The dog days of August were at hand. The men in Eighth Army who survived that period spoke afterward of it as “the days along the Naktong.” The Eighth Army no longer could withdraw when enemy pressure became oppressive. It had to stand and fight and hold, or be driven out of Korea.
General Walker’s defense plan centered on holding the road and rail lines running in a large oval east of the Naktong, from Pusan north through Miryang to Taegu, and hence east through Yongchon to Kyongju, where they turned back south to Pusan. Any further withdrawal and loss of these lines of communication would render difficult any later U.N. attempt at a counteroffensive.
The North Koreans, in preparing to attack the Pusan Perimeter and its communication system, had available four lines of advance toward Pusan: (1) through or past Masan south of the confluence of the Nam and Naktong Rivers, (2) through the Naktong Bulge to the rail and road lines at Miryang, (3) RITTER VON LEEB, Defense through Taegu, and (4) through Kyongju and down the east coast corridor. They tried them all simultaneously in August, apparently believing that if they did not succeed at one place they would at another.
Along the Perimeter, the most important terrain feature for both the United Nations and the North Koreans —helping the former and hindering the latter—was the Naktong River, the second largest river in Korea. It formed a huge moat in front of almost three-fourths of the Perimeter. Its numerous great folds and bends resembled a huge snake contracting its length before coiling. Along its lower course, the river is generally from one-quarter to half a mile wide and more than six feet deep. Great sand beaches appear at many places when the river is not swollen by rain. Hills come down close to the water’s edge on either bank, and rice paddy valleys of varying sizes finger their way among the hills.
In Korea, the term hill came to mean to the soldiers anything from a knoll to a towering mountain. A few of the hills bordering the lower Naktong below Taegu on the east side rise to 1,200 feet elevation; three or four miles back from the river they climb to 2,500 feet. On the west, or enemy, side of the Naktong, the hills bordering the river are higher than on the east, reaching 2,000 feet in many instances. North of Taegu, along the upper reaches of the river, from Waegwan in a semicircle east to Andong, the hills rise still higher, many of them to elevations of 2,000 and 3,000 feet.
The line of the Naktong as organized by the American forces was a series of strongpoints on the highest hills, affording views of both the river and the natural avenues of travel from it. During the day, these points were hardly more than observation posts. At night they became listening posts and tight little defense perimeters. Some of the posts were manned only in the daytime. Others were held by no more than half a squad of men. No one expected these soldiers to fight in position; they were a form of intelligence screen, their duty being to observe and report. Jeep patrols during the daytime ran along the river road. Quite obviously, the river line was thinly held. Reserve troops some miles back from the river were ready to counterattack against any enemy crossing.
Artillery and mortars were in positions back of the river. They were laid to fire on known ferry and other probable crossing sites. The role of the artillery and the mortars was to be a vital one in the Perimeter fighting; their fire could be massed, within limits, against any major enemy effort. The infantry and the artillery together were disposed so as to hold the commanding ground and control the meager road net. The roads necessarily were all-important. No one doubted that the North Koreans intended to force a crossing of the Naktong without delay. Time was against them. Every passing week brought closer the prospect of more American reinforcements—troops, tanks, artillery, and planes. North Korean Premier Kim Il Sung had set 15 August as the date for final victory and the liberation of all Korea. This date marked the fifth anniversary of freedom from Japanese rule.
The Naktong Bulge
Seven air miles north of the point where the Naktong turns east and the Nam enters it, the Naktong curves westward opposite Yongsan in a wide semicircular loop. The bulge of land formed by this river loop measures four miles east-west and five miles north-south. This particular loop of the river and the land it enclosed on three sides became known to the American troops as the Naktong Bulge during the heavy fighting there in August and September.
Northward from the confluence of the Nam with the Naktong, the 24th Division held the line of the lower Naktong for a distance of sixteen air miles, or a river front of about thirty-four miles. The 34th Infantry was on the lower, southern part; the 21st Infantry was on the upper part together with the ROK 17th Regiment. The 19th Infantry, just arrived from Masan, was re-equipping in the rear. In general terms, the 34th Infantry held the area west of Yongsan in the Naktong Bulge, while north of it the 21st Infantry held the area west of Changnyong.
The 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, held the river line in its regimental front, while the 1st Battalion was in a reserve assembly area about four miles back from the river near Yongsan. The 3rd Battalion front was about nine miles, or 15,000 yards long. One may contrast this battalion frontage of 15,000 yards with one of 10,000 yards for a division at tall strength, which U.S. Army doctrine considered normal.
The three rifle companies of the 3rd Battalion—I, L, and K, in that order from north to south—were on high hills overlooking the Naktong River. An unoccupied gap of more than two miles lay between I and L Companies, and another of more than three miles lay between L and K Companies. Because of the river’s course around the bulge, the three company positions resembled the points of a broad triangle; I and K were the two extremities at the eastern base and L the apex at the bulge of high ground extending westward in the big fold of the river. Along this stretch of river there were at least six ferry crossing sites.
For almost the entire regimental front, hills 500 to 600 feet high rose from the narrow river valley, in some instances abruptly from the water’s edge. In this nine miles of front two valleys formed entrances from the river into the hill masses stretching eastward. The northern entrance was at the Ohang village ferry crossing. This crossing lay in the gap between I and L Companies at the northern edge of the bulge. The other natural entrance into the regimental zone lay four air miles south at the underside of the bulge.
The 4.2-inch mortars supporting the 3rd Battalion were about a mile and a quarter back of the river in the draw that penetrated the hills from the Ohang ferry site. The 3rd Battalion command post was half a mile farther southeast in this same draw, at the village of Soesil. Commanding the battalion was Lieutenant Colonel Gines Perez, just arrived from the United States. At Yongsan, six miles east of the river, Colonel Beauchamp had his regimental command post.
General Church ordered all civilians in the 24th Division zone to evacuate from an area five miles deep east of the river. He warned them that if they failed to do so, his troops might shoot them on sight as possible enemy agents. He said he could take no more chances with civilians; “If we are going to hold here, we cannot have any enemy behind us.”
The N.K. 4th Division Attacks Into the Naktong Bulge
The first enemy crossings of the Naktong River, west of the Andong mountain barrier, other than reconnaissance patrols, came on 5 August at three different places. Two were north of Waegwan in the ROK Army sector. The third was thirty miles south of Waegwan opposite Yongsan in the 24th Division sector, in the big bulge of the Naktong. This third crossing of the river was made by the N.K. 4th Division and was the one to have consequences which first threatened the Perimeter.
Major General Lee Kwon Mu commanded the N.K. 4th Division. Already he had received the highest honors, the “Hero of the Korean Democratic People’s Republic” and the “Order of the National Flag, 1st Class,” for achievements with his division. Forty years old, Lee had been born in Manchuria, had served in the Chinese Communist 8th Route Army, and, according to some reports, he had been a lieutenant in the Soviet Army in World War II. After attending a school in the Soviet Union in 1948 he returned to Korea where he became Chief of Staff of the N.K. Army. Eventually he was relieved of this post. Shortly before the invasion he was recalled by Premier Kim Il Sung’s personal order and given command of the 4th Division. The division itself in August 1950 held the honorary name of “The 4th Seoul Division,” “Seoul” indicating recognition of the division’s part in the capture of that city.
By 4 August, the N.K. 4th Division had concentrated its three regiments in the vicinity of Hyopchon and was studying the American dispositions and defenses opposite it on the east side of the Naktong. An officer from the division headquarters, captured later, estimated the division had a total strength of about 7,000 men at this time with about 1,500 men in each of the infantry regiments. The division, with little or no preparation for it, intended to make an immediate crossing of the river in co-ordination with other crossings northward.
