When enemy penetrations in the Pusan Perimeter at the bulge of the Naktong caused General Walker to withdraw the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade from Task Force Kean, he ordered the 25th Division to take up defensive positions on the army southern flank west of Masan. By 15 August the 25th Division had moved into these positions.
The terrain west of Masan dictated the choice of the positions. The mountain barrier west of Masan was the first readily defensible ground east of the Chinju pass. The two thousand-foot mountain ridges of Sobuksan and Pil-bong dominated the area and protected the Komam-ni (Saga)Haman-Chindong-ni road, the only means of north-south communication in the army zone west of Masan.
Northward from the Masan-Chinju highway to the Nam River there were a number of possible defensive positions. The best one was the Notch and adjacent high ground near Chungam-ni, which controlled the important road junction connecting the Masan road with the one over the Nam River to Uiryong. This position, however, had the disadvantage of including a 15-mile stretch of the Nam River to the point of its confluence with the Naktong, thus greatly lengthening the line. It was mandatory that the 25th Division right flank connect with the left flank of the 24th Division at the confluence of the Nam and the Naktong Rivers. Within this limitation, it was also necessary that the 25th Division line include and protect the Komam-ni road intersection where the Chindong-ni-Haman road met the Masan-Chinju highway.
The Southern Anchor of the Army Line
From Komam-ni a 2-mile-wide belt of rice paddy land extended north four miles to the Nam River. On the west of this paddy land a broken spur of P’il-bong, dominated by goo-foot-high Sibidang-san, dropped down to the Nam. Sibidang provided excellent observation, and artillery emplaced in the Komam-ni area could interdict the road junction at Chungam-ni. Colonel Fisher, therefore, selected the Sibidang-Komam-ni position for his 35th Infantry Regiment in the northern part of the 25th Division defense line. The 35th Regiment line extended from a point two miles west of Komam-ni to the Nam River and then turned east along that stream to its confluence with the Naktong. It was a long regimental line—about 26,000 yards.
The part of the line held by the 35th Infantry—covering as it did the main Masan-Chinju highway, the railroad, and the Nam River corridor, and forming the hinge with the 24th Division to the north—was potentially the most critical and important sector of the 25th Division front. Lieutenant Colonel Bernard G. Teeter’s 1st Battalion held the regimental left west of Komam-ni; Colonel Wilkins’ 2nd Battalion held the regimental right along the Nam River. Major Robert L. Woolfolk’s 3rd Battalion (1st Battalion, 29th Infantry) was in reserve on the road south of Chirwon from where it could move quickly to any part of the line.
South of the 35th Infantry, Colonel Champney’s 24th Infantry, known among the men in the regiment as the “Deuce-Four,” took up the middle part of the division front in the mountain area west of Haman. Below (south) the 24th Infantry and west of Chindong-ni, Colonel Throckmorton’s 5th Regimental ombat Team was on the division left. On division orders, Throckmorton at first held the ground above the Chindong-ni coastal road only as far as Fox Hill, or Yabansan.
General Kean soon decided, however, that the 5th Regimental Combat Team should close the gap northward between it and the 24th Infantry. When Throckmorton sent a ROK unit of 100 men under American officers to the higher slope of Sobuk-san, enemy troops already there drove them back. General Kean then ordered the 5th Regimental Combat Team to take this ground, but it was too late.[n20-2]
The N.K. 6th Division Regroups West of Masan In front of the 25th Division, the N.K. 6th Division had now received orders from the North Korean command to take up defensive positions and to await reinforcements before continuing the attack.[n20-3] From north to south, the division had its 13th, 15th, and 14th Regiments on line in that order. The first replacements for the division arrived at Chinju on or about 12 August. Approximately 2,000 unarmed South Koreans conscripted in the Seoul area joined the division by 15 August. At Chinju, the 6th Division issued them grenades and told the recruits they would have to pick up weapons from killed and wounded on the battlefield and to use captured ones. A diarist in this group records that he arrived at Chinju on 13 August and was in combat for the first time on 19 August. Two days later he wrote in his diary, “I am much distressed by the pounding artillery and aerial attacks. We have no food and no water, we suffer a great deal. … I am on a hill close to Masan.”[n20-4]
[n20-2 Interv, author with Throckmorton, 20 Aug 52; Throckmorton, Notes for author, 17 Apr 53.]
