This Day in Korea July 31 1950

This post is excerpted from The Korean war, An Exhaustive Chronology By Bud Hannings. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers Jefferson, North Carolina, and London. 2007

This post details one day in Korea in 1950, on 31 July 1950, slightly more than one month after the North Korean Army invaded South Korea. At this time, the U. S. 8th Army is experiencing great difficulty. This grueling conflict continued into 1953 and it was initially called a “Police Action” by President Harry S Truman. The North Koreans are very close to pushing Eighth Army into the sea. However, during early August, the First Marine Brigade arrives and although they are not given a hearty greeting by the GIs or the sailors, within one week, the Marines became welcome guests. Also, the post is mostly taken verbatim; however, at times certain portions, due to space restraints, are left out. There is an extraordinary amount of activity in Korea on a daily basis, which makes it necessary to at times shorten some details.

 July 31 1950–In Korea, General Walker, while preparing to move his forces to the Pusan perimeter, continues to focus on the U.S. troops’ apparent lackadaisical attitude toward his orders to maintain contact with the enemy. Walker reiterates the instructions and on the 2nd of August, the situation then compels him to enunciate it again, more pointedly, to his divisional officers. In other activity, Chinju falls to North Korean Communists, placing them about 50 miles from the beleaguered bastion of Pusan. A battalion of the 29th Regimental Combat Team had pushed toward the embattled town, but it is ambushed several miles outside of Hadong. Fierce and heroic combat ensues, but the outnumbered unit is severely thrashed, taking extremely heavy casualties. Desperate decisions must be made to prevent the fall of Pusan. Circumstances are grave. General Walker, keenly aware of the condition of the exhausted 24th Division under General John H. Church, orders it to hold in place near Chinju. The 34th Regiment pulls out of its positions and redeploys behind the 2!st Regiment. General Church directs Colonel Stephens to assume command of both regiments. Also, Stephens redeploys the ROK !7th Regiment, placing one battalion on each flank of the U.S. troops and the third is kept in reserve.

     In other activity, General Craig, USMC, and Lt. Colonel Joseph Stewart (G-3) take a jeep and drive southwest to reconnoiter the ground, previously observed from the air, to which the Marine brigade is likely to be committed {The First Marine brigade has not yet arrived from the United States}. Upon his return, Craig is informed by Eighth Army that the 5th Regimental Combat Team, recently arrived from Hawaii, is to be attached to the !st Provisional Marine Brigade, giving Craig two regiments.

Elements (Company A) of the 89th Medium Tank Battalion arrive from Japan by sea at Pusan. The commanding officer Colonel Dolvin, arrives by air and meets the troops on the dock. From Pusan, Dolvin’s contingent departs for Masan and joins the U.S. troops there on the following day.

 Central Mountain area: Near Sangju, the North Koreans surge forward, unleashing probing strikes against the 24th Regiment, prompting the folding of a forward outpost. First Lt. Leon A. Gilbert, A Company commander, and about fifteen other defenders make a hurried retreat to the regiment and upon their return, Colonel H. White and several more officers of high rank order Gilbert to return to his post, but he declines, responding that he “is scared.” In his place, a noncommissioned officer leads the men back to their positions. The regiment holds its line throughout the day. After dark, the 24th Regiment makes a disciplined withdrawal, moving through Sangju, covered by the !st Battalion, 35th Regiment (25th Division), which had just recently arrived to shore up the rear.

 In other activity, Major Woolridge’s unorthodox roadblock is lifted today; on each day during its operation, about 75 men attempting to smuggle themselves into Sangju are snagged, and on the final day of the sting (30th), !50 men are rejoined with their outfits. Following eleven days on the line against the advancing enemy, primarily the N.K. !5th Division, the 24th Regiment has sustained a total of 27 men killed, 293 wounded and 3 men missing. In contrast, the North Korean 15th Division, according to information acquired from captured enemy troops, sustained severe losses from a combination of the air strikes.

    The incessant artillery bombardments and mortars as the enemy drives against the ROK and U.S. 24th Regiment allegedly deplete their strength by about half (5,000 men) by July 31. The N.K. !3th Division, which had bypassed Hamch’ang, encounters only a few minor skirmishes with elements of the 2nd Battalion, 35th Regiment, and various ROK contingents, resulting in extremely light casualties. Also, the balance of the 25th Division is ordered to initiate an immediate forced march to bolster the 24th Division and ensure that the Communists don’t penetrate any farther.