[n17-6 ATIS Interrog Rpt 612, Issue 1, p. 25, Lieutenant Jun Jai Ro; EUSAK WD, 8 Oct 50, G-2 Sec, PW
Interrog, ADVATIS 1074, Junior Lieutenant Chon Cho Hong. ]
On the American side, General Church considered the northern part of the 24th Division zone the more difficult to defend and reinforce because of its poor road net. He believed for this reason that the North Koreans were more likely to cross the river in that part of the division zone rather than in the southern part. Therefore, when the N.K. 4th Division crossed in the southern part, opposite the 34th Infantry, the crossing was not where he had anticipated it would be, and it also came sooner than he had expected. Red and yellow flares burst over the Naktong at midnight 5 August, as 800 North Koreans of the 3rd Battalion, 16th Regiment, began the crossing. Most of the men stripped off their clothing, rolling it and their weapons into bundles to be carried on their heads, and stepped into the shoulder-deep water. Others made rafts to float their clothes and equipment across. This crossing was at the Ohang ferry site, three and a half miles south of Pugong-ni and due west of Yongsan. There is some evidence that the 1st Battalion of the regiment also crossed at this time. None of the units in this initial crossing brought along mortars or heavy weapons. After reaching the east side, the enemy soldiers dressed, and in a column of platoons, marched southeast up the draw leading into the American lines. Their objective was Yongsan.
Simultaneously with this crossing, another enemy force tried to cross the river some miles farther north in the zone of the 21st Regiment, 24th Division. This force, after running into a mine field and being shelled by artillery, was machine-gunned by infantry and driven back across the river in confusion.
The enemy force that crossed at Ohang penetrated the gap between I and L Companies of the 34th Infantry, and followed the draw leading southeast to a little valley through which the Yongsan-Naktong River road passed. The battalion command post and the mortar position were approximately two miles from the enemy crossing site and directly in the line of enemy advance.
At 0200, 6 August, the 34th Infantry reported to the 24th Division that an enemy force had penetrated between I and L Companies. The North Koreans moved along the draw without making any effort to attack the companies on the hills overlooking the river. They overran the 4.2-inch mortar position, but Colonel Pak Kum Choi. Colonel Pak gave the strength of the N.K. 16th Regt as follows: 1st Bn-500, 2nd Bn-500, 3rd Bn-800, Arty Bn-300, all other units in so doing fully alerted the battalion command post nearby. Aware now of the enemy penetration, most of the troops there escaped to the rear. Colonel Perez, commander of the 3rd Battalion, made his way back three miles along the Yongsan road to the 1st Battalion command post and there gave Colonel Ayres his first news of the enemy crossing.
Colonel Beauchamp, the 34th regimental commander, at 0520 reported to General Church: “Enemy are across river in force in center of my sector. It’s pretty dark and situation is obscure. I am committing my reserve [1st Bn] at daylight to clear up the situation. Get me a liaison plane in the air at dawn.” 12 Beauchamp ordered Ayres to counterattack with the 1st Battalion and restore the regimental position. At dawn there was no indication that the rifle companies of the 3rd Battalion on the hills along the river, except L Company, had yet come under attack. Some elements of L Company had been forced out of position and withdrew about a mile from the river. The enemy apparently was content to leave the river line troops alone except where they lay across his axis of advance. He was concentrating on penetrating behind the river positions.
After the escape of the 3rd Battalion headquarters troops, the positions of B Battery, 13th Field Artillery, eastward at the northwestern base of Obong-ni Ridge lay completely exposed to the enemy. At 0830 this battery reported small arms fire in its vicinity. The 24th Division now estimated that 800 enemy were east of the river in its zone.
Upon receiving the order to counterattack straight down the Yongsan-Naktong River road, Colonel Ayres directed his executive officer to mount C Company in trucks and send it down the road until he, Ayres, stopped it. Behind C Company, A, B, and the Weapons Companies under the executive officer were to follow on foot. Just the day before, 187 replacements had joined the battalion.
Ayres, his S-3, and the Assistant S-3 set off in a jeep down the road toward the river, ahead of the troops, to form an estimate of the situation. They reached the vacated 3rd Battalion command post without sighting enemy troops. While looking around the command post and making plans for deployment of the 1st Battalion when it came up, Ayres and those with him received fire from the hills above them. The trucks carrying C Company now began to arrive. While the men detrucked, enemy fire hit two of them.
Ayres hurried to Captain Clyde M. Akridge, who had been in command of C Company only a few days, and directed him to attack and seize the high ground above the former 3rd Battalion command post. Akridge organized his company and started forward as enemy fire gradually increased. In leading the attack, Captain Akridge was wounded three times and was finally evacuated.
Ayres took shelter at a culvert a short distance to the rear. From there he, the weapons platoon leader, and mortarmen placed 60-mm. mortar fire on the enemy-held hill until their ammunition was expended. While standing up to direct this fire, the mortar sergeant was practically cut in half by machine gun fire. Other men, lying prone, were hit. Ayres saw that he would have to get back to A and B Companies if he were to influence the actions of the battalion. With several members of the battalion staff he dashed across the rice paddy. Enemy fire hit two of the party but all reached the slopes of Obong-ni Ridge. They worked their way around the now abandoned artillery position to the rear.
Before Ayres and his party escaped, B Battery, 13th Field Artillery Battalion, had come under enemy fire. At 1030 the battery commander assembled about 50 men and withdrew along a narrow road with one howitzer, four 2½-ton trucks, and three smaller vehicles. They abandoned four howitzers and nine vehicles. The battery lost 2 men killed, 6 wounded, and 6 missing.
Meanwhile, in its attack, C Company had no chance of success; enemy troops were on higher ground in superior numbers. The North Koreans let loose a heavy volume of small arms and automatic fire against the company, and soon the dry creek bed in which the men were moving was strewn with dead and dying. After Colonel Ayres had dashed from the culvert across the rice paddy, Lieutenant Payne and Lieutenant McDonald Martin, the latter wounded, ran from the same culvert to a grist mill a short distance away, and south of the road. There, others joined them in the next few minutes. In the fight outside, more than half the company became casualties. According to the recollection of the battalion commander, there were about thirty-five survivors in the company. [n17-17]
While C Company met the advancing North Koreans, A and B Companies had started forward on foot from the battalion area before rations could be issued to them. When he arrived at the 1st Battalion command post at Kang-ni, Colonel Beauchamp learned that C Company had lost heavily to enemy action up ahead and had been dispersed. He went forward at once and joined A and B Companies, the latter cautiously leading the advance. The B Company point met an enemy squad and killed ten of the enemy soldiers as they tried to run back. Two antiaircraft vehicles, each mounting four .50-caliber machine guns, were in the forefront of the attack that now got under way with A Company on the left of the road and B Company on the right. Colonel Ayres rejoined the battalion at this time. Even though enemy resistance at first was light, the intense summer heat slowed the pace. Soon B Company on the right encountered strong enemy forces on Cloverleaf Hill. They halted its advance and knocked out one of the quad-50’s on the road. On the left, A Company under Captain A. F. Alfonso continued its advance with only a few casualties, passing the overrun artillery positions and reaching the area where C Company had been overwhelmed by the enemy. [n17-18]
[n17-17 24th Div WD, 6 Aug 50; Interv, author with Corporal Stewart E. Sizemore (D Co, 34th Inf, 6 Aug 50), 30 Jun 51; Ltr, Major Charles E. Payne to Ayres, 13 Dec 54, copy in OCMH; Interv, author with Ayres, 18 Nov 54.]
[n17-18 Ltr, Alfonso to Ayres, 27 Nov 54, copy in OCMH; Interv, author with Ayres, 16 Nov 54; Interv, author with Beauchamp, 18 Nov 54; Ltr, Ayres to author, 5 Jan 53; Ltr and comments, Beauchamp to author, 20 May 53. The 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, had only 20 officers and 471 enlisted men when it began the counterattack on 6 August. See 34th Inf WD, 7 Aug 50.]
The light tank in the lead fired on the grist mill, supposing it to be enemy held, and scored a direct hit. This fire killed one, mortally wounded two, and wounded less severely several other C Company men inside. Then the tank and A Company men came charging up to the mill where several survivors of C Company had been fighting off North Koreans since early morning. North Korean soldiers several times had rushed to within grenade range of the building but had not succeeded in entering it. Inside, the men had stacked their dead against the walls to protect the living from small arms fire. Thus, after a day-long ordeal, the survivors were rescued by the A Company attack.
Captain Alfonso and his men set about loading dead and wounded into abandoned but still operable 2½-ton trucks. This done, he put a driver and two riflemen from his company on each truck, and, with the tank leading, he sent the vehicles back through enemy fire toward friendly lines. Lieutenant Payne, knocked unconscious when the tank shell exploded against the grist mill, regained consciousness for a few seconds when he was thrown into a truck and heard a man say, “Payne is dead as a mackerel.” A little later he again regained consciousness when the truck ran into a ditch under enemy small arms fire. This time he was able to crawl and walk the remaining distance to safety.
