Frozen Chosin: How China’s Surprise Attack Took the U.S. Marines off Guard During the Korean War

Frozen Chosin: How China’s Surprise Attack Took the U.S. Marines off Guard During the Korean War

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

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It was shock and awe.

Key point: China’s intervention into the war took American and United Nations forces completely flat-footed.

The 1st Marine Division was on the move toward the Yalu River. With any luck, if the weather cooperated, the United Nations police action in Korea would be over in weeks.

The 5th Marine Regiment (5th Marines), most of the 7th Marines, and three artillery battalions of the 11th Marines spent the daylight hours of November 27, 1950, staging into the North Korean mountain-valley town of Yudam-ni, on the frozen shore of the Chosin Reservoir. While company-size units of the 7th Marines patrolled and fought through the day to secure the far-flung ridge lines that dominated the valley, a battalion of the 5th Marines mounted a limited assault aimed at striking off into the unsecured hinterland of North Korea.

Strangely, for the Marines had faced no serious opposition in more than a month, all their patrols, sweeps, and advances on November 27 were strongly contested. Unbeknownst to the Marines, tens of thousands of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers were set to spring an enormous trap on the main body of the 1st Marine Division.

Isolated and Unaware

The temperature was minus 30 degrees F, so by 9 pm all but the regular watchkeepers were snuggled in their soft down sleeping bags, shoeless and exhausted by the day’s prodigious physical exertions and the sub-zero cold.

Yudam-ni was seen by all higher headquarters as a temporary staging area. No strong hostile action was anticipated, and there was no central authority determining where this battalion or that company was to be placed. Too large to be defended by a continuous line, the valley of Yudam-ni was merely screened by several isolated pockets of Marines: How Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines (How/3/7) to the northwest; Charlie/1/7 to the southeast; Dog/2/7 and Easy/2/7 to the east. Units of the 5th Marines on the “perimeter” just happened to be there when the day’s activities had drawn to a close. There was nothing wrong with the deployment; indeed, it was an adequate response to the latest intelligence data from higher headquarters, reflecting the solid combat experience of the planners.

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