The 1st Cavalry Division, Sails for Korea: At first General MacArthur and the staff of the Far East Command had expected that the 24th and 25th Divisions in support of the ROK Army would be able to check the North Korean advance. Based on this expectation, initial preliminary planning called for a third United States division, the 1st Cavalry, to land in the rear of the enemy forces and, together with a counterattack from in front by the combined American and ROK forces, to crush and destroy the North Korean Army.
In furtherance of this plan, the Far East Command called Major General Hobart R. Gay, Commanding General, 1st Cavalry Division, to General MacArthur’s headquarters on 6 July and informed him of plans for the 1st Cavalry Division to make an amphibious landing at Inchon. From this briefing General Gay went to the G-2, Far East Command office, where he was told, “You must expedite preparations to the utmost limit because if the landing is delayed all that the 1st Cavalry Division will hit when it lands will be the tail end of the 24th Division as it passes north through Seoul.”
The transfer to the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions, in strengthening them for their combat missions in Korea, of approximately 750 noncommissioned officers from the 1st Cavalry Division had weakened the latter. It had been stripped of practically every first grader except the first sergeants of companies and batteries.
Between 12 and 14 July the division loaded on ships in the Yokohama area. But, by this time, the steady enemy successes south of the Han River had changed the objective from a landing in the enemy’s rear at Inchon to a landing on the east coast of Korea at Pohangdong, a fishing town sixty air miles northeast of Pusan. Its mission was to reinforce at once the faltering 24th Division. A landing at Pohang-dong would not congest still further the Pusan port facilities, which were needed to land supplies for the troops already in action; also, from Pohang-dong the division could move promptly to the Taejon area in support of the 24th Division. The date of the landing was set for 18 July.
[N12-32 Commander, Amphibious Group One, Task Force 90, Attack Force Opn Order 10-50, 131200 Jul 50, Tokyo; Notes, Harris for author, 18 May 54.]
The command ship Mt. McKinley and final elements of the first lift sailed for Korea on 15 July in Task Force 90, commanded by Rear Admiral James H. Doyle. The landing at Pohang-dong was unopposed. Lead elements of the 8th Cavalry Regiment were ashore by 0610 18 July, and the first troops of the 5th Cavalry Regiment came in twenty minutes later. Typhoon Helene swept over the Korean coast and prevented landing of the 7th Cavalry Regiment and the 82nd Field Artillery Battalion until 22 July. For three days ships could not be unloaded at Pusan and Eighth Army rations dropped to one day’s supply.
[N12-33 1st Cav Div WD, 12-22 Jul 50, and Summ, 25 Jun-Jul 50.]
Even though it had received 1,450 replacements before it left Japan, 100 of them from the Eighth Army stockade, the division was understrength when it landed in Korea and, like the preceding divisions, it had only 2 battalions in the regiments, 2 firing batteries in the artillery battalions, and 1 tank company (light M24 tanks).
On 19 July, the 5th Cavalry Regiment started toward Taejon. The next day the 8th Cavalry Regiment followed by rail and motor, and closed in an assembly area east of Yongdong that evening. Brigadier General Charles D. Palmer, division artillery commander, commanded these two forward regiments. On 22 July the 8th Cavalry Regiment relieved the 21st Infantry, 24th Division, in its positions at Yongdong and the 1st Cavalry Division thereby assumed responsibility for blocking the enemy along the main Taejon-Taegu corridor.
[N12-34 21-22 Jul 50; Ibid., G-3 Sec, 20 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-4 Daily Summ, 22 Jul 50; EUSAK WD, Summ, 13-31 Jul 50; 8th Cav Regt Opn Jnl, 21 Jul 50]
In a conference at Taegu General Walker gave General Gay brief instructions. In substance, Walker told Gay: “Protect Yongdong. Remember there are no friendly troops behind you. You must keep your own back door open. You can live without food but you cannot last long without ammunition, and unless the Yongdong-Taegu road is kept open you will soon be without ammunition.” In the week that followed, these words of Walker’s rang constantly in General Gay’s ears.