Following the road, Alfonso continued his attack toward the river against light resistance. Just after sunset, about 2000, A Company reached the river and joined part of L Company which was still in its position overlooking the Naktong. The combined group was only about ninety men strong. They sought temporary safety in a well dug perimeter position. Fortunately they succeeded in establishing radio contact with the 1st Battalion through an L Company artillery forward observer’s radio by relay through B Company.
While A Company pushed on to the river, B Company dug in on part of Cloverleaf Hill. Quiet gradually settled over the area. The day’s action made it clear that the North Koreans had penetrated eastward north of the Yongsan-Naktong River road to Cloverleaf Hill, but had not yet crossed south of the road to Obong-ni Ridge. Cloverleaf and Obong-ni together formed a high backbone across the Yongsan road about three miles east of the Naktong River and nearly halfway to Yongsan.
While the 1st Battalion counterattack was in progress, I Company abandoned its hill position northward overlooking the river on the regimental right flank. The Heavy Weapons Company, a mortar platoon, and A Company, 26th Anti-aircraft Automatic Weapons Battalion, joined I Company in withdrawing northeast into the zone of the 21st Infantry.
These units were not under attack. Adjacent units of the 21st Infantry saw this movement and reported it to General Church. He immediately ordered Colonel Beauchamp to stop this unauthorized withdrawal and to relieve the company commanders involved. Beauchamp sent his executive officer, Colonel Wadlington, to the scene at once. Wadlington found the men moving east, turned them around, and marched them back toward their former position. At noon General Church sent the 24th Division Reconnaissance Company to block the Naktong River-Changnyong road adjacent to I Company’s former position. The Reconnaissance and I Companies then attacked an enemy force that had by now occupied a hill near Pugong-ni, but they were repulsed with considerable loss.
By midmorning, General Church had become convinced that the bulk of the enemy east of the river were in the bulge area. He thereupon committed the 19th Infantry in an attack west along the northern flank of the 34th Infantry. In this attack, the 19th Infantry trapped approximately 300 enemy troops in a village east of Ohang Hill, a mile from the river, and killed most of them.
The day’s action had not been without creditable performances by the American troops. The counterattack of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, had driven back the enemy’s advanced units and regained part of Cloverleaf Hill. This, together with the fact that K, L, and A Companies held hill positions above the Naktong without any sign of panic, prevented the enemy from seizing at the outset the road net through Yongsan. Also, it gave time for the 19th Infantry, and later the 9th Infantry, to move up for counterattack. Artillery fire and aircraft had kept the crossing sites covered, and after daylight prevented enemy reinforcements from reaching the east side of the river. When darkness fell, the artillery continued interdiction fire on these crossing sites. The 24th Division had seventeen 105-mm. and twelve 155-mm. howitzers available to deliver supporting fires covering thirty-two miles of front.
Just as the battle of the Naktong Bulge got under way, regrouping of ROK troops made it necessary for Eighth Army to order the ROK 17th Regiment released from the 24th Division. This regiment had been holding the right flank of the division line. To take its place temporarily in the emergency, General Church hastily formed Task Force Hyzer (3rd Engineer Combat Battalion, less A Company; 78th Heavy Tank Battalion, less tanks; and the 24th Division Reconnaissance Company). Eighth Army allowed Church to keep the ROK 17th Regiment in line the night of 6-7 August, and before dawn it repulsed several enemy crossing attempts in its sector. On the morning of 7 August Task Force Hyzer relieved it, and the ROK 17th Regiment moved to Taegu to rejoin the ROK Army. This weakening of the line had been partly offset the previous afternoon by the arrival of the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division, at Changnyong for attachment to the 24th Division. On the evening of the 6th, as the enemy held firmly to his bridgehead, General Church ordered the 34th and 19th Infantry Regiments to continue the counterattack the next morning.
Here The Enemy Gains Cloverleaf—Obong-ni
During the night of 6-7 August, the enemy succeeded in moving an unknown number of reinforcements across to the east side of the river in the bulge area. Then, on the third night, 7-8 August, an estimated two more battalions crossed the river in four different places. Enemy units that tried to cross north of the bulge were driven back by the 21st Infantry; they then shifted southward to cross.
The continuation of the American counterattack in the bulge, on the morning of 7 August, by the 19th Infantry and B Company of the 34th Infantry was a feeble effort. Extreme heat and lack of food and water were contributing factors in the failure to advance. The situation was not helped when friendly aircraft mistakenly strafed the 19th Infantry positions. In its zone, B Company, 34th Infantry, fell back after rescuing a few men of the Heavy Mortar Company who had been missing since the previous morning. On their part, the North Koreans pressed forward and occupied the greater part of Cloverleaf Hill and Obong-ni Ridge. In doing this, they established themselves on dominating and critical terrain astride the main east-west road in the bulge area.
From the crests of Cloverleaf and Obong-ni the North Koreans could see the American main supply road stretching back to Yongsan five miles away and, for a distance, beyond that town toward Miryang. Cloverleaf (Hill 165), as its name indicates, is shaped like a four-leaf clover with its stem pointing north. Cloverleaf is somewhat higher than Obong-ni Ridge across the pass to the south of it. Obong-ni Ridge is a mile and a half long, curving slightly to the southeast with a series of knobs rising from 300 to 500 feet above the rice paddies at its base. The road, where it passes between Cloverleaf and Obong-ni, follows a winding, narrow passage of low ground. The village of Tugok (Morisil) lies at the southern base of Cloverleaf just north of the road.28 Obong village lies at the eastern base of Obong-ni Ridge half a mile south of the road. These two related terrain features, Cloverleaf Hill and Obong-ni Ridge, were the key positions in the fighting of the Naktong Bulge. The battle was to rage around them for the next ten days.
On the morning of 7 August, while the North Koreans were seizing Cloverleaf Hill and Obong-ni Ridge, Colonel John G. Hill received a summons to come to the 2nd Division headquarters. There he learned from the division commander that General Walker had ordered the 9th Regiment (—) to report to General Church. Hill started his troops to the bulge area at 0130, and reported to General Church about 0830, 8 August. Church told Hill he wanted him to attack at once and drive the North Koreans from the bulge salient. [n17-29] After some discussion it was agreed that the 9gth Infantry would attack at 1600.
The 9th Infantry, at full strength in troops and equipment and its men rested, contrasted strongly with the regiments of the 24th Division on the line. On 8 August, the strength of the 24th Division regiments was approximately as follows: 34th Infantry, 1,100; 19th Infantry, 1,700; 21st Infantry, 1,800. The combat effectiveness of the 24th Division then was estimated to be about 40 percent because of shortage of equipment and understrength units. Fatigue and lowered morale of the men undoubtedly reduced the percentage even more.
Hill’s 9th Infantry relieved B Company, 34th Infantry, on part of Cloverleaf Hill and members of the Heavy Mortar Company who were fighting as riflemen across the road near Obong-ni Ridge. Colonel Hill placed the 1st Battalion of the 9th Infantry on the left of the Yongsan road, the 2nd Battalion on the right side. His command post was at Kang-ni, a mile and a half eastward toward Yongsan. Two batteries of the 15th Field Artillery Battalion (105-mm. howitzers) supported his attack, with twelve 155-mm. howitzers and additional 105-mm. howitzers of the 24th Division on call. Hill’s immediate objectives were Cloverleaf Hill and Obong-ni Ridge.
[n17-29 Interv, author with Hill, 1 Oct 52; Brigadier General John J. Hill, MS review comments, 2 Jan 58. The designation (—) has been used to indicate a combat organization that is lacking one or more of its organic units.]
Colonel Hill’s 9th Infantry attacked straight west late in the afternoon of 8 August against Cloverleaf and Obong-ni. On the right, the 2nd Battalion succeeded in capturing part of Cloverleaf by dark, but not control of it or that side of the pass. On the left, the 1st Battalion likewise succeeded in gaining part of Obongni Ridge. But that night the North Koreans regained the ridge. This situation changed little the next day.
The enemy by now had begun to show increased interest in the hill positions along the Naktong still held by American troops. At dawn on 7 August, Captain Alfonso of A Company, 34th Infantry, discovered that the enemy had occupied the ridge on his right which overlooked his position. By radio he directed artillery fire on the hill. When he started a patrol out to determine the result, enemy fire drove it back. An airdrop of supplies that afternoon was only partially successful. The company recovered little more than half the drop and lost some men to enemy fire in the process. The night passed quietly.