     On the following day the 25th Division, deployed near Sangju, receives new orders. In addition, the 1st Cavalry Division must contain the enemy on both the central and northwestern fronts. The cavalry becomes engaged in bloody combat around Kumch’on, but again the overwhelming numbers of enemy troops push them back. By daybreak, a detachment of enemy troops infiltrates the 8th Engineer Combat Battalion’s command post, slaying four troops, including the battalion executive officer. In conjunction, 6 others are wounded. Close by, about !,000 yards away, lies the command post of the 1st Cavalry Division. The enemy launches an attack against the positions of the 7th Cavalry, northwest of Kumch’on, but it is interrupted by intense fire originating from U.S. ground forces and planes. The combination inflicts great punishment, including the immediate destruction of thirteen enemy tanks caught crossing open space and a slower death for six additional tanks put to flames. Nearby at Chirye, the N.K. 8th Regiment, 3rd N.K. Division, arrives to augment the N.K. 7th Regiment. Enemy artillery perched in the heights overlooking the town unleashes heavy shelling, making the American positions untenable, thereby prodding them to evacuate quickly.

     It had originally been estimated that between 90,000 and !30,000 crack North Korean troops had invaded South Korea, and today, General MacArthur announces that the estimated number of Communist casualties stands at more than 30,000. In the N.K. 3rd Division, which has been engaged in heavy combat with the 1st Cavalry Division, numbers have dwindled from about 7,000 men to 5,000 during the ten days it has been pushing the 1st Cavalry from Yongdong. During the same period of time, the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division sustains 78 killed, 4!9 wounded and 419 missing.

 In the West Coast Sector, east of Chinju, the 1st Battalion, 19th Regiment, remains at the Chinju Pass. Artillery support will arrive later in the day. At Chinju, Colonel Moore prepares to evacuate just after daybreak; the enemy strikes aggressively against the western fringes of the town and hostile small arms fire is clattering at a rapid pace. Six enemy armored vehicles pierce the thin shield, entering the town. The armor begins plastering U.S. positions while trailing infantry, including snipers, quickly add to the dilemma, but the troops under Colonel Moore retain their composure. The withdrawal of the 19th Regiment remains orderly.

     The U.S. heavy equipment—the !3th Field Artillery Battalion (minus Battery A) and Battery B, 11th Field Artillery Battalion—begin heading east by 0640. In conjunction, trains heading east have been salvaging the 19th Regiment’s supplies (25 rail cars total). The last of five such rail convoys departs at 0745, sent off by Major Jack Emery (S-4). The command post staff departs at 0800, moving to new positions at Chiryongni, about one mile beyond the Much’on-ni–Masan Road fork and about twelve air miles east of Chinju. The journey is hampered by obstacles, including the destruction of the primary bridge span over the Nam River at the southern tip of Chinju and the alternate routes clogged with refugees.

     Although the greater part of the !9th Regiment has departed Chinju and ROK sources account for the capture of Chinju at 0900, one defiant U.S. contingent remains—three M-26 Pershing tanks, led by Lieutenant Sam Fowler. The tanks, not committed to the defense of Chinju, had been waiting for new fan belts to solve an ongoing problem. Fowler is under orders to destroy the tanks, but he and his twelve crewmen are holding tight, hoping for a train with flatcars, which never shows. The engine passes through Masan, but is unable to depart Chungam-ni. Slightly after noon, a South Korean soldier passes the rail yard, noting that the town contains only several S.K. troops. He suggests to the Americans that they move out.

      Soon after, an AP correspondent, William Moore, urges Lieutenant Fowler to glance north at an approaching unidentified column moving along the tracks. After a South Korean trooper calls for identification, an interpreter is no longer necessary. The contingent is North Korean. The tankers commence firing, spreading a steady stream of machine gun shells into the enemy ranks, thinning the platoon. But a burst of return rifle fire wounds Fowler. Still determined to keep the Pershings, the troops place Fowler in a tank and drive east toward Masan. About two miles down the highway, they encounter a destroyed bridge and are forced to abandon the tanks.

     As the tanks are being destroyed, a concealed enemy contingent posted near the bridge suddenly commences firing. One man, Master Sergeant Shrader, having reached an operable tank, unleashes its .30-caliber machine gun to cut the odds. The enemy ambush has devastated the small contingent of Americans. Shrader ceases firing his machine gun and nudges the tank close to one of the others, quickly picking up six men and then heading back toward Chinju. Along the way, the surviving tank overheats (bad fanbelt) at a bridge over the Nam River. The seven occupants dart through the nearby bamboo, eventually reaching the sanctuary of the 25th Division lines west of Masan.

     Some of the original contingent had been killed at the bridge and others are killed or captured attempting to flee to safety. One captured soldier later relates that he saw several bodies floating in the water. He recognized one as Lieutenant Fowler and another as William Moore, the Associated Press correspondent. The first three Pershing tanks (M-26 Medium) to enter Korea and the first three to go down in combat leave a valiant legacy from the courage of their crews at Chinju.

