BLOODY BATTLES OF THE KOREAN WAR
After Communist North Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, the early stages of the Korean War were marked by huge advances up and down the Korean peninsula in which United States, South Korean and the United Nations (U.N.) forces fought against North Korean and Communist Chinese forces there. After a huge Chinese offensive from November 1950 to January 1951 and massive American counter-attack in early 1951, the war settled into a stalemate near the 38th Parallel. By July 1952 both sides had constructed such strong defensive lines that neither could undertake a major offensive without suffering World-War-I like losses. In 1952, North Korea and China had 290,000 men on the front lines and another 600,000 in reserve. The U.N. countered with 250,000 troops on the line, backed by 450,000 reserves. [Source: James I. Marino, Military History magazine, April 2003 \=/]
During the stalemate period bloody battles were fought from entrenched positions for relatively small tactical objectives at places with names like Pork Chop Hill, Heartbreak Ridge and Bloody Ridge. The artillery fire at some of these places was so heavy that hills were reduced by 20 feet. So many mines were laid that even today hikers occasionally get their legs blown off.
James I. Marino wrote in Military History magazine: “While the two sides engaged in tedious, often exasperating truce negotiations at Panmunjom, their soldiers huddled in trench systems resembling those of World War I. The constant patrolling and artillery duels seldom made headlines at home. But occasionally battles for outposts such as Heartbreak Ridge, the Punchbowl, Capitol Hill and the Hook drew media attention, giving them propaganda value at the talks.”
Bloody and Heartbreak Ridges
Armistice negotiations began at Kaesong in July 1951. But late in August 1951, after the truce negotiations had been suspended, the U.N. resumed the offensive in order to drive the enemy farther back from the Hwachon Reservoir (Seoul's source of water and electric power) and away from the Chorwon-Seoul railroad. Success in each of these enterprises would straighten, shorten and give greater security to the U.N. front line, and inflict damage on the enemy. The U.N. put a major effort in the X Corps zone, using all five divisions in that corps to prosecute ridge-top and mountain actions. The U.S. 1st Marine Division, with ROK marine units attached, opened a drive against the northern portion of the Punchbowl August 31. [Source: globalsecurity.org]
Two days later the 2nd Division attacked northward against Bloody and Heartbreak Ridges in the vicinity of the Punchbowl's western edge and Taeu-san. Both assaults, delivered uphill by burdened, straining infantrymen, met with initial success. The 2nd Division, on Bloody and Heartbreak Ridges west of the Punchbowl, was engaged in the fiercest action since spring. The 2nd Division infantrymen crawled hand-over-hand up towering, knife-crested ridges to assault the hard-fighting enemy who would yield a ridge only in desperation, then strike back in vigorous counterattack. The same crest often changed hands several times each day.
Bloody Ridge consists of three hills 983, 940 and 773 and their connecting ridges. The maze of enemy trenches on the ridges made it appear to air observers that Bloody Ridge had been plowed. The trenches connected many bunkers which the enemy had built strong enough to withstand artillery fire and air strikes. The August 1951 fighting for Bloody Ridge took place while cease-fire negotiations droned on at the Kaesong armistice conferences. On Bloody Ridge infantrymen had to go forward with flame throwers and grenades after all supporting weapons had failed to dislodge the enemy. After weeks of combat, North Korean forces moved north to strengthen positions on the next prominent terrain feature in that area: Heartbreak Ridge.
In late September and early October 1951 a month-long battle focused on the complex structure of enemy defensive positions protecting the seven-mile-long hill mass that became known as Heartbreak Ridge. Responsibility for seizing this are had passed from Eighth Army to X Corps, to the 2d Infantry Division. North Korean soldiers in bunkers effectively slowed the American advance, throwing fragmentation and concussion grenades. Close infantry action is brutal, dirty, fear-inspiring work. The battle raged until 14 October, when the enemy seemed to be willing to reopen the truce talks and the last ridge was secured.