The next morning, 8 August, Alfonso’s men could see North Koreans crossing the Naktong below them in six boats, each holding about ten to twelve men. They radioed for an air strike, and later, at a range of 1,000 yards, engaged the enemy force with their .50-caliber machine gun, causing the North Koreans to disperse along the river bank. There the air strike came in on them, with undetermined results.
That afternoon, the North Koreans began registering mortar and artillery fire on A Company’s position, but ceased firing as soon as their registration was accomplished. Alfonso and his men noticed an enemy column far off, moving toward them. From this and the mortar and artillery registrations, they concluded that the enemy would deliver a co-ordinated attack against them that night. Alfonso requested permission to withdraw at 2300, and this was approved by both the battalion and regimental commanders.
At 2230, Alfonso removed his wounded to the base of the hill; the others followed. As the company started to withdraw along the road, heavy enemy fire fell on their vacated position. The North Koreans soon learned that the Americans were not there and redirected fire along the road. The company was supposed to withdraw to friendly lines south of the road at the southern end of Obongni Ridge. But, in a series of mistakes, one platoon kept to the road or close to it and ran into an enemy position at the northern end of Obong-ni. There it lost heavily. The rest of the company and the L Company men with it finally reached the 1st Battalion lines east of Obong-ni well after daylight, 9 August.
Farther south near the river that morning, K Company received enemy attacks, one enemy group overrunning the company’s forward observation post. Even though the enemy was behind it, the company received orders to hold. The next day, 10 August, reorganized L Company took positions behind its right flank.
On 10 August, at the critical battleground within the bulge, the North Koreans on Cloverleaf Hill launched an attack which met head-on one by the 9th Infantry. Officer losses had been severe in the 2nd Battalion on 8 and 9 August. On the 10th, F was the only rifle company in the battalion with more than one officer. In this fighting the North Koreans regained all the ground they had lost earlier at Cloverleaf. But north of Cloverleaf, the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, succeeded in capturing several hills along the Naktong, the most important being Ohang Hill. The enemy repulsed all its efforts to advance south from Ohang. The fighting on 10 August in the vicinity of Ohang Hill reduced the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, to about 100 effective men in the rifle companies. [n16-35]
That evening General Church placed Colonel Hill in command of all troops in the Naktong Bulge. The troops comprised the 9th Regimental Combat Team (less the 3rd Battalion), 2nd Division; and the 34th and 19th Infantry Regiments, and the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, 24th Division, together with supporting artillery and other attached units. This command was now designated Task Force Hill.
[n16-35 24th Div WD, 9-11 Aug 50; EUSAK WD, 22 Aug 50, ATIS Interrog Rpt 703, Kim Chi Ho; Hill, MS review comments, 2 Jan 58; Interv, author with Montesclaros, 1 Oct 52. In the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, F Company effectives numbered about 25; G Company, about 40; and E Company about 30.]
General Church ordered Colonel Hill to attack the next morning and restore the Naktong River line. Hill and the other commanders involved worked out the attack plan during the night. It called for the 9th and 19th Regiments to drive southwest through the heart of the bulge. The 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, was to move during the night from the northern part of the division zone to a point near the southern end of Obong-ni Ridge, and from there attack southwest on the left of the 9th Regimental Combat Team. Meanwhile, the 34th Infantry would protect the left flank of the combat team at Obong-ni.
As it chanced, enemy reinforcements reached the east side of the river during the night and vastly increased the difficulty of this attack. Colonel Hill had received reports as early as 8 August that the North Koreans were working at night on an underwater bridge across the Naktong at the Kihang, or Paekchin, ferry site in the middle of the bulge. The enemy 4th Division completed this underwater bridge during the night of 10 August, and before daylight had moved trucks, heavy mortars, and approximately twelve artillery pieces to the east side of the Naktong. Some of the equipment crossed on rafts. Additional infantry units of the enemy division also crossed the river during the night. A few tanks may have crossed at this time. By the morning of 11 August, therefore, five days after the initial crossing, the North Koreans had heavy weapons and equipment across into their bridgehead.
The North Koreans built many underwater bridges across the Naktong during August, 1950. They consisted of sandbags, logs, and rocks to a point about one foot below the surface of the water. In effect, they constituted shallow fords. In muddy water they were hard to detect from the air. Underwater bridges similar to them had been built, and used extensively, by the Russians in World War II, often as a surprise factor in battles on the Eastern Front. They played an important part, for instance, in the crucial battle of Stalingrad.
The attack on 11 August, intended to push the enemy into the river, failed completely. The N.K. 4th Division fought the 9th and 19th Regiments to a standstill at their lines of departure and in their positions. Furthermore, the enemy drove the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, from its assembly area before it could start its part of the attack. During the morning a new feature appeared in the bulge battle—North Korean use of artillery in three groups of 6, 4, and 4 pieces, all emplaced near Kogong-ni, about a mile behind the enemy positions on Cloverleaf and Obong-ni. In the afternoon General Church found it necessary to change the order for Task Force Hill from attack to one of dig in and hold. The greater part of the N.K. 4th Division had now crossed into the bulge area. That night the division completed its crossing of the river.
[n16-39 9th RCT Unit Rpt 4, 10-11 Aug 50; 24th Div WD, 11 Aug 50; EUSAK WD, 28 Sep 50, Interrog Rpt of Maj Choe Chu Yong; EUSAK WD, 18 Aug 50, G-2 Sec, ATIS Interrog Rpt 644. Kim Dok Sam, a ROK officer, monitored enemy radio conversations about N.K. artillery positions.]
Yongsan Under Attack
During 10-11 August, when the North Korean build-up on Obong-ni and Cloverleaf was increasingly apparent, enemy groups also began to appear in the extreme southern part of the 24th sector. By 11 August there was unmistakable indication that enemy forces in some strength had moved around the main battle positions at Cloverleaf and Obongni and were behind Task Force Hill.
On that day enemy artillery fire brought Yongsan under fire for the first time. East of the town, enemy sniper fire harassed traffic on the road to Miryang. South of Yongsan, an enemy force drove back a patrol of the 24th Reconnaissance Company. And during the morning, North Koreans surprised and killed a squad of K Company, 34th Infantry, guarding the bridge over the Naktong at Namji-ri. Enemy control of this bridge cut the Yongsan-Masan road and broke the only direct vehicular communication link between the 24th and 25th Divisions. The situation was confused south of Yongsan on 11 August, at the very moment Task Force Hill’s attack was being thrown back a few miles westward. In this emergency, General Church dispatched the 14th Engineer Combat Battalion to Yongsan, and General Walker ordered the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry, in army reserve at Masan behind Task Force Kean, to attack north across the Naktong River over the Namji-ri bridge into the southern part of the 24th Division zone.
That night, 11-12 August, North Koreans built up their roadblock east of Yongsan to greater strength and extended it to a point three miles east of the town. A staff officer awakened Colonel Hill before daylight to inform him that the enemy had ambushed several ambulances and trucks two miles east of Yongsan. Although hard-pressed at Cloverleaf, Hill immediately ordered F Company, 9th Infantry, out of the line there and dispatched it together with a platoon of mortars to attack the roadblock. The 15th Field Artillery Battalion helped by turning some of its guns to fire on it.
Simultaneously, 24th Division headquarters assembled from eight different units about 135 men, including clerks, bakers, military police, and Reconnaissance Company troops, under the command of Captain George B. Hafemen, commanding officer of Headquarters Company. This force hurriedly moved west from Miryang and took up a position at the pass near Simgong-ni on the Yongsan-Miryang road. Its mission was to block further eastward penetration of the enemy. Two tanks accompanied Hafemen’s force. Hafemen and his men held this position all afternoon against North Korean attack. Three times armored cars came through to them with food, water, and ammunition.
[n16-42 Interv, author with Hill, 1 Oct 52; 24th Div WD, 11-12 Aug 50; New York Herald Tribune, August 14, 1950, Bigart dispatch. General Order 111, 30 August 1950, awarded the Silver Star to 1st Lieutenant William F. Coghill for gallantry in this action. 24th Div WD. ]
The next day at noon, 13 August, General Church sent a plane to bring Colonel Hill for a conference with General Walker at the 24th Division command post. Walker asked Hill, “Can you raise the roadblock?” Hill replied, “Yes, I have just flown over it, and I can clear it by night.” Walker seemed satisfied with this assurance.
