May 22, 1951 – The Battle of the Soyang River was fought during the Korean War between United Nations Command (UN) and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) and Korean People’s Army (KPA) during the Spring Offensive of April–May 1951. The attack took place across the entire front but with the main thrust below the Soyang River in the Taebaek Mountains. The objective of the main effort was to sever the six Republic of Korea Army (ROK) divisions on the eastern front from the remainder of the US Eighth Army and annihilate them and the US 2nd Infantry Division. Secondary attacks would be mounted by PVA and KPA forces across the entire front.
The attack was launched on 16 May 1951 and succeeded in swiftly pushing back the ROK I Corps which retreated in good order and III Corps which was routed, while the US 2nd Infantry Division to their left mounted a stronger defense before gradually giving up ground. By 19 May the PVA/KPA advance was losing momentum due to reinforcement of the UN forces, supply difficulties and mounting losses from UN air and artillery strikes. On 20 May the UN launched a counterattack on the west of the front and the PVA/KPA began to withdraw after suffering heavy losses with the offensive coming to an end on 22 May.
Intent on confronting enemy forces with the most formidable defenses yet, General Van Fleet on 30 April ordered the length of No Name line fortified like its line Golden segment around Seoul. Fortifications were to include log and sandbag bunkers, multiple bands of barbed wire with antipersonnel mines interspersed, and 55-gallon drums of napalm mixed with gasoline set out in front of defensive positions and rigged for detonation from the bunkers. Van Fleet also wanted provision made for counterattacking quickly once the enemy had been turned back.
Van Fleet expected the enemy’s next principal effort to come either in the west, as had the main force of the April attacks, or on his central front. Judging the Uijongbu-Seoul, Pukhan River, and Ch’unch’on-Hongch’on corridors to be the most likely axes of enemy advance, he shifted forces by 4 May to place most of his strength and all U.S. divisions in the western and central sectors and aligned the I, IX, and X Corps so that each was responsible for one of these avenues. Deployed around Seoul, the I Corps blocked the Uijongbu approach with the ROK 1st, 1st Cavalry, and 25th Divisions on line and the 3d Division and British 29th Brigade in reserve. The IX Corps, its sector narrowed by a westward shift of its right boundary, now had the British 28th Brigade, 24th Division, ROK 2d Division, ROK 6th Division, and 7th Division west to east on No Name line and the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in reserve for defense against an enemy strike down or out of the Pukhan River valley. In the left portion of the X Corps sector, the 1st Marine Division and the 2d Division, less the bulk of the 23d Infantry in corps reserve, covered the Ch’unch’on-Hongch’on axis. Though the concentration of strength in the western and central areas left the remainder of the front comparatively thin, Van Fleet believed that the six ROK divisions in the east- the 5th and 7th in the right portion of the X Corps sector, the 9th and 3d in the ROK III Corps sector, and the Capital and 11th in the ROK I Corps sector- could hold the line since opposing North Korean forces were weak and since the terrain barriers of the higher Taebaeks favored defense
Along with his 30 April instructions for the defense of No Name line, Van Fleet ordered intensive patrolling to locate and identify enemy formations as they continued to move out of contact. Patrols searching three to five miles above the front during the first two days of May, however, encountered no major enemy force except at the I Corps left where ROK 1st Division patrols found the North Korean 8th Division deployed astride Route 1. To deepen the search in the west and central areas, Van Fleet ordered patrol bases set up five to six miles out along a line reaching east as far as Route 24 in the X Corps sector. Each division fronted by this line was to establish a regimental combat team in a base position organized for perimeter defense. Patrols operating from the bases could work farther north with full fire support, and the forward positions would deepen the defense in the sectors where Van Fleet expected to be most heavily attacked. While the fortification of No Name line continued, the front east of Route 24 was to be advanced six to fifteen miles to line Missouri, both to restore contact and to clear a stretch of Route 24 and a connecting secondary road angling east to the coast for use as a supply route by the ROK divisions defending the sector. Van Fleet also directed a foray to destroy North Korean forces in the I Corps’ west sector after the 8th Division stopped short the 12th Regiment of the ROK 1st Division’s at tempt to establish a patrol base up Route 1 on 4 May.
The six ROK divisions in the east opened the advance toward line Missouri on the 7th. Along the coast, ROK I Corps forces met almost no opposition, and on the 9th the ROK 11th Division’s tank destroyer battalion scooted some sixteen miles beyond the Missouri line to occupy the town of Kansong, where Route 24 ended in a junction with the coastal highway. Forces of the ROK 5th Division on the left flank of the advance in the X Corps zone reached line Missouri the same day. The other four divisions, though still as much as ten miles short of the line on the 9th, had made long daily gains against scattered delaying forces. In the west, the bulk of the ROK 1st Division advancing up Route 1 between 7 and 9 May levered North Korean forces out of successive positions and finally forced them into a general withdrawal. Setting the 15th Regiment in a patrol base six miles up Route 1, General Kang pulled his remaining forces back into his No Name fortifications.
From other bases in the I, IX, and X Corps sectors, patrols doubled the depth of their previous reconnaissance but had no more success in making firm contact than had patrols working from No Name line. Available intelligence in formation indicated that the 64th, 12th, 60th, and 20th Armies were completely off the west and west central fronts for refurbishing and that each of the four armies still in those sectors- the 65th, 63d, 15th, and 27th- had only one division forward as a screen while remaining divisions prepared to resume the offensive. Since there were no firm indications that the resumption was an immediate prospect, however, General Van Fleet on 9 May issued plans for returning the Eighth Army to line Kansas. In the first phase of the return the I, IX, and X Corps were to attack, tentatively on the 12th, toward line Topeka running from Munsan-ni east through Ch’unch’on, then northeast toward Inje. The ROK III Corps and ROK I Corps in the east meanwhile were to continue their attack to line Missouri, a step which would carry them above the Kansas line.
Van Fleet decided against the Topeka advance on the 11th after changes in the intelligence picture indicated that enemy forces were within a few days of reopening their offensive. Air observation of enemy troops where none previously had been seen suggested forward movements under cover of darkness, reports told of large enemy reconnaissance patrols, and both agents and prisoners alleged an early resumption of the offensive. Extensive smoke screens rose north of the 38th parallel ahead of the IX Corps and above the Hwach’on Reservoir in the X Corps sector. Drawing Van Fleet’s particular notice were reports that five armies- the 60th, 15th, 12th, 27th, and 20th- were massing west of the Pukhan for a major attack in the west central sector. In further instructions for defense, Van Fleet ordered the No Name fortifications improved and directed General Hoge to give special attention to the Pukhan corridor, where the heaviest enemy buildup was reported. Hoge was to place the bulk of the IX Corps artillery on that flank. “I want to stop the Chinese here and hurt him,” Van Fleet told Hoge. “I welcome his attack and want to be strong enough in position and fire power to defeat him.”
Lavish artillery fire, in particular, was to be used. If gun positions could be kept supplied with ammunition, Van Fleet wanted five times the normal day of fire expended against enemy attacks. As calculated by his G-4, Colonel Stebbins, the “Van Fleet day of fire” could be supported for at least seven days, although transportation could become a problem since Stebbins could not haul other supplies while handling
that amount of ammunition. Rations and petroleum products already stocked in corps sectors, however, would last for more than seven days.