Leaving Taegu, General Gay joined his troops and General Palmer at Yongdong. Colonel MacLean, from the Eighth Army G-3 Section, was present and had given instructions that one battalion should be posted four miles northwest of Yongdong on the south side of the Kum River, and that another battalion should be placed two miles southwest of Yongdong. The first would cover the approach along the main Taejon-Taegu highway, the second the approach on the Chosan-ni-Muju-Kumsan road. General Palmer had protested this disposition of troops to Colonel MacLean on the ground that the enemy could encircle and cut off one battalion at a time and that neither battalion could support the other. Palmer wanted to place the 1st Cavalry Division on a line of hills just east of Yongdong and then have the 24th Division withdraw through it. General Gay agreed with General Palmer and stated that he could not comply with Colonel MacLean’s instructions unless Eighth Army confirmed them over the telephone. The army headquarters did confirm the orders, and the two battalions of the 8th Cavalry Regiment went into the two blocking positions, the 1st Battalion on the Taejon road northwest of Yongdong and the 2nd Battalion southwest of Yongdong. General Gay placed the 5th Cavalry Regiment on the high ground east of the town in a blocking position.
The strength of the Eighth Army at this time, with the 1st Cavalry Division in the line, was about 39,000 men. Less than three weeks earlier, when there were no American troops in Korea, such a number would have seemed a large force indeed.
The 1st Cavalry Division Loses Yongdong
The enemy paused but briefly after the capture of Taejon. After a day’s rest in that town, which it had helped to capture, the N.K. 3rd Division departed the city on 22 July, advancing down the main highway toward Taegu. The next morning, 23 July, the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, in front of Yongdong, reported it had destroyed three enemy T34 tanks with 3.5-inch rocket launchers in its first use of that weapon. [N12-38] The enemy division was closing with the 1st Cavalry Division for the battle for Yongdong.
[N12-38 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 96 (N.K. 3rd Div), p. 32; EUSAK WD, 23 Jul 50; 8th Cav Regt Opn Jnl. The 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry, had enemy contact at 22-2100.]
During 23 July the 7th and 9th Regiments of the N.K. 3rd Division began their attack on the Yongdong positions. The enemy made his first penetration southwest of Yongdong, establishing a roadblock a mile and a half behind the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, at the same time other units heavily engaged the 1st Battalion northwest of Yongdong in frontal attack.
The next day four different attempts by three American light tanks failed to dislodge the enemy behind the 2nd Battalion, and Lieutenant Colonel Eugene J. Field, the 2nd Battalion commander, was wounded at the roadblock. General Palmer sent the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, and the 16th Reconnaissance Company toward the cutoff battalion. By noon, enemy troops were attacking the 99th and 61st Field Artillery Battalions which were supporting the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, indicating that the infiltration had been extensive.
[N12-39 1st Cav Div WD, 23-24 Jul 50; 8th Cav Regt Opn Jnl, 24 Jul 50. Overlay 36 to 8th Cav Opn Jnl shows location of enemy roadblock.]
On the other approach road, northwest of Yongdong, heavy automatic fire from quad-50’s, 37-mm. fire from A Battery of the 92nd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, and artillery fire from the 77th Field Artillery Battalion helped the 1st Battalion there to repel enemy attacks.
The large numbers of Korean refugees crowding the Yongdong area undoubtedly helped the enemy infiltrate the 1st Cavalry Division positions. On 24 July, for example, a man dressed in white carrying a heavy pack, and accompanied by a woman appearing to be pregnant, came under suspicion. The couple was searched and the woman’s assumed pregnancy proved to be a small radio hidden under her clothes. She used this radio for reporting American positions. Eighth Army tried to control the refugee movement through the Korean police, permitting it only during daylight hours and along predetermined routes.
[N12-40 8th Cav Regt Opn Jnl, 24 Jul 50; 1st Cav Div WD, G-3 Sec, serial 80, 26 Jul 50.]
By the morning of 25 July enemy forces had infiltrated the positions of the 1st Cavalry Division so thoroughly that they forced a withdrawal. Northwest of Yongdong, Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Kane’s 1st Battalion executed an orderly and efficient withdrawal, covered by the fire of the Heavy Mortar Company and the two batteries of Lieutenant Colonel William A. Harris’ 77th Field Artillery Battalion. The mortar men finally lost their mortars and fought as infantry in the withdrawal.
[N12-41 1st Cav Div WD, 25 Jul 50; Interv, author with Maj Rene J. Giuraud, 21 Apr 54 (Giuraud commanded the mortar company at Yongdong); Interv, author with Harris, 30 Apr 54; Notes, Harris for author, 18 May 54.]
Meanwhile, the situation worsened on the road southwest of Yongdong. Concentrated artillery support—with the shells falling so close to the 2nd Battalion positions that they wounded four men—together with an attack by the battalion, briefly opened the enemy roadblock at 0430, 25 July, and the bulk of the battalion escaped to Yongdong. But F Company, 8th Cavalry, the 16th Reconnaissance Company, and the 1st Platoon, A Company, 71st Tank Battalion, at the rear of the column were cut off. Only four of eleven light tanks broke through the enemy positions. Crews abandoned the other seven tanks and walked over the hills in a two days’ journey as part of a group of 219 men, most of them from F Company. All equipment except individual arms was abandoned by this group. Others escaped in the same manner.
