Battle of Chosin Reservoir

Did you know? It was so cold that blood actually froze in the soldiers wounds.

  • The Battle of Chosin Reservoir pitted 20,000 UN forces vs. 200,000 Chinese.
  • The unrelenting bitter cold made the going nearly impossible.
  • The withdrawal of troops, led by the Marines, dealt the Communists heavy losses.

  • In mid-October of 1950, it seemed that the Korean War was all but over. Almost all of North Korea had been taken by the United Nation forces, which were spearheaded by the United States. The feeling that the war was in its final stages was short-lived, however, as the battle of Chosin Reservoir loomed on the horizon. The United States made a grave error in misjudging the intentions of China, which helped to precipitate the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. When the seventeen day conflict was over, the Battle of Chosin Reservoir would be a defeat for the UN forces, but remembered as one of the United States Marines finest hours.

    The brutality of the North Koreans, who massacred civilians and prisoners during the Korean War, was well known. The American led UN forces were looking forward to a total victory over what they considered a barbaric enemy. However, China had warned that if UN forces crossed the 38th parallel, Chinese troops would come into the war. Without a seat at the UN, and with no diplomatic relations with the United States, the true intentions of the Chinese government were muddied by poor communication. In their white fur uniforms, the Chinese blended into the snow on the ground as they crossed the border into northeast Korea, where the Chosin Reservoir was located. 20,000 UN troops would quickly be encircled by 200,000 Chinese soldiers.

    The UN armies, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, had been given orders to advance to the Yalu River, which was on the border of China, after their decisive victory at Inchon in September. The US Eighth Army and the X Corps, headed by Lieutenant General Ned Almond, comprised of the US First Marine Division and elements of the US Seventh Infantry Division, along with Independent Commando Royal Marines, moved toward the river. They were totally unaware of the Chinese activity, despite their surveillance. By late November, they were surrounded and their advance had been halted by the poorly equipped, but overwhelming, Communist horde.

    On November 26, 1950, the order was given to make a fighting withdrawal to the south, towards the seaside city of Hungnam. Ten Chinese divisions, along with North Korean soldiers, formed a gauntlet that the retreating men would knowingly have to cope with. An American unit from the Seventh Infantry was isolated on the eastern side of the Chosin reservoir and eventually all but wiped out by a Chinese division. Major General O. P. Smith, commanding the First Marines, was ordered to lead the breakout to the south to escape the trap. The incredible cold, including temperatures as low as 48 degrees below zero, made the march and fighting unbearable. Smith was quoted thusly when asked if he was retreating. "Retreat, Hell! We're attacking in a different direction."

    As they withdrew, the Marines were indeed attacking, or under attack by the swarming Chinese. The UN forces enjoyed air supremacy; their bombers flew hundreds of missions a day against the Chinese. Over 4,000 wounded were evacuated out of the Chosin Reservoir when the weather cleared sufficiently, with some 500 reinforcements flown in. The intense cold would take its toll on both sides as the conflict wore on. As they escaped, the Marines and soldiers obliterated a full seven divisions of Chinese warriors as they tried to stop them.

    Survivors of this action recalled how the Chinese would attack. They came in waves, with the first wave coming down upon the Marines the only one that actually had guns. When they were killed, the second wave would advance and grab up the weapons and fight on. The third wave came and took the guns from the dying second wave to battle with. Some soldiers swore that a fourth wave of Chinese would remain behind and machine gun any of their own troops that thought of retreating.

    The weather made it almost impossible for the UN army to be re-supplied, until it cleared in early December. Ammunition and rations were dropped from the air, but the fight was far from over. The Marines and soldiers still had to fight through to the port of Hungnam to evacuate by ship. The Marines took their dead with them, sometimes having to lash them to the tops and fenders of their vehicles. The bodies were frozen solid; the grisly decision often was made to literally break off dead soldiers' arms so they would fit on or in transporting vehicles. Wounded men, because of the frigid temperatures, actually saw their blood freeze where they were hit. Many Marines froze to death, while several thousands of men suffered frostbite.

    Finally, on December 11, 1950, the withdrawal was complete. Technically a defeat, the heroism and valor of the Marines attracted attention from around the globe. They had inflicted massive numbers of casualties on the enemy. 2,500 UN forces had been killed, 5,000 wounded and 7,500 were suffering from frostbite. In contrast, the enemy had ten times the number of dead, 12,500 wounded and 30,000 frostbite victims.

    The entire X-Corps was withdrawn from North Korea. Hungnam was destroyed, so as to be of no use to the Communists. The Marines returned to the south, where they fought once again with the UN side until an armistice was called in July of 1953. Despite their terrible losses, the Marines defiantly consider the Battle of Chosin Reservoir to be one of their proudest moments. Even now, do not mention to a Marine the word "retreat" when discussing this battle. The Chinese as well felt proud; for the first time in a century they had defeated a Western army in a major conflict. To this very day, historians consider the Battle of Chosin Reservoir the most savage battle of modern times. User-generated content powered by Associated Content| Publish your own Content|