A BATTLEFIELD EDUCATION BEGINS
CPT John Flynn, Dave Hughes' K Company Commander, called his officers together those first few days in November, as he had done and would often do in the months ahead, to give them the word. "It looks like we're in for a long pullback." As a rifle platoon leader, 2d of K Company Dave would spend many hours during breaks on the retreat, listening to John Flynn talking with his officers and non-commissioned officers. Bull sessions. Discussions about what was important: principles, values, how to fight, tactics, techniques, the attack, counterattacks, withdrawals, road blocks, rear guard actions, high ground and how to take hills; automatic weapons, mortar, artillery, and air support, anti-tank warfare; marching fire, the importance of discipline under fire - don't stop firing in a fire fight, every trooper keep firing mutual support for units on the flanks or when leading assaults, patrols, night fighting, how to calm men before a fight, how to lead under fire.
It was an endless list of what John Flynn had written of in infantry doctrine and manuals at the infantry schools in Ft. Benning, Georgia, where he had been an instructor before being called to war a second time. He was the consummate teacher and soldier on the battlefield, who fought led them, a man his officers and noncoms could admire.
And it was during one of these sessions that John Flynn, while preparing his officers and noncoms for what lay ahead, did what every good commander should do. It isn't enough to train and prepare well the men in a command who are to be committed to battle, and to prepare the command's officers to be good leaders in battle. It's equally important to know in advance who is to step forward and lead during a crisis, should the commander be killed or seriously wounded. A unit engaged in fire fight can't afford to suddenly become leaderless. A good commander designates a chain of succession for just such a contingency.
During the retreat, the night when Dave Hughes first heard John Flynn name Company K's chain of succession, and heard his name on the list, this was the night he suddenly realized he might one day carry the full burden of command.
In the intervening months there were rear guard actions to allow UN forces to withdraw southward, and remain intact. The CCF leapfrogged rapidly along the hills above the withdrawing Eighth Army columns, setting up roadblocks and ambushes, harassing, launching sharp night attacks when the retreating columns drew into perimeters to defend against assaults. The Eighth continued down the western half of the Korean peninsula, past Pyongyang, past Seoul - giving up the capital city once more, moving further south.
Down the middle of the peninsula the CCF and its reconstituting allies, the NKPA, poured slowly through the mountainous terrain of a growing gap between UN forces in the two halves of the peninsula.
In the eastern half, the X Corps, commanded by Major General Edward M. "Ned" Almond (VMI class of 1915), who also doubled as MacArthur's chief of staff, reeled back before the Chinese onslaught. The X Corps separated into two enclaves, one containing the Army's 7th Infantry Division and the 1st U.S. Marine Division. The two divisions closed into a shrinking defensive perimeter around the North Korean port of Hungnam, and resisted increasingly strong attacks by the oncoming enemy.
Further south the second enclave was established around North Korea's port of Wonsan. Forming a defensive perimeter around Wonsan were elements of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, and a ROK Marine division. They gradually pulled back, shrinking the perimeter, were finally evacuated aboard U.S. Navy ships, and moved north to Hungnam to bolster the defensive perimeter there. Slowly, the forces around Hungnam contracted their defensive positions, while a massive evacuation was under way, closely supported by air and naval power. By December 24, the evacuation was complete. In all, 206,600 persons were evacuated, including 108,600 troops, of which 3,600 had been airlifted.
Nine days earlier, President Truman, concerned for a possible outbreak of general war with the Soviet Bloc, declared a national emergency.
The UN forces in the eastern half of Korea had been saved from the pursuing CCF. The X Corps disembarked near the tip of the Korean peninsula, in the South Korean port of Pusan, and moved north to link up with the retreating Eighth Army in the west. The two forces reestablished a continuous defense line from coast to coast, south of Seoul.
The evacuation of UN forces from North Korea, by sea and air, had been the greatest rescue of ground forces since the evacuation of Dunkirk in WWII. But the losses had been staggering.
On December 23, 1950, one day before the closure of the Hungnam evacuation, while UN forces were continuing to withdraw southward before the flood of CCF manpower, Lieutenant General Walton H. "Johnnie" Walker (West Point class of 1912), the Eighth Army commander, was killed in a jeep accident north of Seoul. His replacement was Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway (class of April 1917), reassigned from his position as the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Administration. On January 4, 1951, Seoul changed hands for the third time.
Ridgway confronted a daunting task. The UN forces were in retreat, dispirited, and demoralized. In the six months since the war began the first two and a half months had been a desperate fight to delay, hold on, buy time hoping to reinforce soon enough to stem the NKPA tide. Then had come the breakout from the Pusan perimeter, fast on the heels of the Inchon landing, and the month and half dash northward, with quick victory apparently in sight. Crushing reversal and bitter disappointment followed when the CCF entered the war in early November. Ridgway's mission was to grab hold of retreating forces, revitalize their battered morale, and instill the belief they could turn the tide and win.
He started by quietly replacing corps and division commanders who were weary of the fight, men who seemed to have absorbed defeatist mentalities. Ridgway had the backing of the Army Chief of Staff, General J. Lawton Collins, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Omar Bradley. Major General Bryant E. Moore, the Academy's Superintendent was among those Ridgway asked for, to regain the initiave. The new Eighth Army Commander got nearly all the replacements he asked for, and more, better weapons and equipment poured onto the peninsula. In the meantime the advancing Chinese and North Koreans were extending their lines of communication and resupply, and absent effective air and naval support, subjecting themselves increasingly to destructive air and naval bombardment by American forces.
By January 25 Ridgway was ready to go on the offensive, with punishing firepower, complemented with cautious, well coordinated offensive maneuvering. He continued a series of hammer blows to the enemy inflicting heavy losses. His forces absorbed a counterattack, gave ground, and attacked again. The UN kept up relentless pressure through April 21, and continued to pound the CCF and NKPA with withering firepower.
Ten days before the UN's first counteroffensive came to a close, General Douglas MacArthur was relieved of his command by President Truman. No sooner did Ridgway get the Eighth turned around, and in an aggressive fighting stance, than he was selected to fill the position vacated by MacArthur's relief. Now, in April of 1951, it would be Lieutenant General James A. Van Fleet (class of 1915) who would take command of the Eighth Army, and UN field forces in Korea. His work as commander would include 27 agonizing, frustrating months of alternating offensive and defensive position and attrition warfare, and finally, trench warfare, as the UN forces fought determinedly to gain ground, and leverage, for the truce negotiations which began in Kaesong on July 10.
When General Ridgway turned the Eighth Army around, the 1st Cavalry Division and its Company K, Third Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, were ready to begin its long, last, Korean War fight - to win.
Go onto Part 8 - War's Grim Classroom
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