[N12-42 1st Cav Div WD, 25-27 Jul 50; Ltr, Gay to author, 24 Aug 53; 8th Cav Regt Opn Jnl, 25 Jul 50; Captain Charles A. Rogers, History of the 16th Reconnaissance Company in Korea, 18 July 1950-April 1951, typescript MS, May 51, copy in OCMH; New York Times, July 29, 1950, dispatch by William H. Lawrence from 1st Cavalry Division.]
On this same road, but closer to Yongdong, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, in trying to help the cutoff units of the 8th Cavalry, ran into trouble. Through some error, its F Company went to the wrong hill and walked into a concentration of enemy soldiers. Only twenty-six men returned. Altogether, the 5th Cavalry Regiment had 275 casualties on 25 July.
The N.K. 3rd Division used against the 1st Cavalry Division at Yongdong essentially the same tactics it had employed against the 24th Division at Taejon—a holding attack frontally, with the bulk of its force enveloping the American left flank and establishing strongly held roadblocks behind the front positions. The enemy division entered Yongdong the night of 25 July; at least one unit was in the town by 2000. The North Koreans expected a counterattack and immediately took up defensive positions at the eastern edge of the town. Prisoners reported later that the division suffered about 2,000 casualties, mostly from artillery fire, in the attack on Yongdong on 24-25 July. [N12-44] This brought it down to about 5,000 men, approximately half-strength.
The 27th Infantry’s Baptism of Fire
Closely related to the Yongdong action was the enemy advance southward on the next road eastward, the Poun-Hwanggan road. The N.K. 2nd Division, arriving too late on the east of Taejon to help in the attack on that city, turned toward Poun. Unless checked it would pass through that town and come out on the main Seoul-Pusan highway at Hwanggan, about ten miles east of Yongdong. This would place it in the rear of the 1st Cavalry Division on the latter’s main supply road.
[N12-44 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 96 (N.K. 3rd Div), pp. 32-33; Ibid., Enemy Docs, Issue 2, pp. 66-67 (Choe Song Hwan diary, 21 Jul-10 Aug 50).]
The task of defending this road fell to the 27th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 25th Division. Upon first arriving in Korea that regiment went to the Uisong area, thirty-five air miles north of Taegu. On 13 July it moved from there to Andong to support ROK troops, but before it entered action in the heavy battles then taking place in that area it suddenly received orders to move to Sangju. En route to that place it received still other orders to change its destination to Hwanggan, and it closed there in an assembly area the night of 22-23 July. General Walker had begun the quick and improvised shifting of troops to meet emergencies that was to characterize his defense of the Pusan Perimeter. The 27th Infantry’s mission at Hwanggan was to relieve the decimated ROK troops retreating down the Poun road.
In carrying out Eighth Army’s orders to block the Poun road, Colonel Michael is assigned the 1st Battalion of the 27th Infantry the task of making contact with the enemy. On the morning of 23 July, Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert J. Check moved the 1st Battalion northward toward Poun from the Hwanggan assembly area. He took up defensive positions in the evening near the village of Sangyong-ni, south of Poun. The battalion assumed responsibility for that sector at 1700 after ROK troops fell back through its position. Colonel Check was unable to obtain from the retreating ROK troops any information on the size of the North Korean force following them or how close it was.
That night he sent 1st Lieutenant John A. Buckley of A Company with a 30-man patrol northward to locate the enemy. Near Poun Buckley saw an enemy column approaching. He quickly disposed his patrol on hills bordering both sides of the road, and, when the column was nearly abreast, opened fire on it with all weapons. This fire apparently caused the enemy advanced unit to believe it had encountered a major position, for it held back until daylight. When the enemy turned back, Buckley and his patrol returned to the 1st Battalion lines, arriving there at 0400, 24 July. Six men were missing.
[N12-47 27th Inf WD, Opn Rpt, 1st Bn, 23 Jul-3 Aug 50; 25th Div WD, G-3 Sec, 24 Jul 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. 2nd Div) p. 36.]