Immediate army reserves for the advance to line Topeka were to have been the 3d Division, to be withdrawn from the I Corps, and the Canadian 25th Infantry Brigade, which had reached Korea on 5 May. Having undergone extensive training at Fort Lewis, Washington, the brigade would be ready to join operations after brief tune-up exercises in the Pusan area. Though the Topeka advance was off, Van Fleet ordered the Canadians to move north, beginning on 15 May, to Kumnyangjang-ni, twenty-five miles southeast of Seoul, and prepare to counter any enemy penetration in the Pukhan or Seoul-Suwon corridors. The 3d Division was still to pass to army reserve and organize forces capable of reinforcing or counterattacking in the I, IX, or X Corps sectors in at least regimental combat team strength on six hours’ notice. Beginning on the 11th the 15th Regimental Combat Team assembled near Ich’on, at the intersection of Routes 13 and 20 thirty-five miles southeast of Seoul, ready to move on call into the X Corps sector; for operations in support of the IX Corps, the 65th Regimental Combat Team assembled near Kyongan-ni, twenty miles southeast of Seoul and directly below the Pukhan River corridor; and the 7th Regimental Combat Team assembled in Seoul for missions in the I Corps sector.
The six ROK divisions on the eastern front were to stay forward of No Name line but were not to make further attempts to occupy line Missouri. In the X Corps sector, the ROK 5th and 7th Divisions, whose forces had all but reached the Soyang River southwest of Inje, were to fortify their present positions. The ROK III Corps and ROK I Corps were to set their four divisions in fortified defenses between the lower bank of the Soyang south of Inje and the town of Kangson-ni, five miles north of Yangyang on the coast, after conducting spoiling attacks on 12 May in the two principal communications centers ahead of them, Inje and Yongdae-ri, the latter located on Route 24 fifteen miles northeast of Inje. The
reconnaissance company of the ROK 9th Division already had entered Inje without a fight during the afternoon of the 11th and dispersed an enemy force about a mile beyond the town before retiring on the 12th, but other forces of the two South Korean corps were prevented by distance and moderate resistance from reaching the objectives of their attacks in the one day allotted for them.
Light contact along the remainder of the front revealed little about enemy dispositions, but the composite of reports from air observers, agents, civilians, and prisoners made clear by 13 May that major Chinese forces had begun to shift eastward from the west and west central sectors. Steady rain and fog all but eliminated further air observation on 14 and 15 May; poor visibility also hampered ground patrols; and a IX Corps reconnaissance-in-force by the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team up the valley northeast of Kap’yong toward what was believed to be a large concentration of enemy forces had to be canceled shortly after it started on the 15th because of the rain and poor road conditions. As much as could be determined by 16 May was that the eastward shift probably extended to the Ch’unch’on area.
A few reports tracing the shift indicated that some Chinese units would move beyond Ch’unch’on. According to a Chinese medical officer captured northeast of Seoul on 10 May, the 12th Army and two other armies were scheduled to leave the west central area late on the 10th, march east for four days, then attack the 2d Division and the ROK divisions on the eastern front. Another captive taken on the 13th in the same general area said that the 15th Army was to march east for three days and attack the 2d Division in conjunction with North Korean attacks on the ROK front. Large enemy groups reported by X Corps observers to be moving east as far as Yanggu on the 11th and 12th were believed to be Chinese, and a deserter from the engineer battalion of the 80th Division, 27th Army, picked up on the 13th in the Ch’unch’on area stated that his battalion had been bridging the Pukhan. The X Corps G2 believed it most likely, however, that the forces moving east of the Pukhan as far as Yanggu were from the 39th Army or 40th Army, both of which had been in the east central sector for some time. In any event, he considered major Chinese operations on the eastern front to be impracticable. Given the logistical difficulties the Chinese experienced in supporting offensive operations even in the Seoul area, where the distance to their rear supply bases was shortest and where the roads were more numerous and in better condition than anywhere else, he doubted that they would commit a large force in the eastern mountains where a supply line could not be maintained and where living off the land would be almost impossible. The Eighth Army intelligence staff as of 16 May had no corroborating evidence of the reported movement east of the Pukhan and even had some doubt that the Chinese shift extended as far east as Ch’unch’on.
According to the consensus of current estimates of enemy dispositions as of the 16th, the North Korean I Corps on the west had spread forces eastward toward Route 33, taking over ground previously occupied by the XIX Army Group. The 65th Army astride Route 33 north of Uijongbu and the 63d Army in the adjacent ground to the east formed the new front of the XIX Army Group. Reports placed the 64th Army northwest of the 65th. West to east, the 60th, 15th, and 12th Armies were believed to occupy the new front of the III Army Group from a point above the Pukhan River in the vicinity of Kap’yong eastward almost to Ch’unch’on. More tentatively located, the 20th and 27th Armies of the IX Army Group were reported to be off the front in the area north of Ch’unch’on and the group’s 26th Army possibly in the same vicinity. The XIII Army Group apparently was still on the east central front, its 40th Army astride Route 17 just above Ch’unch’on and the 39th Army next to the east with its bulk between the Hwach’on Reservoir and the Soyang River and light forces occupying a bridgehead below the Soyang between Ch’unch’on and the river town of Naep’yong-ni some ten miles upstream to the northeast. On the basis of these dispositions, General Van Fleet continued to believe that the main enemy effort would come in the west central sector, probably toward the Han River corridor, and would be made by five armies, the 60th, 15th, 12th, 27th, and 20th. He also anticipated strong attacks toward Seoul over Route I and through the Uijongbu corridor as well as another on the Ch’unch’on-Hongch’on axis.
The actual extent of the Chinese shift from the west had been indicated by the few reports of planned and ongoing movements beyond the Pukhan. By 16 May Peng Tehhuai had moved five armies into the area along the Soyang River between Ch’unch’on and Inje behind screening forces of the 39th Army and the North Korean III Corps. The 60th Army and 15th Army of the III Army Group were in the area between Ch’unch’on and Naep’yong-ni. At and immediately beyond Naep’yong-ni was the 12th Army, organic to the III Army Group but now attached to the IX Army Group. Farthest east, the 27th Army and 20th Army of the IX Army Group were clustered in the vicinity of Kwandae-ri just west of Inje.
Peng planned to launch his main attack on a southeastward course below the Naep’yongni-Kwandae-ri stretch of the Soyang. His reason for shifting the main effort into the higher Taebaeks despite the portended logistical problems may have surfaced when Chinese captured in March, April, and early May were asked about the worth of People’s Liberation Army weapons, training, and tactics. Almost unanimously the captives considered the army’s armament, preparations, and precepts to be inadequate for the conditions of battle in Korea. Depreciating the “man over weapons” doctrine, they conceded that men in superior numbers could defeat an enemy superior in other respects only if the enemy’s superiority was not too great. Such a realization by the enemy high command could have influenced the decision to move the main effort: perhaps Peng chose to attack through some of the most difficult ground on the front because the rugged ridges and sparse road net would reduce to some degree the U.N. Command’s advantage of superior mobility, firepower, and air power.
