard battle with the ROK 8th Division for the control of that key town and the upper Naktong River crossing site.
The battle for Andong lasted five days. The river town finally fell on 1 August. The N.K. Army communiqué for 3 August, broadcast by the Pyongyang radio and monitored in Tokyo, claimed the capture of Andong on 1 August with 1,500 enemy killed and 1,200 captured. It alleged that captured equipment included 6 105-mm. howitzers, 13 automatic guns, 900 rifles, and a large number of vehicles.
The ROK 8th Division, and some elements of the Capital Division which had joined it, lost very heavily in these battles. Enemy losses also were heavy. Prisoners reported that air attacks had killed an estimated 600 North Korean soldiers; that the 31st Regiment alone lost 600 men in the Andong battles; that the 2nd Battalion of the division artillery had expended all its ammunition and, rather than be burdened with useless weapons and run the risk of their capture or destruction, it had sent them back to Tanyang; that of the original 30 T34 tanks only 19 remained; and, also, that a shell fragment had killed their division commander. This enemy crack division, made up of veterans of the Chinese wars, was so exhausted by the Andong battle that it had no recourse but to rest where it was for several days in early August.
[N12-1313 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 99 (N.K. 12th Div), pp. 45-46; GHQ UNC G-3 Opn Rpt 37. 31 Jul 50; FEC telecon to DA TT3597, 30 Jul 50; TT3600, 31 Jul 50; TT3605, 1 Aug 50.]
Reorganization of the ROK Army
To a considerable extent the reorganization of the ROK Army influenced the disposition of ROK troops and the U.S. 25th Division along the front. Throughout the first part of July there had been a continuing effort by American commanders to assemble the surviving men and units of the ROK Army that had escaped south of the Han River and to reorganize them for combat operations. Generals Church, Dean, and Walker each took an active interest in this necessary objective. As a part of this reorganization, the ROK Army activated its I Corps and with it directed ROK operations on the right flank of the U.S. 24th Division in the first part of July. The 1st, 2nd, and Capital Divisions had carried the fight for the ROK I Corps in the central mountains east of the Seoul-Taejon highway. By the time Taejon fell, these ROK divisions were each reduced to a strength of between 3,000 and 3,500 men. The ROK I Corps at that time had only one 3-gun and two 4-gun batteries of artillery. The three divisions reportedly each had ten 81mm. mortars without sights.
[N12-14 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, 16-20 Jul 50, entry 148, Rpt of Opns with I Corps, ROK Army.]
On 14 July the ROK Army activated its II Corps with headquarters at Hamchang. It was composed of the 6th and 8th Divisions and the 23rd Regiment. This corps controlled ROK operations in the eastern mountains and, to the extent that it could, it tried to control the 23rd Regiment on the east coast. But this latter effort never amounted to very much.
Finally, on 24 July, the ROK Army reorganized itself with two corps and five divisions. ROK I Corps controlled the 8th and Capital Divisions; ROK II Corps controlled the 1st and 6th Divisions. The 2nd Division was inactivated Meeting at the battalion command post, the commanders of the various units planned a renewed assault for 0500 the next morning. Artillery and mortars zeroed in as scheduled, and soon the town was in flames. By this time, however, Yechon may already have been abandoned by the enemy. At Hamchang, Colonel Henry G. Fisher, commanding the 35th Infantry, received early that morning an erroneous message that the North Koreans had driven the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry from Yechon. He started for the place at once.
He found the battalion commander about five miles west of the town, but was dissatisfied with the information that he received from him. Fisher and a small party then drove on into Yechon, which was ablaze with fires started by American artillery shells. He encountered no enemy or civilians. The 3rd Platoon, 77th Engineer Combat Company, attached to Company K, entered the town with the infantrymen and attempted to halt the spread of flames —unsuccessfully, because of high, shifting winds. By 1300 Yechon was secured, and 3rd Battalion turned over control to the ROK 18th Regiment of the Capital Division the task of holding the town. The Capital Division now concentrated there the bulk of its forces and opposed the N.K. 8th Division in that vicinity the remainder of the month.