[n20-3 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 100 (N.K. 6th Div), pp. 37-38.]
[n20-4 Ibid., p. 38; ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 2, Rpt 712, p. 31, Chon Kwan O; ATIS Supp Enemy Docs, Issue 2, p. 70, Diary of Yun Hung Ki, 25 Jul-21 Aug 50.]
Another group of 2,500 replacements conscripted in the Seoul area joined the 6th Division on or about 21 August, bringing the division strength to approximately 8,500 men. In the last week of August and the first week of September, 3,000 more recruits conscripted in southwest Korea joined the division. The 6th Division used this last body of recruits in labor details at first and only later employed them as combat troops.[n20-5] As a part of the enemy build-up in the south, another division now arrived there—the 7th Division. This division was activated on 3 July 1950; its troops included 2,000 recruits and the 7th Border Constabulary Brigade of 4,000 men.
An artillery regiment had joined this division at Kaesong near the end of July. In Seoul on 30 July, 2,000 more recruits conscripted from South Korea brought the 7th Division’s strength to 10,000. The division departed Seoul on 1 August, the men wading the neck-deep Han River while their vehicles and heavy weapons crossed on the ponton bridge, except for the division artillery which was left behind. The 7th Division marched south through Taejon, Chonju, and Namwon.
The 1st and 3rd Regiments arrived at Chinju on or about 15 August. Two days later some elements of the division reached Tongyong at the southern end of the peninsula, twenty-five air miles southwest of Masan. The 2nd Regiment arrived at Yosu on or about 15 August to garrison that port. The 7th Division, therefore, upon first arriving in southwest Korea occupied key ports to protect the 6th Division against possible landings in its rear.[n20-6]
[n20-5 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 100 (N.K. 6th Div), p. 38.]
[n20-6 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 99 (N.K. 7th Div), p. 34; ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 2, p. 94, Capt So Won Sok, 7th Div.]
The reinforced battalion that had driven the ROK police out of Tongyong did not hold it long. U.N. naval forces heavily shelled Tongyong on 19 August as three companies of ROK marines from Koje Island made an amphibious landing near the town. The ROK force then attacked the North Koreans and, supported by naval gun fire, drove them out. The enemy in this action at Tongyong lost about 350 men, or about half their reinforced battalion; the survivors withdrew to Chinju.[n20-7]
By 17 August, the reinforced North Koreans had closed on the 25th Division defensive line and had begun a series of probing attacks that were to continue throughout the month. What the N.K. 6th Division called “aggressive patrolling” soon became, in the U.S. 24th and 35th Infantry sectors, attacks of company and sometimes of battalion strength. Most of these attacks came in the high mountains west of Haman, in the Battle Mountain, Pil-bong, and Sobuk-san area. There the 6th Division seemed peculiarly sensitive where any terrain features afforded observation of its supply and concentration area in the deeply cut valley to the west.
[n20-7 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 99 (N.K. 7th Div), pp. 34-35; ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 2, p. 94, Capt So; GHQ FEC G-3 Opn Rpt 57, 20 Aug 50; New York Times, August 21, 1950.]