Heartbreak Ridge was the site of one of the Korean War’s bloodiest battles. Ben Loudermilk wrote in worldatlas.com: The Battle of Heartbreak Ridge was a month-long campaign in the Korean War, lasting from the 13th of September until the 15th of October, 1951. The site of the battle was a seven-mile-long (11-kilometer) stretch of land over three sharp peaks, separated by steep valleys. The area is slightly north of today's Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the 38th Parallel that separated the two countries on the Korean Peninsula. United Nations (UN) troops had driven back the North Koreans and Chinese from Bloody Ridge a mile to the south, and the Communists had entrenched themselves at Heartbreak Ridge to slow their advance. The entire offensive in the area had been initiated by the United Nations, in an effort to disenfranchise the Communists of this important staging area for their attacks on South Korea. [Source: Ben Loudermilk, worldatlas.com, April 25 2017]
“Communist North Korea had Chinese support on the ground for its attack on South Korea. To repel the attack, the United Nations had sent a force consisting chiefly of American and French troops, supported by nearby South Korean, Dutch, and Filipino forces. Major General Clovis Byers, commander of the United States X Corps, and the 2nd Infantry Division commander Brigadier General Thomas Shazo led the U.S. forces. M4 Shermans from the 72nd Tank Battalion were called into play as well to bolster the infantry’s efforts. On the Communist side, the North Korean 6th, 12th, and 13th Divisions, and the Chinese CCF 204th Division led by Wenfang Luo, were under the ultimate command of Wen Niansheng of the Chinese 68th Army.
“After two weeks of stalemate, the Americans determined that a lasting victory lay in destroying the resupply depots in the Mundung-ni Valley just west of Heartbreak Ridge. Anticipating this, the Chinese sent reinforcements to that very location. On the 11th of October, 30 M4 Shermans of the 72nd Tank Battalion, under the cover of air support and artillery barrages, raced across the valley. By coincidence, the Chinese 610th Regiment of the 204th Division was caught in the open, and was decimated. The following day, a larger armored force continued the relentless attack. Over the next two weeks, the Shermans overran all the supply depots, cutting off the Communist troops on Heartbreak Ridge. American and French forces finally eliminated all resistance in the hills through direct troop assaults by 13 October. Although the Americans and French suffered heavy casualties totaling over 3,700 men, the North Korean and Chinese forces lost an even more astronomical number of soldiers, in excess of 25,000.
“Heartbreak Ridge was never again lost to enemy action after this decisive battle. Subsequent Communist assaults were bloody but unsuccessful and, although the United Nations' forces lost tens of thousands of troops, they did so without relinquishing the high ground. That the U.N. was willing to endure such terrible casualties for this objective demonstrated to the Communists that they would not win the war though brute force or intimidation. Furthermore, deprived of prime territory needed for their assaults on South Korea, the Communists realized that their dreams of unifying Korea under Communism was likely to become a lost cause. This convinced both sides to return to the armistice table.
Fighting at Heartbreak Ridge
Ben Loudermilk wrote in worldatlas.com: The Communists had set up a formidable network of trenches on Heartbreak Ridge. This made it an even harder objective to assault from the steep inclines that led to the crests on the ridge line. Troop assaults were confined to twilight and nighttime, as the Americans were supported by aerial bombing as well as dense artillery and tank fire, which would commence in the morning and last all throughout the daytime hours. For weeks, the battle often seesawed between the opposing forces. One side would often capture a crest from the other, but only after suffering high casualties and depleting their ammunition. An inevitable counterattack would always follow, dislodging them, and the cycle would repeat itself. Desperate hand-to-hand battles punctuated the culmination of every assault. The American deployment of armor to actively support troop operations served as the turning point. [Source: Ben Loudermilk, worldatlas.com, April 25 2017]
According to awesomestories.com: “The attack began on 13 September and quickly deteriorated into a familiar pattern. First, American aircraft, tanks, and artillery would pummel the ridge for hours on end, turning the already barren hillside into a cratered moonscape. Next, the 23d's infantrymen would clamber up the mountain's rocky slopes, taking out one enemy bunker after another by direct assault. Those who survived to reach the crest arrived exhausted and low on ammunition. [Source: awesomestories.com]
“Then the inevitable counterattack would come — wave after wave of North Koreans determined to recapture the lost ground at any cost. Many of these counterattacks were conducted at night by fresh troops that the enemy was able to bring up under the shelter of neighboring hills. Battles begun by bomb, bullet, and shell were inevitably finished by grenade, trench knife, and fist as formal military engagements degenerated into desperate hand-to-hand brawls. Sometimes dawn broke to reveal the defenders still holding the mountaintop. Just as often, however, the enemy was able to overwhelm the tired and depleted Americans, tumbling the survivors back down the hill where, after a brief pause to rest, replenish ammunition, and absorb replacements, they would climb back up the ridge to repeat the process all over again.