As revealed by the captives taken on 10 and 13 May, the objective of the main effort- to be launched during the evening of the 16th by the 15th, 12th, and 27th Armies- was to sever the six ROK divisions on the eastern front from the remainder of the Eighth Army, to annihilate them, and to destroy the 2d Division. In support of the main effort, the North Korean V Corps was to attack out of the Inje area in the ROK III Corps sector, and the North Korean II Corps, which had moved down from Hoeyang where it had been refurbishing since late March, was to attack along the east coast and atop the Taebaeks against the ROK I Corps. On the west flank of the main attack, the 60th Army, less its 181st Division, which had been attached to the 12th Army to reinforce the main effort, was to conduct a holding attack against the 1st Marine Division. The XIX Army Group, now stretched out from the Kap’yong area west to Route 33 above Uijongbu, and the North Korean I Corps, astride Route 1, were to make similar attacks in the IX Corps and I Corps sectors.
Crossing the Soyang northwest of Kwandae-ri with its 81st Division in the van, the 27th Army opened against the ROK 5th and 7th Divisions with hard blows centered at the seam between the two divisions that almost immediately began to dislodge the line regiments. General Almond authorized the two divisions to withdraw to No Name line around midnight. A successful withdrawal by the artillery of both divisions down Route 24 into the sector of the 2d Division may have caused erroneous early morning reports that the two divisions were regrouping on No Name line. Later reports revealed a familiar story of infantry units scattered by enemy attacks while they were attempting to disengage, broken communications, loss of control, a search for missing troops, and the reorganization of those that could be found. Reordered forces of the ROK 5th Division were set out in echelon to the southeast along the 2d Division’s right flank. By noon on the 17th the only infantry units of the ROK 7th Division that had been located were two battalions of the reserve 3d Regiment which were in position and engaged six miles behind No Name line near the village of Sangam-ni on the primitive road whose stretch northeast to Hyon-ni and then Northwest to Inje was the single route serving the ROK III Corps sector. Engaging the 3d Regiment were forces of the 81st Division, whose main body had slashed southeast through the ground abandoned by the ROK 7th Division to block the road just above Sangam-ni.
The 30th Field Artillery Battalion of the ROK 9th Division discovered the roadblock the hard way while displacing as a result of orders from ROK Army forward headquarters calling the ROK III Corps and the ROK I Corps back to No Name line. Though the two corps had held up well under attacks by the 6th and 12th Divisions of the North Korean V Corps and the 27th and 2d Divisions of the North Korean II Corps, General Almond’s midnight action allowing the ROK 5th and 7th Divisions to retire to No Name line had led the ROK Army headquarters to follow suit on the morning of the 17th. As the two ROK III Corps divisions drew back to No Name positions centered above Hyon-ni, staying scarcely a step ahead of pursuing North Korean forces, their artillery battalions (the 30th followed in column by the 11th of the ROK 3d Division) moved below Hyon-ni toward Sangam-ni. The Chinese blocking force waited until the 30th, filled a narrow stretch of road twisting through a steep-sided defile in the heart of its position, then blanketed the artillerymen with fire. In the scramble out of the trap, only the tailend battery saved its guns and vehicles. By evening the 11th Battalion and the crippled 30th Battalion returned north to firing positions in the Hyon-ni area. General Yu meanwhile sent the corps reserve, a regiment of the ROK 9th Division, south from Hyon-ni to deal with the block, but its efforts were futile against the stronger Chinese force. With the west flank left open by the collapse of the ROK 7th Division, the ROK III Corps was in danger of being enveloped, or, with the Chinese 81st Division continuing to block the road to the rear and the North Korean 6th and 12th Divisions still pushing in from the north, of being caught in a costly squeeze.
With the right flank of the 2d Division no more than sketchily protected by ROK 5th Division units, General Ruffner’s forces also faced the prospect of being enveloped. Indeed, if any American division seemed destined to be repeatedly involved in hard defensive battles, it was the 2d. And, as in its difficult engagement along the Ch’ongch’on River in late November, the division was again to be threatened from the east after ROK forces gave way while it contended with strong Chinese attacks from the north.
General Ruffner had manned the left and center of the division’s fifteen-mile sector south of Naep’yong-ni with the 9th and 38th Regiments and had reconstituted Task Force Zebra, the tankinfantry group that had performed well in late April, to occupy the line at the right. The French battalion, the only division reserve, was at Han’gye on Route 24, about five miles behind the Zebra line, deliberately set there by Ruffner to reinforce quickly the somewhat thin task force position.
Under earlier orders to send daily patrols to the Soyang in the area immediately east of Ch’unch’on, the 9th Infantry had deployed one battalion on No Name line and two in patrol bases. On the highest ground in the division sector, two battalions of the 38th Infantry occupied a string of prominent heights along No Name line, the 3d at the left, the 1st at the right. (Map 36) Two miles out on the west, the 2d Battalion manned a patrol base that blocked ridgeline and valley approaches to the 3d Battalion’s position. Above the right flank of the 1st Battalion, a provisional company of South Korean rangers held a blocking position on a ridge offering enemy forces a good approach down the boundary between the 38th Infantry and Task Force Zebra. Colonel Coughlin, commander of the 38th, had set the attached Netherlands battalion on Hills 710 and 975 behind the 1st Battalion with instructions to be prepared to counterattack anywhere in the 1st’s sector.
Task Force Zebra, led as before by Lt. Col. Elbridge L. Brubaker, commander of the 72d Tank Battalion, now included all but one company of the tank battalion; the 2d Battalion, 23d Infantry; the 1st Ranger Company; the Ivanhoe Security Force (a provisional company of South Korean troops originally organized for division rear area security missions); and the 3d Battalion, ROK 36th Regiment, attached from the ROK 5th Division. The ROK battalion occupied a patrol base along the trace of the Missouri line and the Ivanhoe Security Force a forward blocking position adjacent to the 38th Infantry’s ROK rangers on the west flank. On No Name line, the 2d Battalion of the 23d Infantry, Company C of the tank battalion, and the ranger company stood athwart both Route 24 angling in from the northeast through the Hongch’on River valley and a minor road running down a valley from the northwest and joining Route 24 just behind the task force position. West to east on ridges commanding the two roads were Companies F, E, and G and the rangers. The tanks stood behind barricades of wire and minefields blocking both valleys, though not the roads, which had been left free of obstacles to allow patrols to pass through. Company B of the tank battalion, in reserve, and the trains and command post of the 2d Battalion, 23d Infantry, were at the valley village of Chaun-ni, on Route 24 two miles behind the lines. Colonel Brubaker’s command post was farther down Route 24 at the village of Putchaetful.