Enemy Attacks at Komam-ni (Saga)
It soon became apparent that the enemy 6th Division had shifted its axis of attack and that its main effort now would be in the northern part of the Chinju-Masan corridor just below the Nam River. General Kean had placed his strongest regiment, the 35th Infantry, in this area. Competent observers considered its commanding officer, Colonel Fisher, one of the ablest regimental commanders in Korea. Calm, somewhat retiring, ruddy faced, and possessed of a strong, compact body, this officer was a fine example of the professional soldier. He possessed an exact knowledge of the capabilities of the weapons used in an infantry regiment and was skilled in their use. He was a technician in the tactical employment of troops. Of quiet temperament, he did not court publicity. One of his fellow regimental commanders called him “the mainstay of the division.” [n20-8]
The 35th Infantry set to work to cover its front with trip flares, but they were in short supply and gradually it became impossible to replace those tripped by the enemy. As important to the front line companies as the flares were the 6o-mm. mortar illuminating shells. This ammunition had deteriorated to such a degree, however, that only about 20 percent of the supply issued to the regiment was effective. The 155-mm. howitzer illuminating shells were in short supply. Even when employed, the time lapse between a request for them and delivery by the big howitzers allowed some enemy infiltration before the threatened area was illuminated.[n20-9]
Lieutenant Colonel Arthur H. Logan’s 64th Field Artillery Battalion, with C Battery, 90th Field Artillery Battalion, attached, and Captain Harvey’s A Company, 89th Medium Tank Battalion, supported Colonel Fisher’s regiment. Three medium M4A3 tanks, from positions at Komam-ni, acted as artillery and placed interdiction fire on Chungam-ni. Six other medium M26 tanks in a similar manner placed interdiction fire on Uiryong across the Nam River.[n20-10]
[n20-8 Interv, author with Corley, 6 Nov 51; Interv, author with Throckmorton, 20 Aug 52; Interv, author with Brigadier General Arthur S. Champney, 22 Jul 51. Throckmorton and Champney agreed substantially with Corley’s opinion.]
[n20-9 1st Bn, 35th Inf WD, 14-31 Aug 50, Summ of Supply Problem.]
In the predawn hours of 17 August an enemy attack got under way against the 35th Infantry. North Korean artillery fire began falling on the 1st Battalion command post in Komam-ni at 0300, and an hour later enemy infantry attacked A Company, forcing two of its platoons from their positions, and overrunning a mortar position. After daylight, a counterattack by B Company regained the lost ground. This was the beginning of a 5-day battle by Colonel Teeter’s 1st Battalion along the southern spurs of Sibidang, two miles west of Komam-ni. The North Koreans endeavored there to turn the left flank of the 35th Regiment and split the 25th Division line. On the morning of 18 August, A Company again lost its position to enemy attack and again regained it by counterattack. Two companies of South Korean police arrived to reinforce the battalion right flank. Against the continuing North Korean attack, artillery supporting the 1st Battalion fired an average of 200 rounds an hour during the night of 19-20 August.[n20-11]
After three days and nights of this battle, C Company of the 35th Infantry and A Company of the 29th Infantry moved up astride the Komam-ni road during the morning of 20 August to bolster A and B Companies on Sibidang. While this reinforcement was in progress, Colonel Fisher from a forward observation post saw a large enemy concentration advancing to renew the attack. He directed artillery fire on this force and called in an air strike. Observers estimated that the artillery fire and the air strike killed about 350 enemy troops, half the attack group.[n20-12]
[n20-10 35th Inf WD, 1-31 Aug 50; 89th Med Tank Bn WD, 16-17 Aug 50.]
[n20-11 35th Inf WD, 17-20 Aug 50; 1st Bn, 35th Inf WD, 19 Aug 50.]
The North Koreans made still another try in the same place. In the predawn hours of 22 August, enemy infantry started a very heavy attack against the 1st Battalion. Employing no artillery or mortar preparatory fires, the enemy force in the darkness cut the four-strand barbed wire and attacked at close quarters with small arms and grenades. This assault engaged three American companies and drove one of them from its position. After three hours of fighting A Company counterattacked at 0700 and regained its lost position. The next day, 23 August, the North Koreans, frustrated in this area, withdrew from contact in the 35th Infantry sector.[n20-13]
At the same time that the North Koreans were trying to penetrate the 35th Infantry positions in the Sibidang-Komam-ni area, they sent strong patrols and probing attacks against the mountainous middle part of the 25th Division line. Since this part of the division line became a continuing problem in the defense of the Perimeter, more should be said about the terrain there and some of its critical features.
[n20-12 1st Bn, 35th Inf WD, 20 Aug 50; 25th Div WD, 20 Aug 50.]