Check’s 1st Battalion prepared to receive an attack. It came at 0630, 24 July, shortly after daybreak in a heavy fog that enabled the North Koreans to approach very close to the battalion positions before they were observed. Two rifle companies, one on either side of the road on low ridges, held the forward positions. Enemy mortar and small arms fire fell on the men there, and then tanks appeared at the bend in the road and opened fire with cannon and machine guns as they approached. Enemy infantry followed the tanks. Although the two rifle companies stopped the North Korean infantry, the tanks penetrated their positions and fired into the battalion command post which was behind B Company. This tank fire destroyed several vehicles and killed the medical officer. Captain Logan E. Weston, A Company commander, armed himself with a bazooka and knocked out one of the tanks within the position. In this close action, tank fire killed a man near Weston and the concussion of the shell explosion damaged Weston’s ears so that he could not hear. Weston refused to leave the fight, and Colonel Check later had to order him to the rear for medical treatment.
On the right (north) of the road the enemy overran the battalion observation post and B Company’s outpost line. This high ground changed hands three times during the day. While the infantry fight was in progress, and shortly after the first tank penetration, five more T34’s came around the road bend toward the 1st Battalion. When the first tanks appeared Colonel Check had called for an air strike. Now, at this propitious moment, three F-80 jet planes arrived and immediately dived on the approaching second group of tanks, destroying 3 of them with 5-inch rockets. Altogether, bazooka, artillery, and air strikes knocked out 6 enemy tanks during the morning, either within or on the edge of the 1st Battalion position. In this, its first engagement with American troops, the N.K. 2nd Division lost all but 2 of the 8 tanks that had been attached to it a few days earlier at Chongju.
[N12-48 EUSAK WD, G-3 Jnl, 24 Jul 50; 27th Inf WD, Opn Rpt, 1st Bn 24 Jul 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. 2nd Div.), p. 36; Colonel Gilbert J. Check, MS review comments, 25 Nov 57.]
Late in the evening after dark the 1st Battalion disengaged and withdrew through the 2nd Battalion immediately behind it. Both Check and the regimental commander, Colonel Michaelis, expected the enemy to encircle the 1st Battalion position during the night if it stayed where it was.
The North Koreans apparently were unaware of the 1st Battalion withdrawal, for the next morning, 25 July, two enemy battalions in a double envelopment came in behind its positions of the evening before but in front of Major Gordon E. Murch’s 2nd Battalion. There they were surprised and caught in the open by the combined fire of American tanks, artillery, and mortar, and the 2nd Battalion’s automatic and small arms fire. The North Koreans suffered severely in this action. Surviving remnants of the two enemy battalions withdrew in confusion. The 2nd Battalion took about thirty prisoners.
[N12-49 27th Inf WD, 25 Jul 50; Lt Col Gordon E. Murch, Notes for author, 7 Apr 54.]
Despite this costly setback, the enemy division pushed relentlessly forward, and that afternoon elements of it were flanking the regimental position. Colonel Michaelis issued an order about 2200 for another withdrawal to high ground near Hwanggan. The withdrawal started near midnight with heavy fighting still in progress on the right flank. Major Murch took control of all tanks and put them on line facing north. There the nine tanks of A Company, 79th Tank Battalion, fired into visible enemy troops approaching on the road. Enemy mortar fire, estimated to be eight or ten rounds a minute, fell along the battalion line and the road behind it. F Company and the nine tanks covered the 2nd Battalion withdrawal.
[N12-50 Murch, Notes for author, 7 Apr 54; 27th Inf WD, Summ of Activities, 2nd Bn, 25 Jul 50.]
The next day, 26 July, the arrival of the 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, on the 27th Infantry’s right flank eased the precarious situation. But the following day the regimental left flank came under attack where a large gap existed between C Company, the lefthand (west) unit of the 27th Infantry, and the 7th Cavalry Regiment, the nearest unit of the 1st Cavalry Division. C Company lost and regained a peak three times during the day. More than 40 casualties reduced its strength to approximately 60 men. B Company also lost heavily in action, falling to a strength of about 85 men. By the morning of 28 July the enemy had penetrated the 1st Battalion’s line, forcing C Company to withdraw.
[N12-51 EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 26 Jul 50; 27th Inf WD, Opn Rpt, 1st Bn, 27 Jul 50; 27th Inf WD, Hist Rpt, 27-28 Jul 50.]
At this point Colonel Michaelis went to the 1st Cavalry Division command post in Hwanggan and asked General Gay for permission to withdraw his hard-pressed regiment through that division. General Gay telephoned Colonel Landrum, Eighth Army Chief of Staff, and described the situation. He asked if he should attack in an effort to relieve the enemy pressure on the 27th Infantry, or if that regiment should withdraw into the 1st Cavalry Division’s area, move south to Kumchon, and then turn toward Sangju to rejoin the 25th Division. Colonel Landrum called back later and said, “Let Mike with-draw through you.” Colonel Collier drove from Taegu to Hwanggan to discuss the situation with General Gay who said, “We are in what they call a military mousetrap.”