[N12-19 Fisher, MS review comments, 27 Oct 57; 35th Inf WD and 24th Inf WD, 20-21 Jul 50.]
General Kean and his 25th Division had to guard two main approaches to Sangju if he was to secure the town. First was the main road that crossed the Mungyong plateau and passed through Hamchang at the base of the plateau about fifteen miles due north of Sangju. Next, there was the secondary mountain road that crossed the plateau farther west and, once through the mountains, turned east toward Sangju.
On the first and main road, the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, held a blocking position northwest of Hamchang, supported by a platoon of tanks from A Company, 79th Tank Battalion, and A Battery, 90th Field Artillery Battalion. Colonel Fisher was unable to concentrate his two-battalion regiment here for the defense of Sangju because the 1st Battalion had no sooner arrived on 25 July from Pohang-dong than it was sent posthaste the next day to reinforce the 27th Infantry Regiment on the next north-south line of communications westward.
Thus, in effect, one battalion of U.S. troops stood behind ROK units on the Hamchang approach. On the second road, that leading into Sangju from the west, the 24th Infantry Regiment assembled two, and later all three, of its battalions. The 2nd Battalion of the 35th Infantry took up a hill position northwest of Hamchang and south of Mungyong on the south side of a stream that flowed past Sangju to the Naktong. On the north side of the stream a ROK battalion held the front line. Brigadier General Vennard Wilson, Assistant Division Commander, insisted that F Company of the battalion should be inserted in the center of the ROK line north of the stream, and this was done over the strong protests of Colonel Fisher and the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel John L. Wilkins. Wilson thought the American troops would strengthen the ROK defense; Fisher and Wilkins did not want the untried company to be dependent upon ROK stability in its first engagement. Behind the ROK and F Company positions the ground rose in another hill within small arms range. Heavy rains had swollen the stream behind the ROK’s and F Company to a torrent that was rolling large boulders along its channel.
On 22 July the North Koreans attacked. The ROK’s withdrew from their positions on either side of F Company without informing that company of their intentions. Soon enemy troops were firing into the back of F Company from the hill behind it. This precipitated an unorganized withdrawal. The swollen stream prevented F Company from crossing to the south side and the sanctuary of the 2nd Battalion positions. Walking wounded crowded along the stream where an effort to get them across failed.
Two officers and a noncommissioned officer tied a pair of twisted telephone wires about their bodies and tried to swim to the opposite bank and fasten a line, but each in turn was swept downstream where they floundered ashore a hundred yards away on the same bank from which they had started. Some men drowned in trying to cross the swollen river. The covering fire of a platoon of tanks on the south side held off the enemy and allowed most of the survivors eventually to escape. In this fiasco, F Company lost 6 men killed, 10 wounded, and 21 missing.
[N12-20 35th Inf Regt WD, 22 Jul 50; Fisher, MS review comments, 27 Oct 57.]
The next morning five enemy tanks crossed the river and moved toward Hamchang. Artillery fire from a battery of the 90th Field Artillery Battalion knocked out four of the tanks. The fifth turned back across the river, and there an air strike later destroyed it.
The 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, was still in its position when it received orders on 23 July to withdraw to a point 5 miles north of Sangju. On the 29th the battalion fell back 2 miles more, and the next day it moved to a position south of Sangju. On the last day of July the 35th Infantry was ordered to a blocking position on a line of hills 8 miles south of Sangju on the Kumchon road. In eleven days it had fallen back about thirty miles on the Sangju front. In these movements it did little fighting, but executed a series of withdrawals on division orders as the front around it collapsed.