[n20-13 35th Inf WD, 22 Aug 50; 25th Div WD, 23 Aug 50. ]
Old mine shafts and tunnels on the western slope of Sobuk-san provided the North Koreans in this area with ready-made underground bunkers, assembly points, and supply depots. As early as the first week of August, the North Koreans were in this mountain fastness and had never been driven out. It was the assembly area for their combat operations on the Masan front all during the month.
Even when American troops had held the Notch position beyond Chungam-ni, their combat patrols had never been able to penetrate along the mountain trail that branches off the Masan road and twists its way up the narrow mountain valley to the mining villages of Ogok and Tundok, at the western base of Battle Mountain and Pilbong, two peaks of Sobuk-san. The patrols always were either ambushed or driven back by enemy action. The North Koreans firmly protected all approaches to their Sobuksan stronghold. [n20-14]
When the 25th Division issued orders to its subordinate units to take up defensive positions west of Masan, the 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry, was still trying to seize Obong-san, the mountain ridge just west of Battle Mountain and Pil-bong, and across a gorge like valley from them. At daybreak of 15 August, the 2nd Battalion broke contact with the enemy and withdrew to Battle Mountain and the ridge west of Haman. The 3rd Battalion of the 24th Infantry now came to the Haman area to help in the regimental defense of this sector.[n20-15]
[n20-14 Interv, author with Fisher, 5 Jan 52; 159th FA Bn WD, 12-15 Aug 50; 1st Bn, 24th Inf WD, 15 Aug 50.]
[n20-15 2nd Bn, 24th Inf WD, 15 Aug 50; 25th Div WD, 15 Aug 50.]
This high ground west of Haman on which the 24th Infantry established its defensive line was part of the Sobuk-san mountain mass. Sobuk-san reaches its highest elevation, 2,400 feet, at Pil-bong (Hill 743), eight miles northwest of Chindong-ni and three miles southwest of Haman. From Pil-bong the crest of the ridge line drops and curves slightlynorthwestward, to rise again a mile away in the bald peak which became known as Battle Mountain (Hill 665). It also was variously known as Napalm Hill, Old Baldy, and Bloody Knob. Between Pil-bong and Battle Mountain the ridge line narrows to a rocky ledge which the troops called the Rocky Crags. Northward from Battle Mountain toward the Nam River, the ground drops sharply in two long spur ridges. Men who fought there called the eastern one Green Peak.[n29-16]
At the western base (enemy side) of Battle Mountain and Pil-bong lay Ogok and Tundok, one and a quarter air miles from the crest. A generally north-south mountain road-trail crossed a high saddle just north of these villages and climbed to the 1,100-foot level of the west slope, or about halfway to the top, of Battle Mountain. This road gave the North Koreans an advantage in mounting and supplying their attacks in this area. A trail system ran from Ogok and Tundok to the crests of Battle Mountain and Pil-bong. From the top of Battle Mountain an observer could look directly down into this enemy-held valley, upon its mining villages and numerous mine shafts. Conversely, from Battle Mountain the North Koreans could look down into the Haman valley eastward and keep the 24th Infantry command post, supply road, artillery positions, and approach trails under observation. Whichever side held the crest of Battle Mountain could see into the rear areas of the other. Both forces fully understood the advantages of holding the crest of Battle Mountain and each tried to do it in a 6-week-long battle.
[20-16 Interv, author with 1st Lieutenant Louis M. Daniels, 2 Sep 51 (CO I&R Plat, 24th Inf, and during the Aug 50 action was a Master Sergeant (Intel Sergeant) in the 1st Bn, 24th Inf); Interv, author with Corley, 4 Jan 52 (Corley in Aug 50 was CO, 3rd Bn, 24th Inf; in September of that year he became the regimental commander); AMS Map, Korea, 1:50,000.]
The approach to Battle Mountain and Pil-bong was much more difficult from the east, the American-held side, than from the west, the North Korean side. On the east side there was no road climbing halfway to the top; from the base of the mountain at the edge of the Haman valley the only way to make the ascent was by foot trail. Stout climbers required from 2 to 3 hours to reach the top of Pil-bong from the reservoir area, one and a half air miles eastward; they required from 3 to 4 hours to get on top of Battle Mountain from the valley floor.