In the meantime, and pursuant to General Walker’s order on the 11th, Colonel Murch’s 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry, had been engaged in helping to clear the enemy from the area south of Yongsan. On the 11th Murch’s battalion departed from its assembly area near Masan and rolled north toward the Naktong River. A steady stream of Korean refugees clogged the road. As the battalion pushed its way through this traffic a refugee cart overturned, exposing about fifteen rifles and several bags of ammunition. Approximately twelve North Korean soldiers disguised as refugees accompanying it fled across an open field. Infantrymen near the scene killed eight of them. Continuing on, Murch’s battalion engaged and dispersed an estimated 200 enemy troops near Iryong-ni, a few miles south of the Naktong River bridge. The battalion crossed the river and by midnight had established a bridgehead on the north side against enemy small arms fire.
The next day Eighth Army attached the 27th Infantry to the 24th Division with the mission of attacking north to Yongsan. Army estimates credited two enemy battalions with being east of the Yongsan-Masan road. In the fight northward during 12 August, Murch’s 2nd Battalion encountered entrenched enemy who fought with mortars, machine guns, and small arms. An air strike co-ordinated with the ground attack helped it drive the enemy from his positions. In this attack, the 2nd Battalion killed about 100 enemy, wounded an unknown number, and captured twelve machine guns and a number of “Buffalo” guns (14.5caliber antitank rifles).
The attack continued northward the next day with the 3rd Battalion, 27th Infantry, assisting the 2nd Battalion. By midafternoon of 13 August both battalions reached their objective, the high ground north and east of Yongsan. Colonels Hill and Beauchamp met Colonel Murch in Yongsan as the latter’s 2nd Battalion effected juncture with Task Force Hill. In this advance, the 27th Infantry troops overran four pieces of enemy artillery; two of them were captured U.S. 105-mm. howitzers.
Still another American reinforcement had been converging on the enemy at Yongsan—the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry, of the 2nd Division. This battalion had just arrived at Miryang where it received orders to attack west. In this, its first action, it had nine cases of heat exhaustion but only one battle casualty. Some of its troops met an advanced unit of the 27th Infantry a mile east of Yongsan.
Thus, by evening of 13 August, General Walker’s prompt action in committing the 27th Infantry, together with the 24th Division’s employment of headquarters and engineer troops, had eliminated the dangerous enemy penetration south and east of Yongsan.
On the 14th, a reinforced company of the 35th Infantry, 25th Division, took up a defensive position south of the Naktong River at Namji-ri bridge, relieving units of the 27th Infantry there. Responsibility for protecting the bridge passed from the 24th to the 25th Division.
Enemy action in the southern part of the 24th Division sector from 10 to 13 August convinced Colonel Hill that K and L Companies were doing no good in their isolated hill positions near the Naktong. Accordingly, he issued orders —received by the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, at 0200, 14 August—for these companies to abandon their positions and assemble in the rear of the 1st Battalion as regimental reserve. They carried out this movement without incident.
Battle at Cloverleaf-Obong-ni
During the enemy infiltration around Yongsan, fighting continued at Cloverleaf, Obong-ni, and northward. There, the 9th Regimental Combat Team, the 19th Infantry, and elements of the 34th Infantry succeeded in denying gains to the enemy division, and so tied down its main force that the N.K. 4th Division could not exploit its penetrations southward.
Task Force Hill still had its mission of driving the enemy out of the bulge and back across the Naktong. With the North Korean penetration south and east of Yongsan eliminated on 13 August, Colonel Hill planned an attack the next day with his entire force against the Cloverleaf-Obong-ni positions. One hundred aircraft were to deliver a strike on these positions. Artillery was to follow the strike with a concentrated barrage.
The attacking ground formations were essentially the same, and held the same relative positions, as during their abortive attack three days earlier. The enemy division apparently had its 5th Regiment on the north in front of the 19th Infantry, the 16th Regiment on Cloverleaf and Obong-ni, part of the 18th Regiment back of the 16th, and the remainder of it scattered throughout the bulge area, but mostly in the south and east.
Task Force Hill was far from strong for this attack. The two battalions of the 9th Infantry were down to approximately two-thirds strength, the 19th Infantry was very low in combat-effective troops, and the three rifle companies of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, had a combined strength of less than that of one full strength rifle company.
[n16-51 9th RCT Unit Rpt 9, 14 Aug 50, gives the strength of its 1st Battalion as 599 enlisted men and that of the 2nd Battalion as 609 enlisted men, against an authorized strength of 883 enlisted men each. Ayres, Notes for author, 24 Jan 55.]
Monday, 14 August, dawned over the bulge area with a heavy overcast of clouds. Rain had been falling since 0300. This prevented the planned air strike. The 24th Division artillery, down to an estimated 40 percent combat effectiveness at this time, had massed most of its guns in the low ground just west of Yongsan under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Stratton, Commanding Officer, 13th Field Artillery Battalion. These guns delivered a 10-minute preparation. Then the infantry moved out. The two battalions of the 9th Regimental Combat Team, the 1st on the right and the 2nd on the left, started up the slopes of Cloverleaf, while B Company, 34th Infantry, began a holding attack against Obong-ni south of the road. Although it almost reached the top of Obong-ni early in the morning, B Company was driven back by 0800.
The main battle took place northward across the road on Cloverleaf. There the American and North Korean troops locked in a close battle of attack and counterattack. The 1st Battalion lost sixty men killed or wounded in one hour of fighting. Both battalions of the 9th Regimental Combat Team gained parts of the high ground but could not control the hill mass. Northward, the 19th Infantry made no gain.
That night on Cloverleaf was one of continuing combat. The North Koreans attacked and infiltrated into the 9th Infantry’s dug-in defensive positions. The case of Master Sergeant Warren H. Jordan of E Company reflects the severity of the fighting on Cloverleaf. From 10 to 17 August, he was forced on five different occasions to take command of the company because all company officers had been killed or wounded, or had suffered heat exhaustion.
The enemy attack on the night of the 14th was not confined to Cloverleaf. South of Obong-ni enemy troops virtually surrounded the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, and inflicted numerous casualties on it. At 0300 Colonel Hill ordered Smith to withdraw. The battalion fought its way out of encirclement before dawn and took up a new defensive position. It held this new position at the south end of the main battle line with the help of a counterattack by the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, which had been strengthened that morning by the return of K and L Companies from their river hill positions.
Very few of its members had any hope of dislodging the enemy when Task Force Hill continued the attack on the morning of 15 August. Clouds and rain still hampered air support. On the south end of Obong-ni, A and B Companies, 34th Infantry, fought a savage encounter with North Koreans on the ridge line. The 2nd Platoon of A Company, led by Sergeant First Class Roy E. Collins, assaulted across a shallow saddle to an enemy-held knob. Enemy troops were just over the crest of it on the reverse slope. A grenade fight immediately developed. Men exchanged rifle fire at ten paces. One enemy soldier dived over the ridge line and tackled Collins around the waist. To his amazement, Collins learned that the enemy soldier wanted to surrender. This was the only way he could do it. Within fifty minutes after launching the attack, the platoon lost 25 men killed or wounded of the 35 who had dashed across the saddle. Ten men withdrew while Private First Class Edward O. Cleaborn, a Negro, stubbornly stayed behind to get in one more shot. He lost his life trying to get that shot. With them the 10 able-bodied survivors took 9 wounded men, 3 of whom died before they reached an aid station.
[n16-55 Gugeler, Combat Actions in Korea, ch. 2, “Attack Along a Ridgeline,” pp. 20-29; 24th Div WD, 15 Aug 50; Abstract of A Co, 34th Inf Morning Rpts, 14-15 Aug 50. In his account, Gugeler describes all the action as taking place on 15 August. Some of the preliminary incidents took place on the 14th, according to the morning reports of the company.]