Before dawn, 29 July, the 27th Infantry Regiment withdrew through the 1st Cavalry Division lines at Hwanggan to a position about a mile east of Kumchon. That afternoon Colonel Michaelis received orders from Eighth Army to move to Waegwan on the Naktong River near Taegu, as army reserve, instead of joining the 25th Division in the Sangju area. In its five days of delaying action on the Poun-Hwanggan road, the 27th Infantry Regiment lost 53 men killed, 221 wounded, and 49 missing, a total of 323 battle casualties. The N.K. 2nd Division suffered heavily during this time, some estimates placing its loss above 3,000 men.
[N12-53 27th Inf WD: Hist Rpt 28-29 Jul 50; Opn Rpt, 1st Bn, 27-29 Jul 50; an. 2, 29-31 Jul 50; Opn Sec, 6-31 Jul 50; S-1 Sec, Cumulative Casualties; S-2 Sec, Act Rpt, Jul 50; 1st Cav Div WD, 28-29 Jul 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94, p. 36.]
During the battle for Yongdong the 7th Cavalry Regiment headquarters and the 2nd Battalion arrived from Pohangdong and took up a position west of Kumchon. Reports reached them the night of 25-26 July of enemy gains in the 27th Infantry sector northward, which increased the uneasiness of the untested staff and troops. After midnight there came a report that the enemy had achieved a breakthrough. Somehow, the constant pressure under which the 27th Infantry fought its delaying action on the Poun road had become magnified and exaggerated. The 7th Cavalry Regiment headquarters immediately decided to arouse all personnel and withdraw. During the withdrawal the 2nd Battalion, an untried unit, scattered in panic. That evening 119 of its men were still missing.
In this frantic departure from its position on 26 July, the 2nd Battalion left behind a switchboard, an emergency lighting unit, and weapons of all types. After daylight truck drivers and platoon sergeants returned to the scene and recovered 14 machine guns, 9 radios, 120 M1 rifles, 26 carbines, 7 BAR’s, and 6 60-mm. mortars.
While this untoward incident was taking place in their rear, other elements of the 1st Cavalry Division held their defensive positions east of Yongdong. The 7th Regiment of the N.K. 3rd Division, meanwhile, started southwest from Yongdong on the Muju road in a sweeping flank movement through Chirye against Kumchon, twenty air miles eastward. That night, elements of the enemy division in Yongdong attacked the 1st Cavalry troops east of the town. Four enemy tanks and an infantry force started this action by driving several hundred refugees ahead of them through American mine fields. Before daybreak the 1st Cavalry Division had repulsed the attack.
Patrols reported to General Gay’s headquarters that enemy troops were moving around the division’s left flank in the direction of Chirye. On his right flank at the same time there was a question whether the 27th Infantry could hold. These developments caused General Gay to decide that although he was under no immediate enemy pressure he would have to withdraw or his division would be cut off from Taegu. Accordingly, he ordered a withdrawal to the vicinity of Kumchon where he considered the terrain excellent for defense. This withdrawal began on 29 July after the 27th Infantry had passed east through the division’s lines.
[N12-57 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 96 (N.K. 3rd Div), p. 33; 1st Cav Div WD, 26-27 Jul 50; Ltr, Gay to author, 24 Aug 53.]
The 1st Cavalry Division took up new defensive positions around Kumchon, an important road center thirty air miles northwest of Taegu. The 8th Cavalry Regiment went into position astride the Sangju road north of the town; the 5th Cavalry blocked the Chirye road southwest of it; the 7th Cavalry Regiment remained in its Hwanggan position until the other units had withdrawn, and then it fell back to a position on the Yongdong road about six miles northwest of Kumchon.
The enemy flanking movement under way to the southwest through the Chirye area threatened the division’s rear and communications with Taegu. Eighth Army strengthened the 1st Cavalry Division against this threat by attaching to it the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry. This battalion had the mission of establishing a roadblock ten miles southwest of Kumchon near Hawan-ni on the Chirye road. This proved to be a timely and wise move, for, on this very day, the enemy 7th Regiment began arriving at Chirye, only a few miles farther down the road.