The turnaround time for porter pack trains to Battle Mountain was 6 hours. Often a dispatch runner required 8 hours to go up Battle Mountain and come back down. In some places the trail was so steep that men climbed with the help of ropes stretched at the side of the trail. Enemy night patrols constantly cut telephone lines. The wire men had a difficult and dangerous job trying to maintain wire communication with units on the mountain.
Bringing dead and seriously wounded down from the top was an arduous task. It required a litter bearer team of six men to carry a wounded man on a stretcher down the mountain. In addition, a medical aide was needed to administer medical care during the trip if the man was critically wounded, and riflemen often accompanied the party to protect it from enemy snipers along the trail. A critically wounded man might, and sometimes did, die before he reached the bottom where surgical and further medical care could be administered. This possibility was one of the factors that lowered morale in the 24th Infantry units fighting on Battle Mountain. Many men were afraid that if they were wounded there they would die before reaching adequate medical care.[n20-17]
In arranging the artillery and mortar support for the 24th Infantry on Battle Mountain and Pil-bong, Colonel Champney placed the 4.2-inch mortars and the 159th Field Artillery Battalion in the valley south of Haman. On 19 August the artillery moved farther to the rear, except for C Battery, which remained in the creek bed north of Haman at Champney’s insistence. Champney in the meantime had ordered his engineers to improve a trail running from Haman northeast to the main Komam-ni-Masan road. He intended to use it for an evacuation road by the artillery, if that became necessary, and to improve the tactical and logistical road net of the regimental sector. This road became known as the Engineer Road.[n20-18]
When Colonel Champney on 15 August established his line there was a 4,000-yard gap in the Pil-bong area between the 24th Infantry and the 5th Infantry southward. The 24th Infantry had not performed well during the Task Force Kean action and this fact made a big gap adjacent to it a matter of serious concern. General Kean sent 432 ROK National Police to Champney the next day and the latter placed them in this gap.[n20-19]
[n20-17 Interv, author with Corley, 4 Jan 52; Interv, author with Daniels, 2 Sep 51; Interv, author with Champney, 22 Jul 51; 24th Inf WD, 1-31 Aug 50, Special Problems and Lessons. ]
[n20-18 Interv, author with Champney, 22 Jul 51; FA Bn WD, Aug 50, and sketch maps 5 and 6.]
The first attack against the mountain line of the 24th Infantry came on the morning of 18 August, when the enemy partly overran E Company on the northern spur of Battle Mountain and killed the company commander. During the day, Lieutenant Colonel Paul F. Roberts succeeded Lieutenant Colonel George R. Cole in command of the 2nd Battalion there. The next day, the enemy attacked C Company on Battle Mountain and routed it. Officers could collect only forty men to bring them back into position. Many ROK police on Pil-bong also ran away—only fifty-six of them remained in their defensive positions. American officers used threats and physical force to get others back into position. A gap of nearly a mile in the line north of Pil-bong existed in the 24th Infantry lines at the close of the day, and an unknown number of North Koreans were moving into it.[n20-20]
[n20-19 Colonel William O. Perry, EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf Regt, 1950, testimony of Captain Alfred F. Thompson, Arty Line Off with 24th Inf, 24 Aug 50; 24th Inf WD, 15-16 Aug 50.]
[n20-20 1st Bn, 24th Inf WD, 19 Aug 50; 159th FA Bn WD, 19 Aug 50.]
On 20 August, all of C Company except the company commander and about twenty-five men abandoned their position on Battle Mountain. Upon reaching the bottom of the mountain those who had fled reported erroneously that the company commander had been killed and their position surrounded, then overrun by the enemy. On the basis of this misinformation, American artillery and mortars fired concentrations on C Company’s former position, and fighter-bombers, in thirty-eight sorties, attacked the crest of Battle Mountain, using napalm, fragmentation bombs, rockets, and strafing. This friendly action, based upon completely erroneous reports, forced the company commander and his remnant of twenty-five men off Battle Mountain after they had held it for nearly twenty hours. A platoon of E Company, except for eight or ten men, also left its position on the mountain under similar circumstances.