     Early estimates of the enemy troops that seize control of the town are 2,000, but a subsequent report that arrives from a Korean source toward the end of the night numbers the force at approximately 4,000. As the evacuation is unfolding, 24th Division Headquarters is buzzing. Air strikes throughout the day torch Chinju, igniting ravaging fires. Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion (!9th Regiment) heads along the road north of the Nam, regrouping at Uiryong during the night, while the 3rd Battalion (29th Regiment) and the artillery evacuate north of the Nam River and cross to the south bank at Uiryong, then reorganize at Komamni (Saga).

     After a short while, an aircraft dispatched by General Church passes overhead and drops a succinct order to the artillery: return to the Chinju vicinity. Colonel Rhea’s 1st Battalion, 19th Regiment, holding the pass, is pleased to see the eight !55-mm howitzers (11th Field Artillery, Battery B) and Battery (!3th Field Artillery) five 105-mm howitzers roll up to the pass from the east.

     At this same time, troops east of Chinju Pass at Much’on, Colonel Moore establishes his command post just outside of the village. Meanwhile Colonel Wilson reaches Chunggam-ni, but he was expected at Haman, about 30 miles distant. He is told by a South Korean officer that “The Reds are just seven miles behind us and will get here tonight.” Wilson, after a discussion with his staff, decides to move across the mountains to reach Haman. The several wounded members of the battalion are placed in the jeeps between the mass of mortars, machine guns and radios. All personal effects of the troops are disposed of before heading into the mountains. By about 0200 (Aug. 1), the column reaches Masan-ni at the final north-south road by which the Communist forces from Chinju could intercept the 1st Battalion, bringing a sigh of relief for the weary troops.

     In other activity, Colonel Michaelis arrives at the 24th Division positions in Changnyong, but General Church, to whom he is to report, has gone to Chungni. General Menoher, assistant division commander, directs Michaelis to proceed and meet General Church at the village of Changnyong, which lies about four miles northeast of Masan. In the meantime, the 27th Regiment is on the march, moving toward Chinju Pass. Colonel Michaelis meets with General Church and they are joined by Colonel Moore (19th Regiment), who is transported to the railroad station meeting place from his command post near Chinju Pass by a divisional courier. Moore arrives prior to midnight ( July 31-Aug. 1). Circumstances of the time preclude a clear accounting of the precise orders received by Michaelis and Moore from General Church, as no written notes are taken. Apparently, Colonel Michaelis is to deploy his 27th Regiment at the Chinju Pass along the northern spur of the Masan Road, a few miles west of Chungamni, and Colonel Moore is to retain his 1st Battalion, 19th Regiment, led by Colonel Rhea, in place at Chinju Pass. Subsequent to the conference, Colonel Michaelis remains in Chung-ni until his rain-drenched regiment arrives at about 0300. Then after ordering the regiment to continue to Chungam-ni where it is to fortify the high ground, Michaelis and several officers head for another pass, located southwest of Chungam-ni, arriving there just after dawn. Meanwhile, Colonel Moore departs for Much’on-ni.

     In other activity, the 5th Regimental Combat Team, with a full complement of three battalions, arrives at Pusan to bolster Eighth Army, bringing with it the 555th Field Artillery Battalion and a contingent of Pershing M-26 tanks. Upon arrival at Pusan, the 5th RCT is ordered to move to Masan on the southwest flank of the Eighth Army. Advance contingents arrive the following night and the remainder of the regiment arrives by August 2. The 5th RCT, initially, was to be attached to the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, but it is to be attached to the 25th Division and reverts to Eighth Army reserve. In addition, the 9th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, arrives in Pusan. Its 2nd Battalion, the first contingent of U.S. troops to embark for Korea from the States, left Tacoma, Washington, on July 17. The 9th Regiment, commanded by Colonel John G. Hill, is supported by the 15th Field Artillery Battalion. It departs for Kyongsan about ten miles south of Taegu and upon arrival reverts to Army reserve.

     The battle casualties for the U.S. Army from arrival in Korea through July 31 stand at 1,884 killed, 2,695 wounded, 523 missing and 901 assumed captured. More than half of the total losses are incurred by the 24th Division (first to enter Korea); about 80 percent of these casualties occur during the last half of July. The South Korean casualty figures are not totally known. Genuine estimates place them at about 70,000, including killed, wounded and missing. Although many of the South Korean units had retreated in a disoriented fashion, many others were inflicting great punishment on the enemy in the mountains. North Korean casualties, according to estimates by the Intelligence Section of MacArthur’s Headquarters, are placed at about 31,000. The Department of the Army lists enemy casualties for the same time period at 37,500. Both estimates are based on information from captured prisoners and seized documents, but the more accurate number is probably closer to 58,000; the low estimates by the Americans are due partly to their underestimation of the ROK operations against the North Koreans. These figures on enemy battle casualties are considered more accurate than those compiled by the U.N. representatives.

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