The frozen Chosin

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Chosin (Changjin) Reservoir

The Battle of Chosin Reservoir began sixty-one years ago on November 26th. Fighting in the battle were about 25,000 Marines from the Marine 1st Division and about 2500 Soldiers from the 7th Infantry’s Regimental Combat Team 31 (RCT 31), all under the command of the X Corps Commanding General, Army Major General Edward Almond.

The main thrust of the advance northward was with the Marines along the western side of the reservoir. The Army’s RCT 31 was ordered to protect the Marines’ flank on the eastern side. The town of Hagaru-ri on the southern tip of the lake was where the two groups split.

The goal of the American forces was to reach the northern border of North Korea and crush the remnants of the Peoples’ Republic of Korea (PRK) army. General MacArthur believed the war would end by Christmas. Unknown to the General, however, the Chinese had entered the war and had sent approximately 120,000 troops southward. At least 120,000 Chinese against 28,000. The odds were at least 5:1; some say as much as 10:1.

As the Chinese began their attacks, their strategy was to annihilate the Marines at their northern stronghold at Yudam-ni, and eliminate the Army forces who were strung out along the eastern shore. What followed was a bloody and intense running battle that continued until the remnants of the forces arrived at the southern port of Koto-ri.

Over half of RCT 31’s 3000 men were killed or captured (most of the rest were wounded). The Marines, despite fighting continuously for two weeks, lost about 836 killed and 12000 wounded. At least 35,000 Chinese fighters were killed. The fight to the sea under constant attack by an overwhelming force, and under brutally cold conditions (minus 50 with a wind chill of minus 100), became one of the most remarkable military feats in history.

At about this time in early December, however, the battle had barely begun. Marine and Army forces had started to converge back on Hagaru-ri, where they had parted company only a few days before. The Marines fought their way back. Survivors from the decimated remnants of RCT 31 straggled back in small groups, most of them having escaped the Chinese onslaught by walking over the frozen reservoir.

After a short rest, the breakout to the sea would begin. Ahead of them were Chinese forces ordered to block their forward progress. Behind them, the Chinese raced to catch up. On both sides, enemy forces fired at them as they fought their way south. Marine Major General Oliver Smith’s famous quote, “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction,” were spoken as the Marines were about to begin the breakout from Hagaru-ri, and became an enduring – and immediate – legacy of the Battle of Chosin.

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