On the regimental left, a ROK patrol from K Company’s position on Sobuk-san had the luck to capture the commanding officer of the N.K.15thRegiment but, unfortunately, he was killed a few minutes later while trying to escape. The patrol removed important documents from his body. And on this day of general melee along Battle Mountain and Pil-bong, the North Koreans drove off the ROK police from the 24th Infantry’s left flank on Sobuk-san.[n20-21]
General Kean now alerted Colonel Throckmorton to prepare a force from the 5th Infantry to attack Sobuk-san. On the morning of 21 August, the 1st Battalion (less A Company), 5th Regimental Combat Team, attacked across the 24th Infantry boundary and secured Sobuksan against light resistance. That evening a strong force of North Koreans counterattacked and drove the 1st Battalion off the mountain. At noon the next day, the 1st Battalion again attacked the heights, and five hours later B Company seized the peak. General Kean now changed the boundary line between the 5th Regimental Combat Team and the 24th Infantry, giving the Sobuk-san peak to the former. During the night, the North Koreans launched counterattacks against the 1st Battalion, 5th Regimental Combat Team, and prevented it from consolidating its position. On the morning of 23 August, A Company tried to secure the high ground 1,000 yards southwest of Sobuk and link up with B Company, but was unable to do so. The enemy considered this particular terrain feature so. important that he continued to repulse all efforts to capture it, and kept A Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team, nearby, under almost daily attack. [n20-22]
[n20-21 24th Inf WD, 20 Aug 50; 3rd Bn, 24th Inf WD, 20 Aug 50; EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf, testimony of Major Eugene J. Carson, Ex Off, 2nd Bn, 24th Inf, answer to question 141, 14 Sep 50; Ibid., statement of Captain Merwin J. Camp, 9 Sep 50.]
Northward from B Company’s position on Sobuk, the battle situation was similar. Enemy troops in the Rocky Crags, which extended from Sobuk-san toward Pil-bong, took cover during air strikes, and napalm, 500-pound bombs, and strafing had little effect. As soon as the planes departed they reoccupied their battle positions. Elements of the 24th Infantry were not able to extend southward and join with B Company of the 5th Regimental Combat Team.[n20-23]
[n20-22 Interv, author with Throckmorton, 20 Aug 52; Throckmorton, Notes and sketch maps, 17 Apr 53; 25th Div WD, 21-24 Aug 50: EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 21-22 Aug 50; Ibid., 23 Aug 50. ]
[n20-23 1st Bn, 24th Inf WD, 23 Aug 50; Corley, Notes for author, 27 Jul 53. The code name King 1 was given to this rocky ledge extending from Pil-bong south toward Sobuk-san. See 159th FA Bn WD, 19 Aug 50.]
Still farther northward along the mountain spine, in the Battle Mountain area, affairs were going badly for the 24th Infantry. After C Company lost Battle Mountain, air and artillery worked over its crest in preparation for an infantry attack planned to regain Old Baldy. The hot and sultry weather made climbing the steep slope grueling work, but L Company was on top by noon, 21 August. Enemy troops had left the crest under the punishing fire of air, artillery, and mortar. They in turn now placed mortar fire on the crest and prevented L Company from consolidating its position. This situation continued until midafternoon when an enemy platoon came out of zigzag trenches a short distance down the reverse slope of Old Baldy and surprised L Company. One enemy soldier even succeeded in dropping a grenade in a platoon leader’s foxhole. The other two platoons of the company, upon hearing firing, started to leave their positions and drift down the hill. The North Koreans swiftly reoccupied Old Baldy while officers tried to assemble L and I Companies on the eastern slope. Elements of E Company also left their position during the day.[n20-24]
American air, artillery, mortar, and tank fire now concentrated on Battle Mountain, and I and L Companies prepared to counterattack. This attack made slow progress and at midnight it halted to wait for daylight. Shortly after dawn, 22 August, I and L Companies resumed the attack. Lieutenant R. P. Stevens led L Company up the mountain, with I Company supplying a base of fire. Lieutenant Gerald N. Alexander testified that, with no enemy fire whatever, it took him an hour to get his men to move 200 yards. When they eventually reached their objective, three enemy grenades wounded six of them and at this his group ran off the hill. Alexander stopped them 100 yards down the slope and ordered them to go back up. None would go. Finally, he and a BAR man climbed back and found no defending enemy on the crest. His men slowly rejoined him. The remainder of the company reached the objective on Battle Mountain with a total loss of 17 casualties in three hours’ time. A few hours later, when a small enemy force worked around its right flank, the company withdrew back down the hill to I Company’s position.[n20-25]
[n20-24 Corley, notes for author, 27 Jul 53; Interv, author with Corley, 4 Jan 52; EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf Regt, 1950, testimony of 2nd Lieutenant Gerald N. Alexander, L Co, 24th Inf, 2 Sep 50; Ibid., testimony of Major Horace E. Donaho, Ex Off, 2nd Bn, 24th Inf, 22 Aug 50; 24th Inf WD, 21 Aug 50; EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 21 Aug 50.]
