By the 1860s, expansionist Russia, under the Czars, reached the Pacific at Vladivostok. Defeated in a conflict with Japan (1904-1905), Russia regarded that country as her natural enemy in the area. During the 1930s and during World War II, Joseph Stalin had supported the Nationalist Chinese under Chiang Kai-shek because, from a practical standpoint, they were the only force capable of opposing the Japanese at that time.
Popular with the Chinese Communists was Mao Zedong, who, although not trained in Moscow as were other Chinese, would become the leader of the party in China. He was in a constant struggle to maintain his leadership within the party and to avoid destruction from his sworn enemy Chiang Kai-shek. Relations between Mao and Stalin were cool.
When the Nationalists were defeated (October 1949) and the People's Republic of China was established by the Communists, U.S. far eastern policy changed. Support for Chiang had ceased sometime before because his corrupt regime did not have popular support.
In December of 1949, U.S. embassies were advised that should Formosa (Taiwan)--where the Nationalists had fled--fall to the Communists, it would not be considered a threat to U.S. security. A rapprochement would be made to the People's Republic, showing that Russia, coveting Manchuria as she did, was China's real enemy.
It appears that Stalin became aware of this change. McLean, Burgess, and Philby, working in British Intelligence with access to U.S. information, were later discovered to be Soviet spies. (During the war MacArthur would sense that someone was reading his messages.) Continued success by Mao would make him a rival for the leadership of international Communism. As Stalin had promised to help the North Koreans, he had also offered aid to the Chinese who had massed 200,000 troops opposite Formosa for the invasion. Did Stalin coerce Kim Il Sung to invade first so that he would have an excuse to delay help to the Chinese? Was his support of the Korean invasion an effort to impede U.S./China rapprochement?
When the Inchon Landing changed the whole course of the war in Korea, Stalin urged the Chinese to intervene, promising them air power. At an October 1st meeting, most Chinese leaders were against intervention, although 80% of Chinese heavy industry was in Manchuria and most dependent on electric power generated in North Korea. General Peng Teh-huai, who would command Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) in Korea, said that if the Americans reached the Yalu River (border between Korea and Manchuria), they would find an excuse to invade China. Mao felt that China should come to the aid of its neighbor. A decision was made to intervene, which appeared to be based on their own national interest and not Russian pressure.
Moving at night and using excellent camouflage, troops of the CCF Fourth Field Army (200,000) already in Manchuria crossed into Korea while troops of the Third Field Army (120,000) headed north to reinforce them. These forces were undetected by U.N. aerial reconnaissance which was mostly employed in a strategic role: location of targets and evaluation of bombing. chairman Mao instructed his commanders in the field to first destroy two or three divisions of the "puppet, running-dog Syngman Rhee." And, if the U.S. Forces did not advance beyond the Pyongyang-Wonsan line, the CCF were to wait six months while being supplied with Russian artillery and air power and then expel all enemy forces from Korea.
U.N. forces continued their advance and, on October 25 at Unsan (oon-san), about 70 miles north of Pyongyang, the ROK 15th Regiment was stopped by Chinese, who had crossed the border October 18 (American time) and deployed in the mountains. The U.S. 8th Cavalry Regiment sent to their aid was badly mauled, losing a whole battalion. A regiment from the 6th ROK Division made it to the Yalu, but was destroyed. Two other ROK regiments coming to its assistance were routed. Then the Chinese mysteriously withdrew. The same thing happened in the eastern sector where the Marines were stopped in their advance to the Chosin Reservoir, and then the enemy withdrew. Prisoners sent back to headquarters were confirmed to be Chinese. Intelligence estimated that there were no more than 27,000 (later upgraded to 70,000) Chinese in Korea. There were 320,000!
The advance of the Eighth Army (118,000) resumed in November 24, despite a shortage of supplies, including winter clothing. Some riflemen had as few as 16 rounds of ammunition. On the night of the 25th, the CCF struck the II ROK Corps on the Army's right flank with a massive attack which disorganized the South Koreans and sent them reeling to the rear. To their left, the U.S. 2nd and 25th Divisions were also hit with furious assaults and penetrated in some spots, but were able to restore the situation and hold. The collapse of the ROKs exposed the flank of the 2nd Division and forced the U.N. forces to withdraw. Two regiments of the 2nd were almost destroyed at Kunu-ri, but the rest of the Army withdrew in good order, using their mobility to outdistance the slower moving CCF, who could maintain an offensive for only a few days.
In the X Corps sector in the east, one regiment of the 7th Division reached the Yalu at Hyesanjin, but the Marines were stopped at the Chosin Reservoir. Oliver Smith, sensing more enemy in the area than being reported, moved more slowly than Ned Almond was urging him. He stockpiled ammunition and supplies along the way. His caution contributed greatly to saving his command. An Army task force of two mismatched battalions, artillery, and other supporting units were hurried into position to protect the Marine right flank.
The bulk of the 120,000 CCF in the area hit the Marines and the Army Task Force. Winter had set in with temperatures of 24 degrees below zero. Flesh stuck to metal. Weapons and vehicles froze. In their fighting withdrawal, the Marines inflicted horrendous casualties on the enemy while sustaining 4,418 battle casualties and 7,313 nonbattle casualties (mostly weather-related). For the first time in history, flying boxcars (C-119-type aircraft) dropped a treadway bridge which enabled them to get their heavy equipment out over Funchilin Pass, where a bridge had been destroyed. Paratrooper Fred Fishel said a practice drop in Japan had failed. By December 11, the last man reached the safety of the lodgment area of Hungnam, held by the U.S. 3rd Division. Plagued by the KATUSA factor, low ammunition, and the loss of all four senior commanders, the ill-fated Army unit (Task Froce MacLean/Faith) held out for five nights and four days to its own destruction. Of its original strength of 2,500, only 385 were fit for duty, but they did protect the Marine right flank and rendered combat-ineffective the CCF 80th Division and elements of a second division.
The CCF forced the U.N. out of North Korea, but at a tremendous cost. Sources favorable to the Communist side estimate that the U.N. inflicted casualties on their adversary at the rate of 20 to 1. It was reported that General Peng flew ot Mao's headquarters, dragging him out of bed to complain that the troops were exhausted and their clothing, equipment, and support was totally unsuited for such a campaign.
The X Corps was evacuated by sea with almost 100,000 civilians unwilling to live under Communism coming out with them. Because of its shattered right flank the Eighth Army retired to a more narrow portion of the peninsula about 45 miles South of the 38th parallel where they were joined by the X Corps.
The U.N. asked for an armistice at the parallel, but the elated Chinese, who had gained world acclaim, refused to consider seriously the proposal. Pouring in more troops, their goal was the expulsion of U.N. forces in South Korea. General Walker was killed in a jeep accident on December 24. General Matthew Ridgway was given command of the Eighth Army, which was plagued with defeat, disappointment, and low morale. Ridgway, who believed the plight of the withdrawal had been greatly exaggerated in the press, soon had his troops turned around and began pushing the CCF and NKPA back into North Korea. Five-star General Omar Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that his brilliant, driving, uncompromising leadership turned the tide of battle as no other general in American military history.
Copyright © 1998 Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library
Copyright © 1998 Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library