That morning, 29 July, a platoon-sized patrol of the 16th Reconnaissance Company under Lieutenant Lester Lauer drove southwest through Chirye. Later in the morning, Korean police informed Lauer that an enemy battalion was in Chirye. He radioed this information to the Reconnaissance Company and asked for instructions. The company commander, Captain Charles V. H. Harvey, decided to take another platoon to the assistance of the one beyond Chirye. He set out immediately from Kumchon with the platoon and fourteen South Korean police. At the outskirts of Chirye this force surprised and killed three enemy soldiers. Beyond Chirye the little column drew scattered rifle fire. The two platoons joined forces at noon and started back.
In the northern part of Chirye, which Harvey’s column entered cautiously, the lead vehicles came upon a partially built roadblock from which an estimated enemy platoon opened fire on the column. Harvey ordered his little column to smash through the roadblock. The M39 vehicle pushed aside the wagon and truck that constituted the partially built block, but only one jeep was able to follow it through. Enemy machine gun fire disabled the next vehicle in line; thus the northern exit from Chirye was closed. Several hundred enemy were now in view, moving to surround the patrol.
The patrol pulled back to the south edge of town, set up three 81-mm. mortars, and began firing on the enemy machine gun positions. Corporal Harry D. Mitchell, although wounded four times and bleeding profusely, stayed with his mortar and fired it until his ammunition was expended. Captain Harvey early in the fight had received a bullet through one hand, and now machine gun fire struck him again, this time cutting his jugular vein. He did not respond to first aid treatment and died in a few minutes. His last order was for the company to withdraw.
Three officers and forty-one enlisted men, abandoning their vehicles and heavier equipment, gained the nearest hill. They walked all night—an estimated thirty-five miles—and reached 1st Cavalry Division lines the next morning. The 16th Reconnaissance Company in this incident lost 2 killed, 3 wounded, and 11 missing.
The Chirye action made clear that a strong enemy force was approaching the rear of, or passing behind, the 1st Cavalry Division positions at Kumchon. The next day, 30 July, General Gay ordered the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry; the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry; and the 99th Field Artillery Battalion to Chirye. This strong force was able to enter the town, but the enemy held the hills around it. The next day North Koreans shelled Chirye, forcing the Americans to withdraw to a position northeast of the town. [N12-60] The enemy 8th Regiment together with its artillery now joined the other North Koreans already at Chirye. This meant that the bulk of the division was engaged in the enveloping move.
[N12-60 1st Cav Div WD, 30-31 Jul 50; ATIS Supp, Enemy Docs, Issue 4, p. 69 (Battle Rpt of Arty Opns, N.K. 8th Regt, 3rd Div, 3 Aug 50); Ibid., Issue 2, pp. 66-67 (Choe Song Hwan diary, 21 Jul-10 Aug 50).]
On 31 July the N.K. 3rd Division was closing on Kumchon. About daylight a squad of North Koreans infiltrated into the command post of the 8th Engineer Combat Battalion, 1,000 yards from the 1st Cavalry Division command post, and killed four men and wounded six others. Among the latter was the battalion executive officer who died subsequently of his wounds. The 7th Cavalry also came under attack. But in pressing forward the North Koreans exposed their tanks. Air and ground fire power reportedly destroyed thirteen of them and set six more on fire. During its first ten days of action in Korea the 1st Cavalry Division had 916 battle casualties—78 killed, 419 wounded, and 419 missing.
The N.K. 3rd Division in forcing the 1st Cavalry Division from Yongdong and back on Kumchon apparently suffered nearly 2,000 casualties, which reduced it to a strength of about 5,000 men. Nevertheless, it had effectively and quickly driven the 1st Cavalry Division toward the Naktong. For its operations in the Yongdong-Kumchon area the N.K. 3rd Division received the honorary title of Guards.
[N12-63 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 96 (N.K. 3rd Div), p. 33; GHQ FEC, History of the N.K. Army, p. 57.]
“Stand or Die”
On Wednesday, 26 July, Eighth Army had issued an operational directive indicating that the army would move to prepared positions, stabilize the front line, and maintain a position from which it could initiate offensive action. The time of the movement was to be announced later. During the withdrawal, units were to maintain contact with the enemy. Three days later, on 29 July, General Walker issued his much discussed “stand or die” order and seemingly ruled out the previously announced withdrawal. The actual withdrawal of Eighth Army behind the Naktong River in the first days of August further confused the issue. What prompted General Walker to issue his 29 July “stand or die” order?