Fighting continued on Battle Mountain the next day, 23 August, with ROK police units arriving to reinforce I and L Companies. The American and South Korean troops finally secured precarious possession of Old Baldy, mainly because of the excellent supporting fires of the 81-mm. and 4.2-inch mortars covering the enemy’s avenues of approach on the western slope. Before its relief on the mountain, L Company reported a foxhole strength of 17 men, yet, halfway down the slope, its strength had jumped to 48 men, and by the next morning it was more than 100. Colonel Corley, in command of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry, said, “Companies of my battalion dwindle to platoon size when engaged with the enemy. My chain of command stops at company level. If this unit is to continue to fight as a battalion it is recommended that the T/O of officers be doubled. One officer must lead and the other must drive.” The situation in the Haman area caused General Walker to alert the Marine brigade for possible movement to this part of the front.[n20-26]
[n20-25 Interv, author with Corley, 4 Jan 52; EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 22 Aug 50; Ibid., Summ, 22 Aug 50; EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf Regt, 1950, testimony of Corley, 26 Aug 50, and testimony of Alexander, 2 Sep 50.]
On 25 and 26 August, C Company beat off a number of North Korean thrusts on Battle Mountain—all coming along one avenue of approach, the long finger ridge extending upward from the mines at Tundok. At one point in this series of actions, a flight of Air Force planes caught about 100 enemy soldiers in the open and immediately napalmed, bombed, and strafed them. There were few survivors. Task Force Baker, commanded by Colonel Cole, and comprising C Company, a platoon of E Company, 24th Infantry, and a ROK police company, defended Battle Mountain at this time. The special command was established because of the isolated Battle Mountain area and the extended regimental battle frontage. It buried many enemy dead killed within or in front of its positions during these two days. [n20-27]
The 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry, now relieved the 1st Battalion in the Battle Mountain-P’il-bong area, except for C Company which, as part of Task Force Baker, remained on Old Baldy. Corley’s battalion completed this relief by 1800, 27 August.[n20-28]
[n20-26 24th Inf WD, 24 Aug 50; Interv, author with Corley, 4 Jan 52; EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf Regt, 1950. testimony of Alexander, 2 Sep 50, and testimony of Corley, 26 Aug 50. ]
[n20-27 1st Bn, 24th Inf WD, 26 Aug 50; 24th Inf WD, 26 Aug 50; 25th Div WD. 26 Aug 50. ]
[n22-28 3rd Bn, 24th Inf WD. 27 Aug 50; 25th Div WD, 27 Aug 50.]
The North Korean attacks continued. On the 28th, an enemy company-sized attack struck between G and I Companies before dawn. That night, enemy mortar fire cell on C Company on Old Baldy, some of it obviously directed at the company command post. After midnight, an enemy force appeared in the rear area and captured the command post. Some men of C Company left their positions on Battle Mountain when the attack began at 0245, 29 August. The North Koreans swung their attack toward E Company and overran part of its positions. Airdrops after daylight kept C Company supplied with ammunition, and a curtain of artillery fire, sealing off approaches from the enemy’s main position, prevented any substantial reinforcement from arriving on the crest. All day artillery fire and air strikes pounded the North Koreans occupying E Company’s old positions. Then, in the evening, E Company counterattacked and reoccupied the lost ground.[n20-29 24th Inf WD, 29 Aug 50.]