The battle progressed in the same manner, day and night, for two weeks. One after another, wearied units of men succumbed to the strain until "the 23rd Infantry as a whole was fairly well shattered." On September 27, the Division's new commander, Major General Robert N. Young, stopped the "fiasco" on Heartbreak Ridge. Temporarily. To hold Heartbreak Ridge, the Americans needed to cut off, and destroy, North Korea's reinforcements. They also needed a better road so they could effectively assault the ridge with Sherman tanks.
Some of the soldiers, under enemy fire, dug an improved road, free of mines. By October 10, all was ready. A costly victory was about to begin. The sudden onslaught of a battalion of tanks racing up the valley took the enemy by surprise. By coincidence, the thrust came just when the Chinese 204th Division was moving up to relieve the North Koreans on Heartbreak. Caught in the open, the Chinese division suffered heavy casualties from the American tanks. For the next five days the Shermans roared up and down the Mundung-ni Valley, over-running supply dumps, mauling troop concentrations, and destroying approximately 350 bunkers on Heartbreak and in the surrounding hills and valleys. A smaller tank-infantry team scoured the Sat'ae- ri Valley east of the ridge, thereby completing the encirclement and eliminating any hope of reinforcement for the beleaguered North Koreans on Heartbreak.
“Before the fighting was over on October 13, when French soldiers captured the last Communist bastion on the ridge, thousands of men were dead or injured. The 2d Division, with its attached French battalion, suffered at least 3,700 casualties. The North Koreans and their Chinese supporters lost even more — an estimated 25,000 dead or injured. It wasn't just at Heartbreak Ridge where U.N. forces were fighting that summer and fall. By late October, U.N. operations had secured most of the "commanding ground along the length of the front." Holding that ground cost approximately 40,000 U.N. casualties. Because the United Nations Command had taken the offensive, refusing to back down, it was clear to North Korea and its allies that more losses would ensue if the fighting continued. The parties returned to the bargaining table.
Ben Loudermilk wrote in worldatlas.com: The Battle of Bloody Ridge was an engagement of the Korean War fought between August 18th and September 5th of 1951. Bloody Ridge was part of a system of outposts constructed on top of the Taebaek Mountain range, north of the 38th Parallel border that divided both Koreas, and gave the Chinese forces occupying them an excellent observation post from where to call artillery strikes against United Nations' (UN) positions. The U.N. attack at bloody ridge was part of a series of operations intended to secure their defenses by depriving the Chinese from observations points overlooking the UN's main line of resistance. [Source: Ben Loudermilk, worldatlas.com, April 25 2017]
“The forces defending Bloody Ridge consisted of some 15,000 North Korean and Chinese soldiers, who were well-entrenched around the hill, and had had time to set up a complicated system of defenses covering the approaches to the summit of the ridge. The task on capturing the hill fell on the United States 2nd Infantry Division which was commanded by General Clark L. Ruffner, who also count upon Filipinos and the South Korean 36th Regiment as additional reinforcements. Ruffner could also call air support to help him destroy the Chinese bunkers on top of the hill.
“The Chinese had built deep bunkers inside of the hill that were capable of resisting the American bombardment, and they had set up a network of minefields to cover the most favorable approaches to the summit, and to channel the attacking forces into sites with prearranged artillery fire. The U.N. used air and artillery attacks to soften up the enemy's defenses but they had a limited effect against the Chinese bunkers who protected them from anything but the Americans' 155-millimeter guns. The U.N. also used tanks to spearhead their attacks and diminish the danger for the attacking infantry. The battle was commenced with the South Korean 36th Regiment capturing most of the hill after a week of continuous fighting but then loosing these gains to a determined North Korean counterattack. The 9th Infantry Regiment made the next attack against the hill and after ten days of fighting back and forth they were able to capture one of its objectives.
“The 2nd Division continued attacking with its other regiments until the communists retreated in defeat on September 5th , after having suffered almost their entire number of casualties between dead and wounded. The United Nations combined forces reported having suffered 2,700 casualties during the attack. With around 8,000 of their own men killed and 7,000 more wounded, the Communists saw virtually each and every one of their servicemen involved in the battle become a casualty.