Jarring daylight probes of the Zebra patrol base and sharp patrol skirmishes close to the lines of the 38th Infantry were forerunners of attacks by one division of the 15th Army and two divisions
of the 12th. In the 12th Army’s attack, launched about dusk, the press of 35th Division forces along the 38th Infantry-Task Force Zebra boundary jammed the Ivanhoe Security Force and adjacent company of ROK rangers back against Company F, 23d Infantry, before defensive fires smothered the assault. On the 12th’s east wing, the 92d Regiment, 31st Division, attacking the Zebra patrol base expelled and disorganized the 3d Battalion, ROK 36th Regiment. South Koreans streamed through the main Zebra line until midnight, most of them down the northwest valley defended by the 3d Platoon of Company C, 72d Tank Battalion. French troops at Han’gye collected the disordered groups as they continued down Route 24 and assembled them for reorganization and screening for enemy infiltration.
Shortly after midnight, fifty or sixty Chinese leading a column of the 92d Regiment in pursuit of the South Koreans charged through the opening in the northernmost of two wire aprons strung across the valley. Forced off the road by fire from the tankers, the Chinese deployed to the left and right, exploding mines and setting off trip flares. The larger body of enemy to the rear deployed under the light of the flares, and successive lines of skirmishers attempted to break the wire and reach the tanks. The 3d Platoon, reinforced by the 2d Platoon, shot down waves of charging troops while artillery fire walked up the valley above the wire. When the Chinese gave up the effort shortly before dawn, enemy bodies hanging in the wire, sprawled in the minefields, and lying on the road and high ground to the north numbered about four hundred fifty.
First to feel the sting of hard attack in the 38th Infantry’s sector was the 2d Battalion. Concentrating on Company E on Hill 755 at the center of the patrol base, a force from the 45th Division, 15th Army, though delayed and hurt while breaching minefields and wire entanglements, drove off the company with the second wave of its assault. About 0230, as the attack spread to Company F on the left flank of the split position, Colonel Coughlin ordered the patrol base force to withdraw behind the 3d Battalion. Apparently spent by the effort to take Hill 755 and blanketed by covering artillery f-ire, the Chinese made no immediate attempt to follow the withdrawal.
At the right of the 1st Battalion, platoons of Companies A and C occupying Hills 1051 and 914 and a saddle between turned back a series of attacks opened at dusk by small units of the 35th Division in concert with the assaults that drove back the two provisional ROK companies along the 38th Infantry-Task Force Zebra boundary. But following these apparent tests of the defenses, a full attack by the division’s 103d Regiment about 0200 shoved Company A forces out of the saddle, opening the way for a sweep behind the 1st Battalion or for a deep penetration down a valley leading southeast to Route 24 at Putchaetful, well behind the positions of Task Force Zebra. Colonel Coughlin kept the gap under mortar and artillery fire for the rest of the night and ordered the Netherlands battalion to send a company north from Hill 975 at first light to close it. General Ruffner directed the French battalion to send a company up the valley from Putchaetful to clean out any Chinese who sifted through the mortar and artillery barrages.
Moving from Hill 975 toward Hill 1051 on the near side of the saddle, the Dutch company lacked the numbers to push through Chinese who by daylight closed in around a platoon of Company A on the 1051 crest. The remainder of the Netherlands battalion, under Colonel Coughlin’s order, joined its forward company about 0930, but, finding that Hill 1051 had fallen to the Chinese, the Dutch commander, Lt. Col. William D. H. Eekhout, held up his advance while he softened the height and the saddle beyond with artillery. French troops meanwhile advancing up the valley northwest of Putchaetful engaged enemy forces less than two miles above Route 24. An estimated five hundred Chinese had worked their way into the valley. That more were on the way became clear when a Chinese-speaking radioman with the Netherlands battalion at midmorning intercepted a Chinese order to “send all troops east of Hill 1051.” That neither sender nor recipient of the order was identifiable made estimating the strength of the forces involved impossible, but the Chinese obviously planned to exploit the breakthrough. Expecting that the Dutch attack to close the gap would start shortly, General Ruffner ordered the French to assist by reinforcing the drive up the valley; he urged speed so that the gap would be eliminated before the Chinese could pour troops through.
Before the Dutch and French were able to move, “literally thousands” of Chinese, according to 38th Infantry estimates, were passing through the gap by 1100. Groups moving along the far edge of the saddle widened the opening by forcing a platoon of Company C off Hill 914. Chinese killed or wounded by artillery pounding the saddle and the area below it marked the paths of the larger number veering east toward the front of Task Force Zebra and of the remainder heading down the valley toward the French. Viewing this scene from the vicinity of Hill 1051, Colonel Eekhout continued to hold up the Dutch attack.
After the opening Chinese attacks and South Korean withdrawals had exposed the division’s east flank and bared the Task Force Zebra front, General Ruffner had asked General Almond to return the remainder of the 23d Infantry from corps reserve for use in thickening the Zebra position. Almond released the regiment about 1130 after the Chinese strength on the Zebra front began to build. Taking command of the front, including all Zebra forces and the French battalion, at 1430, Colonel Chiles concentrated the 2d Battalion in the left half of the sector, put in the 3d Battalion on the right, and placed the 1st Battalion in reserve just above Han’gye. Except for exchanging fire with Company F on the left flank, the Chinese moving onto the front were inactive throughout the afternoon, but their number continued to grow as the Netherlands battalion, though Colonel Coughlin on orders from General Ruffner instructed it to attack at 1300, failed to advance.
General Ruffner sensed from the Dutch failure to move that Colonel Coughlin “was looking half way over the shoulder” instead of concentrating on the essential task of closing the gap. Ruffner again ordered the Dutch to attack, this time at 1500, and started forward by helicopter to direct the attempt himself, but his craft crashed on a hilltop near the 1st Battalion command post. Neither Ruffner nor his pilot was seriously injured, but Ruffner was stranded well beyond the time set for opening the attack. Hiking to the battalion command post to meet a rescue helicopter sent out by the division surgeon, he returned to his headquarters after receiving assurances that the Dutch had jumped off on time. There he learned that Chinese on and around Hill 1051 had stymied the Dutch and that Chinese on the far side of the gap had shoved Company C completely out of position and forced its remnants back to the position of Company F, 23d Infantry. Ruffner now considered two courses open to him- to commit greater strength against the enemy penetration or to set troops along its southwest shoulder, a move which, with the French battalion blocking the valley in the 23d Infantry sector, would, if somewhat thinly, seal off the penetration. He opted for the second course. By evening he had the Netherlands battalion on the way to occupy Hill 975 and thus extend the right flank of Company A, 38th Infantry, now on Hill 790 about a mile below Hill 1051, and had the 2d Battalion of the 38th moving up to defend a ridge curving southeast of Hill 975 to Hill 691.
In search of reserves to back up his hardpressed central forces, Ruffner at midmorning had asked General Almond’s permission to pull the two patrol base battalions of the 9th Infantry out of the left sector, which was obviously outside the zone of the enemy’s main attack. Almond instructed him to plan the move but deferred a final decision until he (Almond) could determine how the removal of the two battalions would affect the dispositions of the 1st Marine Division. Almond raised the matter with General Van Fleet during the afternoon while apprising the army commander of the corps situation and bidding for reinforcement. Given the course of enemy attacks and the enemy units so far identified, Almond believed that Peng Tehhuai was attempting to turn the right flank of the X Corps with the 27th Army, would wait until the 27th seriously threatened the flank, then would make his main effort down the Ch’unch’on-Hongch’on axis with the III
Army Group. Captives taken during a local but stiff four-hour nighttime attack on a battalion of the 7th Marines occupying a forward blocking position on Route 29 had identified the 180th Division of the 60th Army, indicating that the full III Army Group was in position for an attack such as Almond anticipated. Almond doubted that the X Corps could hold against an enemy move of this design unless the corps’ hard-hit center and tattered right were strengthened. In immediate reinforcement he asked for a regimental combat team to help stabilize his right flank and for one heavy and two medium artillery battalions to increase long range fire on enemy concentration areas.
