Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

When "Holy Hell Broke Loose": Arkansans Remember the Chosin Reservoir Campaign, 1950

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

When "Holy Hell Broke Loose": Arkansans Remember the Chosin Reservoir Campaign, 1950

Article excerpt

DURING THE EARLY MORNING HOURS OF JUNE 25, 1950, communist forces from the Democratic People s Republic of Korea (North Korea) invaded the Republic of Korea (South Korea or ROK). The invasion caught South Korea and the rest of the world off guard. Massively outnumbered and lacking armor and heavy artillery, the communists quickly overwhelmed ROK forces. The United Nations Security Council responded later in the day by unanimously passing a resolution that called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of North Korean forces. Two days later, the Security Council issued an urgent appeal to member nations to provide military assistance to South Korea. American forces on occupation duty in Japan were quickly rushed to the Korean peninsula. Unfortunately, the Americans were ill-prepared for the venture, the military having been allowed to atrophy in the years following World War II. Facing critical shortages in weapons and supplies, U.S. forces were thrown into the fight in a desperate attempt to stop the communist steamroller heading south. The unprepared Americans - Arkansans among them - were quickly overwhelmed and forced to flee southward with the retreating South Koreans.1

Within a month, the communists had pushed the allied forces back to an area around the port city of Pusan at the southeastern tip of the peninsula. There, reinforced by large numbers of American troops dispatched from Japan and the United States, the allies established a strong defensive position known as the "Pusan Perimeter. " By this time, the North Koreans had overstretched their supply lines and were being hammered daily by American air attacks. With their invasion stalled and an ever-increasing number of American and UN forces arriving in country, the North Koreans were vulnerable to counterattack. On September 15, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the UN forces, launched a bold behind-the-lines amphibious invasion at Inchon, on South Korea s northwest coast. The landing coincided with a breakout from the Pusan Perimeter. Caught off guard, and with the prospect of being encircled and destroyed, the North Koreans began a hasty retreat.

Buoyed by their success, UN forces crossed into North Korea in early October. Gaining ground rapidly and forcing the North Koreans into a headlong retreat, MacArthur promised the troops they would be home by Christmas. Unfortunately, he chose to dismiss reports of possible Chinese intervention in the war. The communist Chinese had warned the Americans against crossing the thirty-eighth parallel and moving into North Korea. Indeed, as MacArthur was telling the world that the war was "definitely coming to an end shortly, " lead elements of the Chinese army were racing across the YaIu River into Korea. By late November, there would be over 300, 000 Chinese soldiers in Korea.

Following amphibious landings on the east coast of North Korea at Wonsan and Iw on in late October and early November, the United Nations X Corps, composed of the U.S. 1st Marine Division, 3rd and 7th U.S. Army infantry divisions, and a detachment of British Royal Marines, began a plodding movement northward toward the YaIu. About halfway to that destination they reached a man-made lake called the Chosin Reservoir. It was here that one of the epic battles in American military history took place. In some of the most rugged terrain on earth, and with temperatures as low as a bone-chilling thirty degrees below zero, around 15,000 Marines and soldiers battled a Chinese force nearly five times their size. In fact, an entire Chinese army, 120,000 strong, had been sent to the area with explicit orders to annihilate the Americans.

The battleground centered along a tortuous eighty-mile long stretch of mountain road that snaked from Hungnam on the east coast up to the Chosin Reservoir. The one-lane dirt and gravel road, often wide enough for only one vehicle to pass at a time, meandered precipitously up and down rugged peaks while being flanked on either side by commanding ridges. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.