An hour before midnight, North Koreans attacked C Company. Men on the left flank of the company position jumped from their holes and ran down the mountain yelling, “They have broken through!” The panic spread. Again the enemy had possession of Battle Mountain. Captain Lawrence M. Corcoran, the company commander, was left with only the seventeen men in his command post, which included several wounded.[n20-30] After daylight on the 30th, air strikes again came in on Battle Mountain, and artillery, mortar, and tank fire from the valley concentrated on the enemy-held peak. A wounded man came down off the mountain where, cut off, he had hidden for several hours. He reported that the main body of the North Koreans had withdrawn to the wooded ridges west of the peak for better cover, leaving only a small covering force on Old Baldy itself. At 1100, B Company, with the 3rd Battalion in support, attacked toward the heights and two hours later was on top. [n20-31]
[n20-30 Ibid.; 25th Div WD, 29 Aug 50; EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf Div, 1950, testimony of Corcoran,1 Sep 50. Corcoran said fire discipline in his company was very poor, that his men would fire at targets out of range until they had exhausted their ammunition and at night would fire when there were no targets. He said that in his entire company he had twenty-five men he considered soldiers and that they carried the rest.]
Units of the 24th Infantry always captured Battle Mountain in the same way. Artillery, mortar, and tank fire raked the crest and air strikes employing napalm blanketed the scorched top. Then the infantry attacked from the hill beneath Old Baldy on the east slope, where supporting mortars set up a base of fire and kept the heights under a hail of steel until the infantry had arrived at a point just short of the crest. The mortar fire then lifted and the infantry moved rapidly up the last stretch to the top, usually to find it deserted by the enemy. [n20-32]
Battle Mountain changed hands so often during August that there is no agreement on the exact number of times. The intelligence sergeant of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry, said that according to his count the peak changed hands nineteen times.[n20-33] From 18 August to the end of the month, scarcely a night passed that the North Koreans did not attack Old Baldy. The peak often changed hands two or three times in a 24-hour period. The usual pattern was for the enemy to take it at night and the 24th Infantry to recapture it the next day. This type of fluctuating battle resulted in relatively high losses among artillery forward observers and their equipment. During the period of 15-31 August, seven forward observers and eight other members of the Observer and Liaison Section of the 159th Field Artillery Battalion, supporting the 24th Infantry, were casualties; and they lost 8 radios, 11 telephones, and 2 vehicles to enemy action.[n20-34]
[n20-31 24th Inf WD, 30 Aug 50; 25th Div WD, 30 Aug 50.]
[n20-32 Interv, author with Corley, 4 Jan 52. ]
[n20-33 Interv, author with Daniels, 2 Sep 51.]
[n20-34 159th FA Bn WD, 1-31 Aug 50.]
In its defense of that part of Sobuksan south of Battle Mountain and Pilbong, the 1st Battalion, 5th Regimental Combat Team, also had nearly continuous action in the last week of the month. Master Sergeant Melvin O. Handrich of C Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team, on 25 and 26 August distinguished himself as a heroic combat leader. From a forward position he directed artillery fire on an attacking enemy force and at one point personally kept part of the company from abandoning its positions. Although wounded, Sergeant Handrich returned to his forward position, to continue directing artillery fire, and there alone engaged North Koreans until he was killed. When the 5th Regimental Combat Team regained possession of his corner “of a foreign field” it counted more than seventy dead North Koreans in the vicinity.[n20-35]
The month of August ended with the fighting in the .mountains on the southern front, west of Masan, a stalemate. Neither side had secured a definite advantage. The 25th Division had held the central part of its line, at Battle Mountain and Sobuk-san, only with difficulty and with mounting concern for the future.
[n20-35 Department of the Army General Order 60, 2 August 1951, awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Sergeant Handrich.]
SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)