[N12-21 35th Inf Regt WD, 23-31 Jul 50; 25th Div POR 28, 23 Jul 50; 25th Div WD, Narr Rpt, 8-31 Jul 50; 35th Inf Opn Instr, 25 Jul 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 104 (N.K. 13th Div), p. 60]
The ROK 6th Division continued its hard-fought action on the road through the mountains from Mungyong, but gradually it fell back from in front of the N.K. 1st Division. In the mountains above Hamchang the ROK 6th Division on 24 July destroyed 7 enemy T34 tanks. Three days later the ROK 1st Division, now relieved northwest of Sangju by the U.S. 24th Infantry and redeployed on the Hamchang front, reportedly destroyed 4 more tanks there with 2.36inch bazookas and captured 1 tank intact. The decimated remnants of the ROK 2nd Division, relieved by the 27th Infantry Regiment on the Hwanggan-Poun road, were incorporated into the ROK 1st Division. Thus, by 24 July the U.S. 25th Division had taken over from the ROK 1st and 2nd Divisions the sector from Sangju westward to the Seoul-Taegu highway, and these ROK troops were moving into the line eastward and northward from Sangju on the Hamchang front.
[N12-22 FEC telecons with DA, TT3566, 23 Jul 50; TT3567, 24 Jul 50; TT3577, 25 Jul 50; TT3579, 26 Jul 50; ATIS Supp, Enemy Docs, Issue 1, pp. 4248, Battle Rpts 23 Jun-3 Aug 50, by NA unit, Ok Chae Min and Kim Myung Kap; 34th Div WD, G-2 Sec, entry 1616, 271900 Jul 50.]
By 27 July all the Mungyong divide was in North Korean possession and enemy units were moving into the valley of the upper Naktong in the vicinity of Hamchang. Prisoners taken at the time and others captured later said that the N.K. 1st Division lost 5,000 casualties in the struggle for control of the divide, including the division commander who was wounded and replaced. The 13th Division, following the 1st, suffered about 500 casualties below Mungyong, but otherwise it was not engaged during this period.
[N12-23 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 3 (N.K. 1st Div), pp. 32-33; Ibid., Issue 104 (N.K. 13th Div), p. 60.]
Simultaneously with his appearance on the Hamchang road at the southern base of the Mungyong plateau north of Sangju, the enemy approached on the secondary mountain road to the west. On 22 July, the same day that F Company of the 35th Infantry came to grief north of Hamchang, elements of the 24th Infantry Regiment had a similar unhappy experience west of Sangju. On that day the 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry, and elements of the ROK 17th Regiment were advancing into the mountains twenty miles northwest of the town. With E Company leading, the battalion moved along the dirt road into a gorge with precipitous mountain walls. Suddenly, an enemy light mortar and one or two automatic weapons fired on E Company.
It stopped and the men dispersed along the sides of the road. ROK officers advised that the men deploy in an enveloping movement to the right and to the left, but the company commander apparently did not understand. Soon enemy rifle fire came in on the dispersed men and E and F Companies began withdrawing in a disorderly manner.
Colonel Horton V. White, the regimental commander, heard of the difficulty and drove hurriedly to the scene. He found the battalion coming back down the road in disorder and most of the men in a state of panic. He finally got the men under control. The next day the ROK 17th Regiment enveloped the enemy position that had caused the trouble and captured two light machine guns, one mortar, and about thirty enemy who appeared to be guerrillas. [N12-24] The ROK 17th Regiment fought in the hills for the next two days, making some limited gains, and then it moved back to Sangju in the ROK Army reorganization in progress. This left only the U.S. 24th Infantry Regiment guarding the west approach to Sangju from the Mungyong plateau.
[N12-24 24th Inf Regt WD, 22 Jul 50; 25th Div WD, Incl 3, 22 Jul 50; EUSAK. IG Rept on 24th Inf Regt, 1950, testimony of bn and regtl off, 2nd Bn and 24th Inf Regt. ]
The tendency to panic continued in nearly all the 24th Infantry operations west of Sangju. Men left their positions and straggled to the rear. They abandoned weapons on positions. On one occasion the 3rd Battalion withdrew from a hill and left behind 12 .30-caliber and 3 .50-caliber machine guns, 8 60-mm. mortars, 3 81-mm. mortars, 4 3.5-inch rocket launchers, and 102 rifles. On another occasion, L Company took into position 4 officers and 105 enlisted men; a few days later, when the company was relieved in its position, there were only 17 men in the foxholes. The number of casualties and men evacuated for other reasons in the interval had been 1 officer and 17 enlisted men, leaving 3 officers and 88 enlisted men unaccounted for. As the relieved unit of 17 men moved down off the mountain it swelled in numbers to 1 officer and 35 enlisted men by the time it reached the bottom.