To enable the 2d Division to place more of its strength in the threatened areas, General Van Fleet moved the IX Corps-X Corps boundary four miles east. In the resulting shift of units, the 7th Division on the IX Corps right was to take over part of the 1st Marine Division’s sector, and marines were to relieve the 9th and 38th Regiments, freeing them for employment farther east. Van Fleet also ordered the ROK III Corps and ROK I Corps back to line Waco, which he had delineated in his withdrawal plan of 28 April, some twelve to eighteen miles south of No Name line. Allowing the ROK III Corps no option, he ordered General Yu to eliminate the enemy roadblock at Sangam-ni so that all vehicles and weapons could be evacuated. On the X Corps right, General Almond was to organize positions angling southeast to a juncture with the ROK III Corps on the Waco line above the village of Habae-jae.
Reinforcements ordered to the X Corps sector by Van Fleet included the ROK 8th Division, which was to move north, initially to Chech’on, as soon as security battalions and national police could take over its antiguerrilla mission in southern Korea. An earlier arrival would be the 3d Division less its 7th and 65th Regimental Combat Teams. Geared for a move to the X Corps sector since I I May, the leading battalion of the 15th Regimental Combat Team made the seventy-mile trip from its assembly area southeast of Seoul to Hoengsong by midmorning of the 17th. The remainder of the force, which included the division’s medium artillery battalion, completed the move early on the 18th. Also sent east by Van Fleet were a battery of 155-mm. guns and a battery of 8-inch howitzers, both taken from the IX Corps. These additions gave Almond a total of five battalions and four batteries of medium and heavy artillery.
In shifting marines east into the 2d Division’s sector, Almond initially ordered the relief of the 9th Infantry by noon on the 18th. Maj. Gen. Gerald C. Thomas, the new commander of the 1st Marine Division, made the move by pulling the 7th Marines back from their forward patrol base and blocking positions to relieve the 1st Marines on No Name line at the division’s right, then by sidestepping the 1st Marines onto the 9th Infantry’s front. The 5th Marines, on the division’s left flank, later were to swing roundabout into the 38th Infantry’s sector after being replaced by forces of the 7th Division.
Meanwhile, late on the 17th Almond authorized both divisional and corps artillery units to quintuple their ammunition expenditure (the Van Fleet day of fire) and directed them to concentrate fire on likely avenues of enemy approach within three thousand yards of defensive positions. Ammunition expenditure would increase dramatically, reaching 41,350 rounds and 1,187 tons on 18 May and even higher amounts afterward. As had been predicted by the Eighth Army G-4, sufficient ammunition to support the heavy expenditure was maintained at the army supply point serving the X Corps, but not without difficulty. The supply point stocks of two days of fire at the Van Fleet rate dwindled to one and could not be raised above that amount. The high consumption also strained corps and unit transportation in hauling ammunition from the army supply point at Wonju to the base corps dump at Hongch’on, a round trip of over sixty miles, and from Hongch’on to artillery units. But resupply at the guns did remain adequate.
The use of MPQ radars to direct bombers in close support missions at night, a technique employed only sparingly until April, also reached a peak, particularly in guiding B-29 sorties. On 17 May General Stratemeyer directed that no fewer than twelve of the medium bombers be committed to the nightly support. Typical of one night’s effort was a drop of three hundred fifty 500-pound proximity-fuzed general purpose bombs on twenty targets selected by X Corps headquarters, all of them enemy troop concentrations, some within four hundred yards of the front. Casualty estimates by follow-up patrols and the statements of captives attested to the precision of the radar guided attacks.
In the 2d Division sector, the main nighttime targets of air and artillery attack-most observed in their approach well before dark on the 17thwere fresh enemy columns coming in on the positions of the 38th Infantry, passing through the gap, and moving east across the front of the 23d Infantry. Crowding the front of the 3d Battalion, 38th Infantry, forces of the 135th Regiment, 45th Division, broke the wire and penetrated the line, but with losses too high to be able to withstand counterattacks. Sweeps to clear rear areas and a final counterattack to drive out Chinese who had occupied some of the bunkers restored the battalion’s position early on the 18th.
To the east, the course of battle meanwhile verged on the calamitous and chaotic for Chinese and 2d Division forces alike. From late afternoon traffic on the artillery net Colonel Coughlin estimated the strength of the new influx of enemy forces in the gap area to be three thousand. Early evening reports from the Netherlands battalion on Hill 975 tended higher. The Dutch reported Chinese in waves of a thousand each crossing the saddle between Hills 1051 and 914 and walking upright through the artillery bombardment rather than in the crouch that soldiers tend to assume when moving under heavy fire. Those not hit were simply stepping over the fallen to continue moving down the valley. On the receiving end of the Chinese stream, the 23d Infantry commander, Colonel Chiles, reported to General Ruffner that bombing attacks and artillery barrages rolling up the valley were carpeting the defile with enemy casualties.
The estimates of enemy strength and losses were not far off the mark. Coming through the fire-beaten gap and valley was the 181st Division, the 60th Army unit now attached to the 12th Army. Its leading units had the French battalion under attack by dark. Sharply hit from the front and flanked on the left after two hours under assault, the French withdrew a mile south to hills edging Route 24 just above Putchaetful. The battalion gained respite from attack for the remainder of the night, but its withdrawal opened the left flank of the 23d Infantry and gave the Chinese free access to Route 24 between Putchaetful and Chaun-ni. Small enemy groups infiltrating Chaun-ni about 0330 harassed the command posts of the 2d and 3d Battalions, 23d Infantry, and Company C, 72d Tank Battalion, and blew up a loaded ammunition truck before pulling back into the high ground west of the village. Of larger moment, the bulk of the enemy division filled the hills bordering Route 24 on the west between Chaun-ni and the French battalion. Forces on the south reengaged the French while detachments slipping out of the hills about daylight mined the road a half mile below Chaun-ni and at a second point farther south within view of the French.
Along the front of the 23d Infantry, Chinese abused Company F on the left flank with fire and assault until about midnight, then broke contact and moved east. The reach of an apparent general enemy movement east and then south had been indicated earlier when the ROK 5th Division units echeloned along the right flank of the 23d reported heavy pressure and, with General Almond’s approval, withdrew behind a lateral stretch of the Hongch’on River almost due east of Chaun-ni. Leading the southeastward swing was the 31st Division, sliding east onto the front of the 23d Infantry was the 35th Division, and approaching from the northwest to join the move was the 34th Division, which, when inserted between the 31st and 35th Divisions on the 18th, would fully commit the 12th Army. The 4th Platoon of Company C, 72d Tank Battalion, moved out to the immediate right rear of the 3d Battalion following the South Korean withdrawal, but a wide expanse of ground along the right of the regiment remained open. With an uncovered flank inviting envelopment by the enemy forces sweeping it on the east and its withdrawal route blocked by the 181st Division, the 23d Infantry by daylight on the 18th was in a situation similar to that of the ROK III Corps.