For several days both the 25th Infantry and the 1st Cavalry Divisions had been withdrawing steadily in the face of North Korean attacks, often in circumstances that seemed not to justify it, and with troops in panic and out of control. General Walker was disappointed and upset over the performance of the 25th Division in the Sangju area and he made this feeling known to General Kean, the division commander.
[N12-65 Interv, author with Lieutenant Colonel Paul F. Smith 1 Oct 52; Ltr, Landrum to author, recd 23 Nov 53; Collier, MS review comments, Mar 58.]
General Walker was also disappointed over the inability of the 1st Cavalry Division to check the advance of the enemy on the Taejon-Taegu axis. This was apparent on the afternoon on 29 July when he visited the division command post in a little schoolhouse at Kumchon. He questioned the withdrawals and ordered that there be no more. General Gay replied that he himself did not know whether the withdrawals had been sound, but that he had feared his communications to the rear would be cut. General Gay had served as Chief of Staff for General Patton’s Third Army in Europe in World War II. This, his initial experience in Korea, was a defensive operation and, as he has since said, “he didn’t know what to do about it.” And always General Walker’s earlier admonition to him in Taegu rang in his ears.
General Walker himself was a most determined commander. His bulldog tenacity became a byword in Korea and it was one of the decisive factors in the summer battles of 1950. These characteristics caused him to smart all the more under the poor showing of many of the American units. He understood well the great problem of maintaining morale in his command at a time when Eighth Army was retreating rapidly toward its base of supply and, unless checked, would soon have its back to the sea.
On 26 July, the day Eighth Army issued its warning order for a planned withdrawal to a defensive position, General Walker telephoned General MacArthur’s headquarters in Tokyo. General Almond, MacArthur’s Chief of Staff, took the call. General Walker asked for authority to move Eighth Army headquarters from Taegu to Pusan immediately for security of the army communications equipment which was virtually irreplaceable if destroyed or lost. He said the enemy was approaching too close to Taegu for its safety there. There was no indication in this conversation that General Walker contemplated having the army’s tactical units themselves fall back on Pusan. The withdrawals to a planned position Walker then had in mind would bring the enemy to the Naktong River. General Almond told Walker over the telephone that he would transmit the request to General MacArthur, but that he personally thought such a move at that time would have a very bad effect on Eighth Army units and also on the ROK troops. It might lead to the belief that Eighth Army could not stay in Korea and might be the forerunner of a general debacle.
[N12-67 Interv, author with Almond, 13 Dec 51. Even the principal members of General Walker’s Eighth Army staff knew nothing of this matter. General Landrum and Colonel Collier, on intimate personal terms with General Walker, indicate that there was no plan in the Eighth Army staff or in the Signal Section for such a move to Pusan at that time; that, in the long-range planning initiated some days later, the proposed site of a rear command post was Ulsan on the east coast and not Pusan; that General Walker would not discuss a removal of the command post from Taegu with his staff until late August, when considerable danger existed that the signal equipment might be destroyed; and that no responsible member of the Army staff had at that time proposed a move of the command post to Pusan. See Ltr, Landrum to author, recd 23 Nov 53; Colllier, MS review comments, Mar 58; Interv, author with Colonel Albert K. Stebbins (EUSAK G-4 at the time), 4 Dec 53.]
At the conclusion of the telephone conversation with Walker, General Almond related the substance of it to General MacArthur, strongly recommending that the latter fly to Korea at once —the next day—to talk with Walker. Almond said he felt the situation in Korea was critical and demanded the personal attention of the Far East commander. MacArthur said he would think about it. Half an hour later he directed Almond to arrange for the flight to Korea the next morning. Almond notified Walker that evening of the projected trip.
Thursday morning early, 27 July, the Bataan departed Haneda Airfield and landed at Taegu about 1000. A small group of officers, including General Almond, accompanied MacArthur. Met by Generals Walker and Partridge and Colonel Landrum, the party went directly to Eighth Army headquarters.
During a ninety-minute conference between General MacArthur and General Walker only one other person was present—General Almond. In this lengthy conversation General MacArthur never mentioned Walker’s request of the day before, nor did he in any way criticize Walker. But he did emphasize the necessity of Eighth Army standing its ground. He said withdrawals must cease. Later, after lunch and in the presence of several members of the army staff, MacArthur said there would be no evacuation from Korea—that there would be no Korean Dunkerque. He praised the 24th Division and the ROK Capital Division.