By 26 July the 24th Infantry had all three of its battalions concentrated in battle positions astride the road ten miles west of Sangju. Elements of the N.K. 15th Division advancing on this road had cleared the mountain passes and were closing with the regiment. From 26 July on to the end of the month the enemy had almost constant contact with the 24th Infantry, which was supported by the 159th and 64th Field Artillery Battalions and one battery of the 90th Field Artillery Battalion.
The general pattern of 24th Infantry action during the last days of July was to try to hold positions during the day and then withdraw at night. On the evening of 29 July the 1st Battalion got out of hand. During the day the battalion had suffered about sixty casualties from enemy mortar fire. As the men were preparing their perimeter defense for the night, an inexplicable panic seized them and the battalion left its positions. Colonel White found himself, the 77th Combat Engineer Company, and a battery of the 159th Field Artillery Battalion all that was left in the front line. He had to reorganize the battalion himself. That night the supporting artillery fired 3,000 rounds, part of it direct fire, in holding back the North Koreans.
In these last days west of Sangju, Major John R. Woolridge, the regimental S-1, set up a check point half a mile west of the town and stopped every vehicle coming from the west, taking off stragglers. He averaged about seventy-five stragglers a day and, on the last day, he collected 150.27
[N12-27 EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf Regt, 1950; 24th Inf WD, 29 Jul 50; 159th FA Bn WD, 29-30 Jul 50.]
By 30 July, the 24th Infantry had withdrawn to the last defensible high ground west of Sangju, three miles from the town. The regiment had deteriorated so badly by this time that General Kean recalled the 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, and placed it in blocking positions behind the 24th Infantry. The next day North Koreans again pressed against the regiment and forced in the outpost line of resistance. In this action, 1st Lieutenant Leon A. Gilbert, commanding A Company, quit the outpost line with about fifteen men. Colonel White and other ranking officers ordered Lieutenant Gilbert back into position, but he refused to go, saying that he was scared. The senior noncommissioned officer returned with the men to their positions.
[N12-28 24th Inf WD, 30-31 Jul 50; EUSAK WD, G-3 Jnl, Msg 301355 Jul 50; JAG CM-343472, U.S. vs. 1st Lieutenant Leon A. Gilbert, O-1304518, (includes all legal action taken in the case up to commutation of sentence on 27 Nov 50); Washington Post, September 20, 1952.]
Finally, during the night of 31 July the 24th Infantry Regiment withdrew through Sangju. The 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, covered the withdrawal. In eleven days of action in the Sangju area the regiment had suffered 323 battle casualties—27 killed, 293 wounded, 3 missing.
In reaching the upper Naktong valley at the end of July, the enemy divisions engaged in this part of the North Korean drive southward had not gone unharmed. The N.K. 1st Division in battling across the Mungyong plateau against the ROK 6th Division not only suffered great losses in the ground battle but also took serious losses from U.N. aerial attack. Prisoners reported that by the time it reached Hamchang at the end of July it was down to 3,000 men. The N.K.15thDivision, according to prisoners, also lost heavily to artillery and mortar fire in its drive on Sangju against ROK troops and the U.S. 24th Infantry Regiment, and was down to about half strength, or approximately 5,000 men, at the end of July. In contrast, the N.K. 13thDivision had bypassed Hamchang on the west and, save for minor skirmishes with ROK troops and the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, it had not been engaged and consequently had suffered relatively few casualties.
[N12-30 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 3 (N.K. 1st Div), pp. 32-33; Ibid., Issue 104 (N.K. 13th Div), p. 61; and p. 42 (N.K.15th Div); Ibid., Issue 4 (105th Armored Div), p. 38; EUSAK WD, G-2 Sec, 2 Aug 50, ATIS Interrog Rpt 339.]
SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)