Elsewhere, the North Koreans fought Task Force Hill to a standstill. Colonel Hill had used all the resources at his command and had just barely held the enemy on his front. Having no reserve he was powerless to maneuver. General Church came up to Colonel Hill’s command post during 15 August and the two of them talked over the situation. Although they felt that the N.K. 4th Division was growing weaker from attrition and might have exhausted its offensive power in the costly stalemate fighting at Obong-ni and Cloverleaf, they did not see how they, on their part, could continue the attack. They agreed to discontinue the attack and defend in place.
General Walker had by now become most impatient at the lack of progress in driving the enemy from the bulge. Church told Walker on the 13th that the entire N.K. 4th Division was across and in the 24th Division sector. General Walker discounted this with the curt rejoinder, “That is not my information.” Church insisted nevertheless that such was the case. Intelligence later confirmed General Church’s estimate. When the attack of 15 August failed, General Walker knew he must commit more strength into the bulge if he was to drive out the enemy. Impatient and angry, he came to Church’s command post during the morning and said, “I am going to give you the Marine brigade. I want this situation cleaned up, and quick.”
Walker returned to Taegu about noon and called a conference of some of his key staff officers to determine what forces were available to reinforce the 24th Division. The Marine brigade was en route from the Masan area to Miryang where it was to bivouac in army reserve. About 1300 Walker decided definitely that he would use the marines in the Naktong Bulge and directed Colonel Collier to fly to Miryang immediately and discuss the situation with General Craig, the Marine brigade commander, who was expected to arrive there momentarily. Collier told Craig of General Walker’s instructions as the two sat talking in a jeep. General Craig immediately ordered the brigade headquarters to break bivouac and head for Yongsan.
General Walker’s decision on the 15th is only one of many that could be mentioned to illustrate the command problems he had to face during the two and a half months of the continuing battles of the Pusan Perimeter. Serious trouble had developed at many places at this time. A quick glance around the Perimeter for the period 11-15 August will show that Eighth Army reserves were needed almost everywhere. Task Force Kean suffered its severe setback at Bloody Gulch on 12 August. At the same time Task Force Hill had failed at Obong-ni Ridge and Cloverleaf in the Naktong Bulge and strong elements of the N.K. 4th Division were behind it near Yongsan. In action yet to be described, the North Koreans had crossed the Naktong and were approaching Taegu north of the bulge. Eastward, the ROK forces were being driven back at a steady pace and the Perimeter was shrinking visibly in that quarter. The N.K. 5th Division had entered Pohangdong on the east coast and was in position to drive down the Kyongju corridor to Pusan.
Beginning in the second week of August 1950, and continuing for the next six weeks, the two forces locked in combat at nearly all points of the Perimeter. Because it is necessary to separate the farflung conflict into parts in order to describe it, an element of distortion is thus introduced into the Pusan Perimeter story. As the reader follows each single action for this period he must constantly keep in mind, if he is to view the scene at all as the contemporary commanders did, that equally intense and costly struggles were in progress elsewhere.
Because of this multiplicity of battles taking place simultaneously at different parts of the Perimeter, it is difficult to describe satisfactorily the command problems daily confronting General Walker. He had to know, or guess correctly, where the next crisis would appear. Or, if surprised by an enemy action, he immediately had to find the means to meet it and act quickly. A commander has to think of all the actions in progress, or imminent, and make tactical decisions, balancing the needs of one part of his defense lines against those of others. A commander’s viewpoint, hour by hour, is determined by changing factors of a complex situation. During the Pusan Perimeter battles in the summer of 1950 in Korea General Walker faced a trying time. As historical perspective is gained with the passing of time, Walker’s chief claim to a high place in United States military history may well rest on the tactics of his masterful defensive operations on the Pusan Perimeter.
General Walker always considered the Yongsan-Miryang area just above the confluence of the Nam River with the Naktong as a very dangerous axis of enemy attack. In mid-August he considered the crisis in the Naktong Bulge to be the most serious and important of the several that faced his forces. Accordingly, he then committed there his strongest reserve. Eighth Army attached the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade to the 24th Division on 15 August, and ordered an attack as early as possible on 17 August to destroy the enemy in the bulge east of the Naktong.
On 16 August, as the tired men of Task Force Hill waited in their foxholes for help, the North Koreans attacked the 9th Infantry on Cloverleaf. The attacks were intense and at close quarters. North Koreans occupied some of the American foxholes after killing their occupants. On the right, the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry, lost ground. There was severe fighting also on Ohang Hill where elements of the 19th and 34th Regiments narrowly escaped being trapped. Captain Barszcz, commanding G Company, 34th Infantry, distinguished himself by bravery and leadership in this action.
In the midst of the battle of the bulge a new enemy crossing of the Naktong occurred in the 1st Cavalry Division sector, just above the 24th Division boundary. This enemy force, estimated at two battalions, established itself on Hill 409, a mountain near Hyongpung. Because the area concerned was more accessible by roads from the 24th Division sector than from the 1st Cavalry Division sector, General Walker on the evening of 13 August shifted the 24th Division boundary northward to include this enemy penetration.
Just after midnight, 15-16 August, Eighth Army by telephone ordered the 24th Division to take positive action against the enemy force on Hill 409 at the division’s northern extremity near Hyongpung. This force had now increased to an estimated regiment. Prisoners said it was the 29th Regiment of the N.K. 10th Division, a division not previously committed in action. Before daylight, the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry, arrived near Hill 409 to reinforce the 21st Infantry. The regiment had arrived from the United States on 5 August and had gone to an assembly area near Taegu with the certainty that it would soon be committed at some point around the Perimeter. The enemy troops on Hill 409 posed a particular danger. At any moment they might begin a drive southeast into the already desperately hard pressed American forces fighting in the Naktong Bulge. [N16-61]
But this enemy force, fortunately and most comfortingly, made no effort to leave Hill 409 where it had established itself during a most critical moment of the bulge battle. Its inactivity within the American defense perimeter demonstrated either a lack of co-ordination by the North Korean command or an inelastic adherence to plans.
Marines Attack Obong-ni
Although the situation did not look good for the American forces in the bulge on 15 August, the harsh prospect nevertheless gave a distorted view unless one knew something of the picture on the “other side of the hill.” Actually, the N.K. 4th Division was in desperate straits. Its food was in low supply. Ammunition resupply was difficult One regiment, the 18th, reportedly received its last ammunition resupply on 14 August. Desertion among replacements, according to prisoners, reached about 40 percent. Half the replacements did not have weapons, and they were used for labor services in digging foxholes, carrying ammunition, and foraging for food. The slightly wounded received but little medical attention, and were immediately put back into the front line. A large part of the severely wounded died from lack of medical care. Only the former Chinese Communist Forces fanatical squad and platoon leaders maintained high morale.
[n16-61 24th Div WD, 12-16 Aug 50; 21st Inf WD, 1216 Aug 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 104 (N.K. 10th Div), p. 47; Captain William M. Glasgow, Jr., Platoon Leader in Korea, MS in OCMH (Glasgow was Ldr, 2nd Plat, B Co, 23rd Inf, 2nd Div); Interv, author with Stephens, 8 Oct 51; EUSAK WD, 5 Aug 50, G-3 Sec, Briefing for CG; 23rd Inf WD, Aug 50 Summ.]
In discussing plans for the attack with Marine brigade and regimental commanders—Craig and Murray—Church and Hill learned that they did not want to launch an attack until the carrier-based Marine Corsairs could participate. The USS Badoeng Strait and the USS Sicily would not be in position to launch their planes until 17 August. Plans were made, therefore, to attack on that day.
General Church was to command the co-ordinated attack of Army and Marine troops. The attack plan placed the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade on the left in front of Obong-ni Ridge. On the extreme left, the 1st Battalion (—), 21st Infantry, was to protect the marines’ left flank. The 9th Infantry stayed in front of Cloverleaf where it had been fighting for a week. The road between Cloverleaf and Obong-ni was the boundary between it and the marines. The 34th Infantry was north of the 9th Infantry. Beyond it the 19th Infantry formed the extreme right flank of the attack formations. The plan called for the 9th Infantry, after it took Cloverleaf, to be pinched out by the units on either side of it. They were to drive on to the Naktong. The 19th Infantry was to attack to the river and seize Ohang Hill, which the North Koreans had regained. The attack was to begin at 0800, 17 August. Fifty-four 105mm. howitzers and one battalion of 155 mm. howitzers were in place to support the attack.