The situation in the sectors of the 1st and 2d Battalions, 38th Infantry, by morning of the 18th was equally critical. Between these two battalions, the position of the Netherlands battalion on Hill 975 had crumbled of its own accord early the previous evening when most of the Dutch troops, after witnessing the flow of Chinese through the gap, streamed off the height. “They have seen so many Chinamen and so much firing today,” Colonel Coughlin explained to General Ruffner, and they “think that if our air and artillery can’t stop them then there’s not much they can do.” Though their commander, Colonel Eekhout, regained control quickly, Colonel Coughlin, at General Ruffner’s instruction, sent the battalion into an assembly near Hang’ye for rest and reorganization and stretched out the forces of Company A and F to man the vacated position.
Repair of the line at Hill 975 was still under way when 44th Division forces broke it farther west with a hard punch at the juncture of Company B and Company A. Chinese coming through lapped around Company B on Hill 724 and piled up on Hill 710 behind Companies A and F. Company E, sent west from the Hill 975-Hill 691 ridge by Coughlin to plug the new gap, bogged down in encounters at Hill 710, while Chinese moving south off 710 surrounded and attacked the command posts of the 1st and 2d Battalions collocated at the foot of the height and blocked the regimental supply road a mile farther south. In what turned out to be an overreaction to the deeper enemy incursion, Coughlin ordered back both Company E from Hill 710 and Company G from the 975-691 ridge and sent a platoon of his tank company and a detachment of Dutch troops up the supply road to clear the command post area. With little help needed from the rifle companies, the tank-infantry team eliminated the enemy roadblock and opened a way out for the beleaguered command post group by morning of the 18th.
None of the three forward companies was under heavy pressure at daylight, but Company B remained surrounded, and Companies A and F were isolated by the Chinese behind them. To the east, the 23d Infantry was strained by heavy morning attacks, especially Company F on the left flank and Company I on the right. As the attacks began to lash the 23d, General Ruffner convinced General Almond that the 23d and the adjoining three companies of the 38th had to withdraw immediately if they were to withdraw in good order. Almond instructed Ruffner to establish a line running from the still solid position of Coughlin’s 3d Battalion in the Hill 800 complex southeast through Han’gye to Hill 693 six miles beyond Route 24. To meet General Van Fleet’s earlier order that the X Corps tie in with the ROK III Corps on line Waco, Almond extended the line another thirteen miles to the vicinity of Habae-jae; along the extension he planned initially to set up blocking positions using available units of the ROK 5th, 3d, and ROK 7th Divisions.
In earlier moves to deepen the defense in the 38th Infantry sector, General Ruffner during the night had shifted the 3d Battalion, 9th Infantry, east to positions behind Colonel Coughlin’s 3d Battalion and shortly before daylight had ordered the 2d Battalion of the 9th to move roundabout and come up on the right in the ground just west of Han’gye. Upon relief by the 1st Marines around noon the 9th’s remaining battalion was now to insert itself between the 3d and 2d as the regiment developed defenses along the divisions modified line between Hill 800 and Route 24. During the shift of battalions, which would continue well into the afternoon, the 3d Battalion and later the 2d were to send forces forward to break the ring of Chinese around Company B of the 38th and clear Hill 710 behind Companies A and F to assist their withdrawal. Once the three companies were back, the 38th Infantry, less its 3d Battalion, was to become division reserve.
For the 23d Infantry, assigned to occupy the new line east of Route 24, the chief problem in getting back to the line was the road block below Chaun-ni. Threatened in particular by the block were the trains of the 2d and 3d Battalions, Company C of the 72d Tank Battalion, and two platoons of the heavy mortar company, all located in and around Chaun-ni with no alternate withdrawal route for wheeled vehicles. To the clear the road for the trains, Colonel Chiles organized a twopronged attack, the 3d Battalion to make sure that the east side of the road was clear, the 2d Battalion to take on the task of forcing back the Chinese occupying the heights bordering the road on the west. Company C of the 72d Tank Battalion was to bring up the rear, fending off the Chinese still pressing the line if they attempted to follow the disengagement. Two platoons of tanks from Company B of the 72d were to assist the attack of the 2d Battalion from firing positions in the river bottom east of the road opposite the Chinese blocking position.
The Chinese let the 3d Battalion go when it disengaged, but heavy tank fire, time on target artillery fire, and air strikes were needed to keep enemy forces off the tail of the 2d Battalion as it peeled off the line in a column of companies. Reaching the Chaun-ni area by early afternoon, the 3d Battalion occupied hills opposite the roadblock while the 2d Battalion attempted to
shove the Chinese away from the road. Holding the advantage of superior numbers on commanding ground, the Chinese within an hour convinced Colonel Chiles that his forces could not clear the enemy position, at least not with any dispatch. The danger of being rolled up from the north meanwhile was growing as Chinese coming into the area vacated by the 3d Battalion joined the attempt to follow the rearward move. Electing a faster, if riskier, course, Chiles ordered the trains to run by the roadblock with two platoons of tanks from Company C as escort. The 2d Battalion in the meantime was to cross the road at Chaun-ni and withdraw with the 3d.
During the morning the intelligence officer of the 72d Tank Battalion at Putchaetful had received a French report that Chinese had mined the road, and he had relayed the report to an enlisted man at the command post of the 2d Battalion of the 23d at Chaunni. At that point the information had somehow gone astray. A costly consequence of the communications lapse came when the convoy of wheeled vehicles interspersed among tanks traveling in fourth gear attempted its run. A mine in a field planted a half mile below Chaun-ni disabled the lead tank, trucks piled up behind, and enemy fire from the hills and draws to the west chased drivers and tank crews as they dropped down a twenty-foot embankment off the east shoulder of the road and splashed across the Hongch’on River to reach cover behind the tanks of Company B in the stream bed. The second tank in column shoved the abandoned trucks off the road and safely bypassed the knocked-out tank but lost a track in the minefield near the French position. Observing both explosions from Chaun-ni, a staff officer of the 2d Battalion ordered the remainder of the convoy to move east off the road just below the village and follow the stream bed south. The tanks churned in behind those of Company B, but under small arms, machine gun, and mortar fire ranging in from the west, panicky truck drivers drove helter-skelter into the hills beyond the stream bed. Some vehicles caught fire; ammunition trucks exploded; others eventually were halted by one or another accident of terrain. Leaving the hillside and draws looking like a disorganized salvage yard, drivers and riders joined the withdrawal of the 2d and 3d Battalions.
