July 29, 1950 – This Day During The Korean War – The Battle of Hwanggan

July 29, 1950 – The Battle of Hwanggan was an engagement between United States and North Korean forces that took place on July 23–29, 1950, on a road north of the village of Hwanggan in southern South Korea, early in the Korean War. The battle ended in a victory for the North Koreans after US troops were forced to withdraw south.
As other North Korean forces were closing on Yongdong, the KPA 2nd Division continued its advance down the road from Hwanggan to Poun, having arrived in Taejon too late for the fight there. Its orders were to pass through that town and come out on the main Seoul–Pusan highway at Hwanggan, about 10 miles (16 km) east of Yongdong, placing it in the rear of the 1st Cavalry Division and on its main supply road.
Responding to the threat, the Eighth Army ordered the US 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division to block the advance. After arriving in Korea, the regiment went to the Uisong area, 35 miles (56 km) north of Taegu. On July 13, it moved from there to Andong to support ROK troops, but before it entered action in the fight in that city, it suddenly received orders to move to Sangju to assist the 25th Infantry Division’s other two regiments in that battle. En route, it received still other orders to change its destination to Hwanggan, and it closed there in an assembly area on the night of July 22–23. The 27th Infantry’s mission at Hwanggan was to relieve the exhausted and decimated ROK units retreating down the Poun road. In the meantime it lost large numbers of its experienced officers as they were shifted to the US 24th Infantry.
In carrying out Eighth Army’s orders to block the Poun road, regimental commander Colonel John H. Michaelis, a West Point graduate known as an effective commander, assigned the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, to make contact with the first North Korean attacks. On the morning of July 23, Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert J. Check moved the 1st Battalion northward toward Poun from the Hwanggan assembly area. He took up defensive positions in the evening near the village of Sangyong-ni, south of Poun. The battalion assumed responsibility for that sector at 17:00 after South Korean troops fell back through its position. However, the battalion was unable to ascertain from the retreating soldiers the KPA 2nd Division’s status or threat.
In the evening of July 23, 1st Battalion sent a 30-man patrol northward to locate the North Koreans. Near Poun, the patrol spotted a KPA column approaching. The platoon took up superior positions and ambushed the column as it passed with all its weapons. The North Koreans halted their advance, thinking they had encountered a major position, and held back until daylight. When they turned back, the US patrol returned to the 1st Battalion lines at 04:00 on July 24. It suffered six men missing to an unknown number of North Korean casualties.
Check’s 1st Battalion was not attacked until 06:30 on July 24, shortly after daybreak in a heavy fog that allowed the North Koreans to approach very close to the US positions before they were observed. Two US infantry companies on either side of the road on low ridges held the forward positions. KPA mortar fire fell on the men there, and then T-34 tanks appeared at the bend in the road and opened fire with their main cannons and machine guns as they approached. KPA infantry followed the tanks. Although the two rifle companies stopped the KPA infantry, the tanks penetrated their positions and fired into the battalion command post which was behind B Company. This tank fire destroyed several vehicles and killed the medical officer. A company commander knocked out one tank but was injured in the process.
On the right flank, north of the road, the North Koreans overran the battalion observation post and B Company’s outpost line. This high ground changed hands three times during the day. While the infantry fight was in progress, and shortly after the first tank penetration, five more T-34s came around the road bend toward the US 71st Tank Battalion. Check had called for an air strike when the first tanks appeared. Three F-80 Shooting Stars arrived and immediately dived on the approaching group of tanks, destroying three of them with 5-inch rockets. Altogether, bazooka, artillery, and air strikes knocked out six North Korean tanks during the morning, either within or on the edge of the 1st Battalion position. In its first engagement with American troops, the KPA 2nd Division lost all but two of the eight tanks that had been attached to it a few days earlier at Chongju.
The fight continued into the evening, and after dark the 1st Battalion disengaged and withdrew through the 2nd Battalion immediately behind it. Both Check and the regimental commander, Michaelis, expected the North Koreans to encircle the 1st Battalion position during the night if it stayed where it was.
The North Koreans were apparently unaware of the 1st Battalion withdrawal, because the next morning, July 25, two North Korean battalions in a double envelopment came in behind the positions 1st Battalion held the night before, but in front of Major Gordon E. Murch’s 2nd Battalion. There the KPA were caught in the open by the combined fire of American tanks, artillery, and mortar, and the 2nd Battalion’s automatic and small arms fire. The KPA suffered large numbers of casualties in this attack. Surviving remnants of the two KPA battalions withdrew in confusion. The 2nd Battalion took about 30 prisoners.
The KPA 2nd Division pushed forward in spite of the casualties, and that afternoon elements of it were flanking the 27th Infantry’s main position. Michaelis issued an order about 22:00 for another withdrawal to high ground near Hwanggan. The withdrawal started near midnight with heavy fighting still in progress on the right flank. Murch took control of all nine US tanks and put them on line facing north, where they attacked North Korean troops approaching on the road. Mortar fire fell along the battalion line and the road behind it. F Company and the nine tanks covered the 2nd Battalion withdrawal.
On July 26, the US 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment arrived on the 27th Infantry’s right flank. However, the next day the regimental left flank came under attack where a large gap existed between C Company, the westernmost unit of the 27th Infantry and the US 7th Cavalry Regiment, the nearest unit of the 1st Cavalry Division. C Company lost and regained a peak three times during the day. More than 40 casualties reduced its strength to approximately 60 men. B Company also lost heavily in action, falling to a strength of about 85 men. By the morning of July 28 the North Koreans had penetrated the 1st Battalion’s line, forcing C Company to withdraw in the face of heavy KPA infantry attack.
At this point Colonel Michaelis went to the 1st Cavalry Division command post in Hwanggan and asked division commander Major General Hobart R. Gay for permission to withdraw his regiment through that division. Gay telephoned the Eighth Army headquarters and asked if he should attack in an effort to relieve the pressure on the 27th Infantry or if that regiment should withdraw into the 1st Cavalry Division’s area, move south to Kumch’on, and then turn toward Sangju to rejoin the 25th Division. The Eighth Army decided the 27th Regiment should withdraw, as Gay feared it would quickly be surrounded if it tried to hold its position.
Before dawn on July 29, the 27th Infantry Regiment withdrew through the 1st Cavalry Division lines at Hwanggan to a position about 1 mile (1.6 km) east of Kumch’on. That afternoon Michaelis received orders from Eighth Army to move to Waegwan on the Naktong River near Daegu, as army reserve, instead of joining the 25th Division in the Sangju area.
The 27th Infantry Regiment lost 53 men killed, 221 wounded, and 49 missing, a total of 323 battle casualties during the battles along the Hwanggan road. However, it was able to delay the North Korean division for five days in this effort. The KPA 2nd Division suffered heavily during this time to US artillery and armor, some estimates placing its losses above 3,000 men in the battles along the road.

Tanks of the 27th Infantry advance into the Bowling Alley

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