The 5th Marines had moved from the Masan front to Miryang, and then on 16 August it received orders to attack Obong-ni the next morning. The 2nd Battalion was to lead the assault, followed by the 1st and 3rd Battalions in that order. The 2nd Battalion reached its assembly area in front of Obong-ni Ridge after midnight.
General Church had planned to coordinate a 9th RCT attack against Cloverleaf with the Marine attack against Obong-ni Ridge. Colonel Murray, however, requested that he be allowed to attack and secure Obong-ni first before the 9th RCT began its attack. Murray considered Obong-ni Ridge as his line of departure for the main attack and thought he could capture it with relative ease. Church, on the other hand, considered Obong-ni and Cloverleaf to be interlocking parts of the enemy position and thought they should be attacked simultaneously. However, he granted Murray’s request. Between Obong-ni and the Naktong River three miles away rose two successively higher hill masses. Both Murray and Church expected the enemy to make his main effort on the second ridge, the one behind Obong-ni. Information gained later indicated that Colonel Chang Ky Dok’s 18th Regiment, reinforced by a battalion of the 16th Regiment, defended Obong-ni Ridge. Other elements of the 16th Regiment apparently defended Cloverleaf.
Lieutenant Colonel Harold S. Roise’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, moved to its line of departure on the east side of a narrow valley in front of Obong-ni about 1,000 yards from the ridge crest. There it waited for the preliminaries to begin. The men studied intently the almost bare ridge opposite them, with its series of six knobs—Hills 102, 109, 117, 143, 147, and 153—rising progressively in height southward from 300 to 450 feet above the valley floor. Deep erosional gullies ran down from the saddles between the knobs leaving ribs of ground projecting from the ridge spine. About midway of the ridge a big landslide had exposed a large gash of red ground.
A 10-minute artillery preparation, falling on areas back of Obong-ni, began at 0735. Intentionally, there was no artillery preparation on Obong-ni itself. Instead, eighteen Corsairs delivered an air strike on the ridge. The strike was impressive. To observers, Obong-ni seemed to be blowing up—”was floating,” as General Church described it.
Two companies, E on the left and D on the right, moved out from the line of departure at 0800, using the red gash on Obong-ni as the boundary between their zones of advance. Four platoons, numbering about 120 men, constituted the assault formation that crossed the valley and started up the slope. From the ridge itself they encountered no enemy fire, but from Tugok village across the road to their right (north) came heavy small arms and machine gun fire Some fire also came from their left flank near Obong village. Mortar fire fell on the assault group when it reached the slope of Obong-ni.
At one point only did any of the marines reach the crest. This was just to the right of the red gash where a rain-formed gully led upwards. Near the crest the gully was so shallow it provided scarcely enough cover to protect one man lying down. Using this gully as cover for part of his platoon, 2nd Lieutenant Michael J. Shinka reached the top with twenty of his original thirty men. As they scrambled into empty North Korean foxholes, grazing enemy machine gun fire from the right swept over them and North Koreans in a second row of foxholes a few yards down the reverse slope jumped up and attacked them with grenades. Five marines were casualties in this attack; Shinka ordered the rest off the ridge. They complied quickly, pulling their wounded back on ponchos.
Corsairs now returned and worked over the Obong-ni Ridge line and reverse slope with a hail of explosives. A shortage of fuel tanks prevented use of napalm. After the strike ended, the marines started upward again from halfway down the slope where they had waited. Tanks moved out into the low ground east of the ridge and supported the second attack by direct fire into Tugok village and against the ridge line. At first there was little enemy fire. Within a few minutes after the air strike had ended, however, the North Koreans moved into their forward foxholes at the crest. From these points they placed automatic fire on the climbing marines and rolled grenades down on them.
Again, only Shinka’s platoon reached the top. This time, starting with fifteen men, he had nine when he got there. The small group could not stay on the crest, and they fell back down the slope. Shinka crawled to the crest to see if he could find any marine wounded on top; enemy fire hit him twice, one bullet shattering his chin, another entering his right arm. He rolled down the hill. Enemy fire, inflicting heavy casualties, pinned the other units to the ground on the side of the ridge.
The heavy enemy fire from Tugok and part of Cloverleaf Hill on the right (north) was an important factor in turning back the Marine attack on Obong-ni. At 1500 the 2nd Battalion held positions about halfway up the slope. In seven hours it had lost 23 killed and 119 wounded-a casualty rate of almost 60 percent of the 240 riflemen who had taken part in the attack.
Because of the heavy losses in the 2nd Battalion, General Craig had already decided he would have to pass the 1st Battalion through it if the attack was to continue. At 1245 Colonel Murray relayed the order to Colonel Newton to move his 1st Battalion in position to resume the attack on Obong-ni. The latter completed the relief of the 2nd Battalion on the slopes by 1600.
24th Division Attack Gains Cloverleaf
It was apparent during the morning that the Marine planes had failed to destroy the enemy soldiers in their deep foxholes on the reverse slope of Obongni. It was also clear that the heavy enemy fire from gun positions in Tugok village and on the high spurs of Cloverleaf had worked havoc among the marines trying to climb the exposed slope of Obong-ni. In the plan for resuming the attack there was one important change. Colonel Murray, now convinced that it would be necessary for the 9th Infantry on his right to attack Cloverleaf simultaneously with his attack against Obong-ni, went to General Church and told him of his changed view. Church said the 9th Infantry would attack after an artillery preparation. Murray informed Church and Hill shortly after 1500 that the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, would be ready to launch its attack at 1600.
Shortly before 1600, the 24th Division began to deliver scheduled preparatory fires on Cloverleaf, raking it from top to bottom. Part of the fire was time-on-target air bursts. The flying shell fragments of the air bursts spread a shroud of death over the crest and reverse slope. Then, at 1600, the 9th Infantry and the marines began their co-ordinated attack. The 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry, took Cloverleaf without difficulty. The artillery barrage had done its work; enemy soldiers surviving it fled down the hill. From Cloverleaf, the 9th Infantry now supported with its fire the attack of the marines against Obong-ni.
At Obong-ni, the North Koreans again stopped the frontal attack of the marines. But this time, with enemy fire from Tugok and Cloverleaf almost eliminated, the righthand platoon of B Company near the boundary with the 9th RCT was able to move to the right around the northern spur of Obong-ni and reach its crest here above the road. The marines captured this knob, Hill 102, about 1700. Then the next two knobs southward, Hills log and 117, fell to a flanking attack from the direction of Hill 102, supported by fire from that hill. Enemy fire from the next knob crest of Hill 117 back to its eastern slope.
Just before dark the North Koreans made their first use of tanks in this battle of the Naktong Bulge. While digging in for the night, men on Hill 102 noticed three T34 tanks coming from the west. A fourth tank, not in view at first, followed. They came steadily along the road toward the pass between Obongni and Cloverleaf. By radio, B Company notified its battalion command post in the valley that tanks were approaching.
Three American Pershings (M26’s) clanked forward to positions at a curve in the road in front of the Marine 1st Battalion command post. The 75-mm. recoil less rifles already commanded the road where it emerged from the pass. Two 3.5-inch rocket launcher teams hurried into position at the north side of the road. Three Air Force P-51’s sighted the enemy tanks and made several strafing runs over them but without visible effect. Marines on Hill 102 watched with fascination as the T34’s rumbled into the pass.
Down below, a dust cloud rising over a shoulder of ground warned the waiting bazooka teams that the T34’s were about to come around the bend in the road. Seeing the steel hulk of the leading tank slowly come into view, one of the bazooka teams fired the first shot at a range of 100 yards, hitting the tank in its treads. The tank came on with all guns firing. A second rocket struck it just as a shell from a 75-mm. recoilless rifle tore a hole in its hull. The tank stopped but continued firing its guns. In another moment, the foremost American Pershing scored a direct hit on thisT34, setting it on fire. At least one enemy crew member abandoned the tank. Small arms fire killed him. The second enemy tank now came into view. The bazooka teams knocked it out. Two Pershing tanks destroyed the third T34 the moment it swung into sight. Air action destroyed the fourth tank before it reached the pass and dispersed enemy infantry accompanying it. In this action, Pershing tanks for the first time came face to face with the T34.