Two days later, on Saturday, 29 July, General Walker visited the 25th Division command post at Sangju. There he conferred with General Kean and afterward spoke to the division staff and issued his order to hold the line. The press widely reported this as a “stand or die” order to Eighth Army. A paraphrase of Walker’s talk, recorded in notes taken at the time, gives a clear version of what he said: General MacArthur was over here two days ago; he is thoroughly conversant with the situation. He knows where we are and what we have to fight with. He knows our needs and where the enemy is hitting the hardest. General MacArthur is doing everything possible to send reinforcements. A Marine unit and two regiments are expected in the next few days to reinforce us. Additional units are being sent over as quickly as possible. We are fighting a battle against time. There will be no more retreating, withdrawal, or readjustment of the lines or any other term you choose. There is no line behind us to which we can retreat. Every unit must counterattack to keep the enemy in a state of confusion and off balance. There will be no Dunkirk, there will be no Bataan, a retreat to Pusan would be one of the greatest butcheries in history. We must fight until the end. Capture by these people is worse than death itself. We will fight as a team. If some of us must die, we will die fighting together. Any man who gives ground may be personally responsible for the death of thousands of his comrades.
[N12-68 Interv, author with Almond, 13 Dec 51; Ltr, Landrum to author, recd 23 Nov 53; EUSAK WD, G-3 Stf Sec Rpt, 27 Jul 50; New York Times, July 27, 1950. General MacArthur read this passage in MS form and offered no comment on it.]
I want you to put this out to all the men in the Division. I want everybody to understand that we are going to hold this line. We are going to win. General Walker said much the same thing to his other division commanders at this time, but he did not repeat it to the other division staffs.
General Walker’s words reached down quickly to every soldier, with varying results. Many criticized the order because they thought it impossible to execute. One responsible officer with troops at the time seems to have expressed this viewpoint, saying that the troops interpreted it as meaning, “Stay and die where you are.” They neither understood nor accepted this dictum in a battle situation where the enemy seldom directed his main effort at their front but moved around the flanks to the rear when, generally, there were no friendly units on their immediate flanks.
[N12-70 Interv, author with Maj Leon B. Cheek, 7 Aug 51. The author has listened to many similar comments among officers and men of the Eighth Army with respect to this order.]
A contrary viewpoint about the order was expressed by a regimental commander who said he and the men in his command had a great sense of relief when the order reached them. They felt the day of withdrawals was over, and “a greater amount of earth came out with each shovelful” when the troops dug in.
Whatever the individual viewpoint about the order might have been, General Walker was faced with the fact that soon there would be no place to go in the next withdrawal except into the sea. And it must be said, too, that the troops very often were not fighting in position until they were threatened with encirclement—they left their positions long before that time had arrived. It was actually this condition to which General Walker had addressed his strong words. But they did not immediately change the course of events.
Two days after Walker had spoken at Sangju, the 25th Division ordered its troops to withdraw to positions three miles east of the town—another with-drawal. On the Kumchon front an observer saw elements of the 1st Cavalry Division come off their positions—leaving behind heavy equipment—load into trucks, and once again move to the rear. A New York Times article on General Walker’s talk to the 25th Division staff commented that it apparently ruled out the possibility of a strategic withdrawal to the Pusan Perimeter. William H. Lawrence of the New York Times asked General Walker if he thought the battle had reached a critical point. General Walker replied, “very certainly, very definitely.”
The next day the Times ran an editorial headed, “Crisis in Korea.” It said the “critical point in the defense of Korea has already been reached or will shortly be upon us. For five weeks we have been trading space for time. The space is running out for us. The time is running out for our enemies.”
On 30 July General Walker softened somewhat the impact of his recent order and statements by expressing confidence that the United States would hold “until reinforcements arrive” and that “ultimate victory will be ours.” But, he added, the simple truth was that the “war had reached its critical stage.”
A few days later, Hanson W. Baldwin, the military critic of the New York Times, referred to Walker’s “stand or die” order as a “well merited rebuke to the Pentagon, which has too often disseminated a soothing syrup of cheer and sweetness and light since the fighting began.” It is clear that by the end of July the reading public in the United States should have realized that the country was in a real war, that the outcome was in doubt, and that many uncertainties lay ahead.
The optimistic forecasts of the first days of the war as to the American military strength needed to drive the invaders northward had now given way to more realistic planning. By 22 July, some Eighth Army staff officers had even suggested that it might be necessary to deploy ground troops in Korea until the spring of 1951, to accomplish the objectives stated in the U.N. Security Council resolutions.
[N12-76 EUSAK WD, G-4 Sec, 22 Jul 50, Basis for Planning Supply Requisitions and Service Support for Military Operations in Korea to 1 July 1951.]
SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)