Stragglers and abandoned communications equipment, weapons, and personal gear dotted the track of the two battalions as they made a tiring march under flanking fire from the west for part of the way and under drenching rainstorms that broke about 1830. By midnight both units were behind the 1st Battalion, which during the afternoon had occupied the first ridge east of Route 24 on the new defense line. The 3d Battalion filled lower ground between the ridge and the road while the 2d Battalion and the French battalion, which had disengaged from the Chinese roadblock force as the two battalions east of the road had come abreast, assembled to the rear for the remainder of the night.
To the north, a final mishap occurred along Route 24 as the two remaining tank platoons of Company C brought up the rear of the withdrawal. Ordered by the company commander to leave the road at Chaun-ni and follow the stream bed south, as Company B already had done, one platoon missed the turnoff point and came upon the disabled tank a half mile below town. Unable to turn around in the narrow road space between the embankment on the east and steep slopes on the west and faced with the danger of mines to the south, the tankers chose the nearly vertical twenty-foot drop on their left. Two tanks snapped drive shafts in the plunge.
The two immobilized tanks raised Company C’s tank losses since 16 May to five. The trains of Company C, the 2d and 3d Battalions, and half the heavy mortar company-more than a hundred fifty vehicles, many with heavy weapons, ammunition, or other gear aboard-had been left behind and by dark were being picked over by Chinese. Casualties suffered by the 23d Infantry and its attachments totaled 72 killed, 158 wounded, and 190 missing. In return for these losses in men and equipment, the regiment exacted an estimated 2,228 killed and 1,400 wounded and took 22 prisoners from the Chinese 31st, 35th, and 181st Divisions.
West of Route 24, the withdrawal of the three companies of the 38th Infantry also took unexpected turns. By late afternoon the 9th Infantry reinforced by the Dutch battalion and Company G of the 38th had occupied positions between Hill 800 and Route 24 but had not cleared a way through the Chinese around Company B and behind Companies A and F. In a new plan for getting the three units out, Colonel Coughlin turned to the old technique of the rolling artillery barrage, coupling it to an umbrella of circling aircraft. For ten minutes ahead of the withdrawal, set for 1800, seven battalions of artillery-a mix of light, medium, and heavy guns-were to fire across the front of the companies, then at 1800 were to place concentrations on Hill 710 and to box in the three companies as they shifted east and withdrew down the 975-691 ridge. A liaison plane overhead was to control the delivery of air strikes and adjustment of the box as the companies moved and also was to relay all other communications.
A sudden, severe thunderstorm breaking twenty minutes after the start of the withdrawal drove all planes back to their bases and thus not only eliminated air support but also forced the artillery to stop firing the protective barrage and interrupted radio contact between Coughlin’s headquarters and the withdrawing units. Small groups filtering through the lines of the 9th Infantry during the remainder of the night were an indication of the final disruption caused by the storm. Head counts on the morning of the 19th were two officers and eighty-one men for Company A, no officers and seventyfour men for Company B, and no officers and eighty-one men for Company F. Casualties had reduced the other companies of both the 1st and 2d Battalions to similar figures. Officer losses in the 2d Battalion were especially high, among them the battalion commander, battalion executive officer, battalion operations officer, and two company commanders. The X Corps line shaped by the withdrawals and shifts on the 18th amounted to a deep salient with the 3d Battalion, 38th Infantry, at its apex in the Hill 800 complex and the 1st Marine Division presenting a solid face toward Ch’unch’on on its northwest shoulder. Along its upper northeast shoulder, the 9th Infantry and 23d Infantry carried the line from the Hill 800 mass beyond Han’gye to a point about three miles short of Hill 683, which General Almond had set as the eastern limit of the 2d Division’s new sector. The 683 height had fallen to the Chinese, however, when the ROK 5th Division forces that had taken position along the Hongch’on River east of Chaun-ni were driven back and disorganized during the day by the 34th Division. Units regrouped by nightfall- a mix of three battalions of infantry from the 35th and 36th Regiments and a company of engineers- were clustered around the village of Hasolch’i located on a lateral mountain track two miles south of Hill 683. Pulling out of contact at the southern end of the 81st Division’s roadblock at Sangam-ni early in the day, the bulk of the 3d Regiment engineer battalion and the tank destroyer company of the ROK 7th Division now defended the X Corps’ east flank from positions just below the village of P’ungam-ni, six miles southeast of Hasolch’i. Of the 7th’s other forces, about seven hundred had been corralled far to the south in Chech’on; another group had been found at the village of Soksa-ri, located on Route 20 over fifteen miles southeast of P’ungam-ni in the ROK III Corps sector.
South Korean troops straggling into the area just north and east of Soksa-ri by nightfall attested to the misfortunes of the ROK 3d and 9th Divisions when they had attempted to withdraw to line Waco. In starting the move down the road from Hyon-ni, the ROK III Corps commander, General Yu, had ordered the 9th Division to take the lead and deal with the Chinese roadblock at Sangam-ni while the 3d Division, bringing up the rear, handled any North Korean attempts to roll up the column from the north. By midmorning Yu’s forces were caught in the predictable squeeze, the 81st Division holding its Sangam-ni position against the 9th Division’s efforts to reduce it while forces of the North Korean 6th Division and 12th Division closed in on the 3d Division in the Hyon-ni area. Both ROK divisions broke away in disorder into the heights east of the road, leaving behind all remaining artillery pieces and more than three hundred vehicles. Natural lines of drift through the mountains channeled the disorganized troops southeast toward Soksa-ri.
Out of radio contact with his forces since early morning but informed of their southeasterly movement by air observers, General Yu air-dropped to some groups orders assigning them to line Waco positions. He also set up straggler lines in the Soksa-ri area but by nightfall had regained control of forces in little more than battalion strength.
While Yu struggled to reorder his two divisions and deploy them on the Waco line, General Almond ordered additional modifications of the X Corps front to straighten and shorten the line and to shift 2d Division forces farther east into the weakly defended sectors of the ROK 5th and 7th Divisions. The 5th Marines, now scheduled to take over the western portion of the 2d Division’s sector during the afternoon of the 19th, were to occupy positions centered some three miles south of Hill 800 which would eliminate the bulge manned by the 3d Battalion, 38th Infantry, in the Hill 800 mass and the two adjoining battalions of the 9th Infantry. Unaware that the 800 complex would be handed over, the 45th Division meanwhile suffered unnecessarily in nightlong attempts to take it. Successive assault waves of the fresh 133d Regiment were shattered, mainly by heavy concentrations of artillery fire. On the crest of Hill 800, where the Chinese centered most of their charges, the men of Company K, 38th Infantry, in fact did little fighting themselves but simply sat inside their bunkers and allowed the Chinese to enter their lines, then called down a blanket of artillery fire. The Chinese pulled back about daylight on the 19th, leaving behind some eight hundred dead.
The new line of the 2d Division, to be occupied on the 19th, cut Route 24 just below Han’gye on the west and reached across lateral ridges eastward, into what had become enemy territory, through Hill 683 to the village of Nuron-ni, three miles above P’ungam-ni. General Ruffner assigned the 23d Infantry to the central sector centered on Hill 683. Given the 15th Regimental Combat Team of the 3d Division by Almond as a replacement for the 38th Infantry’s going into corps reserve, Ruffner ordered the 15th initially to occupy the P’ungam-ni area as a preliminary to moving forward to the Nuronni sector of the line. Both the 9th Infantry and the 15th Regimental Combat Team thus faced the prospect of having to fight to gain the line they were to defend, but, once the two regiments were on the line, the 2d Division would hold good positions looking down into the valley of the Naech’on River, a westward flowing tributary of the Hongch’on.