When darkness fell, the marines dug in on a perimeter defense where they were. From Hill 102, B Company extended its line over Hill 109 to the saddle between it and Hill 117; there it met the defense line of A Company which bent back down the east slope of 117 to the base of the ridge. During the day the marines had 205 casualties—23 killed, 2 dead of wounds, 180 wounded. While this severe day-long battle had been in progress at Obong-ni, the 34th and 19th Infantry Regiments on the 24th Division right started their attacks late in the afternoon after repeated delays. Heavy air attacks and artillery barrages had already hit on Ohang Hill during the afternoon. This attack moved forward, but with heavy casualties in some units, notably in L Company, 34th Infantry, which came under enemy fire from the rear at one point. Ohang Hill, overlooking the Naktong River at the northern end of the bulge, fell to the 19th Infantry by dusk. That night the 24th Division intercepted an enemy radio message stating that North Korean troops in the bulge area were short of ammunition and requesting permission for them to withdraw across the Naktong.
That evening, 17 August, American mortars and artillery registered on corridors of enemy approach to Obong-ni and Cloverleaf and on probable centers of enemy troop concentrations. Some artillery pieces fired on the river crossing sites to prevent enemy reinforcements arriving in the battle area. On Obong-ni that night, the marines, sure of an enemy counterattack, set trip flares in front of their positions. One quarter of the men stood guard while the remainder rested. On the left of the line, A Company had lost its 60-mm. mortars in the evening when four white phosphorus mortar shells struck in the mortar position, destroying the weapons and causing eighteen casualties.
At 0230, 18 August, a green flare signaled the expected enemy attack. Coming from Hill 117, the North Koreans struck A Company and isolated one platoon. Their attack formation then drove on and penetrated into B Company. The glare from bursting 81-mm. mortar illuminating shells revealed the North Korean method of attack. An enemy squad would rise from the ground, hurl grenades, and rush forward a short distance firing to front and flank with automatic weapons, and then drop to the ground. Successive enemy groups would repeat the process. The attack forced A Company from its positions and back into the saddle south of Hill 109. In its sector, however, B Company drove the enemy from its perimeter in forty-five minutes of hard fighting. Before daylight the North Korean attack ceased.
The total North Korean losses in this night battle was not known, although 183 enemy dead were counted later around the A and B Company perimeters. The Marine losses were heavy. Digging in that evening with 190 men and 5 officers, B Company the next morning at daylight had no effectives; A Company, starting the night with 185 men, had only 90 men at daylight who could take their place in the line.
After daylight, the Marine 1st Battalion reorganized, and A Company prepared to attack south against Hill 117, to which the enemy attack force had withdrawn. The company crossed the saddle easily, but machine gun fire stopped it on the slope. The company commander called for an air strike. After carefully checking the designated target, a Corsair dropped a 500-pound bomb which scored a direct hit on the enemy emplacement. When bomb fragments, rocks, and dirt had settled, the 3rd Platoon leaped to its feet and dashed up the slope. At the enemy emplacement they found the machine gun destroyed and its crew members dead. In five minutes A Company was on top of Hill 117.
The attack now continued on across the saddle toward Hill 143. Air strikes and artillery fire greatly helped to win that point. The process was then repeated with Hills 147 and 153. At nightfall only one small pocket of enemy resistance remained on Obong-ni, and it was eliminated the next morning. The formidable ridge had been captured by an attack beginning on the right flank and moving progressively south and upward along its series of knobs and saddles.
The Enemy Bridgehead Destroyed
While the 1st Battalion was driving to the southern tip of Obong-ni on 18 August, the Marine 3rd Battalion started an attack from the northern end of the ridge toward Hill 206, the next ridge line westward. The 9th Infantry supported this attack by fire from Cloverleaf. The 3rd Battalion was on its objective within an hour. It met virtually no opposition.
The reason for this easy advance was apparent. At the same time that the 3rd Battalion was climbing Hill 206, aerial observers, forward artillery observers, and front-line infantry units all reported seeing enemy groups attempting to withdraw westward to the Naktong. They reported this movement about noon. Forward observers adjusted air bursts (VT) and quick fuze artillery fire on these groups. Part of the artillery firing on the river crossing sites employed delayed fuzes for greater effectiveness against underwater swimmers. Fighter planes ranged over the roads and trails leading down the western slopes to the river and caught many enemy groups in the open.
After the capture of Hill 206, Colonel Murray ordered the 3rd Battalion to continue the attack toward Hill 311, the last ridge line in front of the Naktong. This attack slanted northwest. At the same time, the 34th and 19th Infantry Regiments on the right flank of the 24th Division drove south and southwest into the bulge. Only in a few places was resistance moderate and as the afternoon wore on even this diminished. Troops of the 19th Infantry on Ohang Hill could see groups of 10 to 15 North Koreans in the river, totaling perhaps 75 to 100 at one time, trying to cross to the west side. Fighter planes strafed these groups all afternoon. Before dark the Marine 3rd Battalion captured most of Hill 311, the 34th Infantry captured Hill 240, and the 19th Infantry captured Hill 223—the high hills fronting the river.
It was clear by evening, 18 August, that the enemy 4th Division was decisively defeated and its survivors were fleeing westward across the Naktong. The next morning, 19 August, marines and 34th Infantry troops met at the Naktong. Prisoners captured that morning said most of the North Korean survivors had crossed the river during the night. By afternoon, patrols to the river found no enemy troops. The battle of the Naktong Bulge was over.
The N.K. 4th Division lost nearly all its heavy equipment and weapons in the first battle of the Naktong Bulge. The Marine ordnance section, which gathered up most of the destroyed or abandoned enemy heavier weapons, recovered 34 enemy artillery pieces, 18 of them lined up along the Yongsan-Naktong River road for supporting fires along the main axis of enemy attack. The largest enemy artillery piece was 122-mm. in size. The North Korean casualties in this battle were heavy. The 24th Division buried more than 1,200 enemy dead. According to prisoners captured at the end of the battle, each of the three rifle regiments of the N.K. 4th Division had no more than approximately 300 to 400 men left after they recrossed to the west side of the river. These prisoners said that about one-half their wounded died for lack of medical care. The entire 4th Division reportedly numbered about 3,500 men on 19 August at the end of the bulge battle.
[n16-82 Wood, “Artillery Support for the Brigade in Korea,” op. cit.; GHQ FEC Sitrep, 20 Aug 50; 24th Div WD, 19 Aug 50; 24th Div Arty WD, 22 Jul-25 Aug 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpt, Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), p. 49; EUSAK WD, 21 Aug 50, ATIS Interrog Rpt 705, Mun Il Pun; Ibid., 8 Oct 50, G-2 Sec, ADVATIS 1074, Jr Lieutenant Chon Cho Hong, N.K. 4th Div Hq, said the 18th Regt had 900 men left; Ibid., 28 Sep 50, ADVATIS, Major Choe Chu Yong, Opn Off, Arty Regt, 4th Div, said the division artillery crossed the Naktong with 12 guns and lost them all; ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 2, Rpt 703, p. 8, Kim Chi Ho; Interv, author with Church, 25 Sep 52. ]
After the Obong-ni battle ended, a count of enemy weapons destroyed or abandoned there reportedly included 18 heavy machine guns of Russian or American manufacture, 25 light machine guns, 63 submachine guns of Russian or American manufacture, 8 antitank rifles, 13.5-inch rocket launcher, and quantities of ammunition and grenades. Included in the captured enemy equipment was a U.S. Army radio, SCR300, in good operating condition, set to the frequency of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. This indicated that the enemy had been intercepting conversations between A and B Companies the night of 17-18 August and probably had known precisely their locations and dispositions.
The destruction, for all practical purposes, of the N.K. 4th Division in the battle of the Naktong Bulge was the greatest setback suffered thus far by the North Korean Army. The 4th Division never recovered from this battle until after the Chinese entered the war and it was reconstituted. Ironically, on 19 August, the day its defeat became final, the division received from the North Korean headquarters the order naming it a “Guard Division” for outstanding accomplishments in battle (Taejon).
On the afternoon of 19 August, the bulge battle over, Eighth Army ordered the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade released from 24th Division control. The brigade, reverting to Eighth Army reserve, assembled in the south near Changwon, east of Masan, where it remained until 1 September. [n16-83 2nd Bn, 5th Mar SAR, 19 Aug 50, p. 9 (this source says there were 36 enemy machine guns on Obong-ni); 1st Bn, 5th Mar SAR, 18 Aug 50.]
SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)