To help strengthen the X Corps’ eastern sector, Van Fleet at midnight on the 18th ordered the remainder of the 3d Division eastward from the Seoul area, the 7th Regimental Combat Team to move on the 19th, the 65th Regimental Combat Team on the 20th. General Almond directed the division, less its 15th Regimental Combat Team, which was to remain attached to the 2d Division, to protect the X Corps’ east flank from enemy attacks out of the sector of the muddled ROK III Corps. General Soule was initially to concentrate forces at Pangnimni, located on Route 20 fifteen miles south of Soksa-ri, then reconnoiter and set up blocking positions in the Soksa-ri area.
From Hoengsong, where 3d Division headquarters had set up on moving east with the 15th Regimental Combat Team, Soule moved a tactical command post group to the Pangnim-ni area early on the 19th and sent his reconnaissance company up Route 20 to patrol as far as Hajinbu-ri, five miles east of Soksa-ri. The company found the road clear and made contact with ROK III Corps troops in the Hajinbu-ri area. On its return run during the afternoon, the company left a platoon in Soksa-ri to watch a mountain road reaching the village from Sangam-ni and Habae-jae to the northwest, then moved on to Changp’yong-ni, six miles southwest of Soksa-ri. There the 3d Battalion of the 7th Infantry, first to arrive from the west, blocked Route 20 and mountain trails coming in from the northwest. Reaching the area after dark, the remainder of the 7th Infantry assembled at Ami-don, five miles south of Changp’yong-ni.
At the right of the 2d Division fifteen miles to the northwest, the 15th Regimental Combat Team attacked through the ROK 3d Regiment at 1100 to seize P’ungam-ni and high ground a mile and half to the northwest along the trail leading to Nuron-ni on the modified No Name line another two miles to the north. Moving against light resistance, the combat team consolidated positions on its objective after dark. As the 15th moved beyond the village, the ROK 3d Regiment and smaller units of the ROK 7th Division in the area advanced through light to moderate opposition to positions north and northeast of P’ungam-ni, the latter along a trail leading to Habae-jae.
At the new left of the 2d Division along Route 24, the 181st Division wheeling out of its roadblock near Chaun-ni reengaged the 23d Infantry just above Han’gye shortly before dawn and kept the 1st and 3d Battalions pinned in position until counterattacks, artillery fire, and air strikes called in under gradually clearing skies finally forced a release about noon. The two battalions occupied positions straddling Route 24 on the new line below Han’gye by early evening. While the 2d Battalion moved east to a centrally located reserve position along the lateral track leading to Hasolch’i, the attached French battalion attempted to take position on the regimental right and make contact with a unit of the ROK 36th Regiment located northwest of Hasolch’i in the sector to be occupied by the 9th Infantry. But Chinese stoutly defending an intervening height prevented the French from closing ranks with the South Koreans.
It was well after dark before the 9th Infantry completed its eastward shift into its new sector above Hasolch’i. First to arrive, the 1st Battalion moved up on the right of the ROK 35th Regiment into positions northeast of Hasolch’i looking down into the valley of a small stream that fed the Naech’on River. The 2d Battalion took position behind the forces of the ROK 36th Regiment to await daylight before relieving the South Koreans and extending westward toward the French battalion. With a similar objective the 3d Battalion assembled near Hasolch’i to await morning before moving up on the right of the 1st Battalion to close the gap between the 9th Infantry and the 15th Regimental Combat Team in the P’ungam-ni area.
The ROK III Corps sector remained a scene of tangled and scattered forces throughout the 19th, troops trickling into collecting points along Route 20, some of both the 3d and 9th Divisions taking up random positions about five miles above the road. None, despite General Yu’s air-dropped orders the day before, stopped on line Waco some seven miles farther north. The one fortunate circumstance was an absence of enemy contact. In marked contrast, the ROK I Corps all but completed an orderly withdrawal to the Waco line, both its divisions moving along the coast, the Capital in the lead and the 11th, though not in contact, prudently bounding south by regiment in bringing up the rear. Leading the way west along line Waco, the 26th Regiment of the Capital Division refused the corps’ inland flank left open by the ROK III Corps.
In the array of enemy forces east of Route 24 by nightfall on the 19th, the full IX Army Group stood opposite the X Corps’ new eastern front between Han’gye and Soksa-ri. Though the group remained generally on a southeastward course, its attached 12th Army was turning more to the south on the front of the 2d Division with four divisions abreast: the 181st already was in the Han’gye area; the 35th was approaching next to the east; the 34th was entering the area above Hasolch’i, where its leading forces had stopped the French battalion at the right of the 23d Infantry; and the bulk of the 31st now was located above P’ungam-ni after being forced out of the village by the 15th Regimental Combat Team. Making a fast march to the southeast of P’ungam-ni, the 93d Regiment of the 31st Division was nearing Soksa-ri on Route 20. Using the mountain road running southeast from Sangam-ni through Habae-jae to Soksari as its axis, the 27th Army also was headed for the Soksa-ri area, advancing with its three divisions in column, the 81st still in the van after helping to rout the ROK III Corps, the 79th and 80th trailing in the vicinity of Habaejae. Behind the 27th Army, the 20th Army, in group reserve, was beginning to move southeast from the Kwandae-ri area along the Soyang River. Coming from the Hyon-ni area on a line of march projecting to Hajinbu-ri were the 6th and 12th Divisions of the North Korean V Corps, and moving toward Hajinburi on a parallel course just to the east were the 2d and 27th Divisions of the North Korean II Corps, which, after failing in frontal attacks against the ROK I Corps, had shifted west in an apparent attempt to envelop the South Koreans.
Enemy action decidedly had slackened on the X Corps front during the afternoon of the 19th after the 181st Division gave up its attack on the 23d Infantry in the Han’gye area. But, with Chinese continuing to mass ahead of the 2d Division, the slack appeared to be mostly a result of attempts to move fresh units forward to take over the assault. And though the pell-mell withdrawal of the ROK III Corps had taken its scrambled forces out of contact, the passage of Chinese in strength southeastward through Habae-jae and beyond presaged heavy action along Route 20. It seemed that enemy forces would not only quickly revive their drive against the X an ROK III Corps but, with strong Chinese reserves and North Korean divisions on the move, that they would increase it.
May 22, 1951 – The Battle of the Soyang River was fought during the Korean War between United Nations Command (UN) and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) and Korean People’s Army (KPA) during the Spring Offensive of April–May 1951. The attack took place across the entire front but with the main thrust below the Soyang River in the Taebaek Mountains. The objective of the main effort was to sever the six Republic of Korea Army (ROK) divisions on the eastern front from the remainder of the US Eighth Army and annihilate them and the US 2nd Infantry Division. Secondary attacks would be mounted by PVA and KPA forces across the entire front.