“Bloody Ridge marked the start of a new phase of the Korean War. Behind were the great mobile campaigns that took armies from one end to the peninsula to the other. Now both armies entrenched themselves and fought fiercely over valuable features of terrain that overlooked the enemy's defenses and supply routes. Bloody Ridge signaled the abandonment of the commitment to looking to gain total victory, and instead settling to fight a war of attrition that had more in common with the trench warfare from WWI than anything from the still fresh memories of WWII. The Chinese and North Korean leaders’ refusals to retreat under any circumstance and the United States overwhelming and unmatched aerial support left the Communists sitting ducks on the ridge.”
Pork Chop Hill
James I. Marino wrote in Military History magazine: “Officially it was designated Hill 255, but its contour lines on a map of Korea and a 1959 film made it world famous as Pork Chop Hill. Based on a book by military historian S.L.A. Marshall, the movie dealt only with the penultimate, two-day battle for Pork Chop Hill in April 1953. In actuality, that hill claimed the lives of soldiers from the United States, Thailand, Colombia, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and China in an ongoing struggle that lasted longer than on any other single battlefield in Korea. [Source: James I. Marino, Military History magazine, April 2003]
“Much of the focus on Pork Chop Hill was a result of Communist political structure. At that time, Marshal Peng Dehuai commanded the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces in Korea, taking his orders from the Central Military Commission (CMC), of which Mao Tse-tung was chairman, and Mao’s foreign minister, Zhou Enlai, vice chairman. Peng’s lieutenants often had multiple responsibilities. For example, Peng’s deputy, General Deng Hua, was also commander of the 13th Field Army and a delegate at the peace talks. Li Kenong, chief of military intelligence for the CMC, was also vice minister of foreign affairs, chief of the Military Intelligence Department of the People’s Liberation Army, and headed the Chinese delegation at Panmunjom. Because of Li’s ministry and intelligence positions, he had his government’s authority to coordinate armistice talks and battlefield strategy. Consequently, whenever negotiations reached critical stages, the Chinese military was used to test the U.N.’s will on the battlefield. As the action raged around relatively unimportant outposts, the battles themselves took on political and propaganda significance far beyond their military value.
“In May 1952, Maj. Gen. David Ruffner took command of the 45th Infantry Division, holding the right flank of the I Corps’ line in west-central Korea, facing the 39th Army of the Chinese 13th Field Army. Wishing to take the high ground in front of his division’s main line of resistance (MLR), Ruffner and his staff developed a plan to seize a dozen forward hills, stretching from northeast to southwest. The last two in the southwest, Pork Chop and Old Baldy (Hill 266), were held by the Chinese 116th Division.
“On June 6 and 7, the 279th Infantry Regiment seized the six northern hills, while the 180th Infantry advanced on the six southern ones. Company I of the 180th took Pork Chop after a one-hour firefight and immediately fortified the position. The Chinese 346th, 347th and 348th regiments counterattacked over the next several days, but I Company, with artillery support, held them off. Ruffner had extended the 45th Division’s line to provide a breakwater for his MLR, with Port Chop Hill, partially protected from Old Baldy, providing a vital part of the buffer.
“The 2nd Infantry Division replaced the 45th in the fall of 1952, and its 9th Regiment was assigned to Pork Chop and Old Baldy. In October the Thai 21st Infantry Regiment occupied Pork Chop and managed to beat back assaults by elements of the Chinese 39th Army in November. When the 7th Infantry Division replaced the 2nd, troops of its 31st Regiment occupying Hill 255 found words written on the bunker walls by the departing Thais: ‘Take good care of our Pork Chop.’”
Chinese Capture Territory Near Pork Chop Hill
James I. Marino wrote in Military History magazine: “In the late winter of 1953, General Deng argued that Chinese forces should adopt a retaliatory (zhenfeng xiangdui) strategy rather than remain on the defensive. The CMC endorsed his idea, and Marshal Peng moved the 23rd and 47th armies into line near Pork Chop Hill. On March 1, 1953, Chinese artillery opened an 8,000-round artillery barrage. Then, on the night of March 23, elements of the Chinese 67th Division of the 23rd Army and the 47th Army’s 141st Division launched simultaneous ground assaults on Old Baldy, Pork Chop and Hill 191. [Source: James I. Marino, Military History magazine, April 2003]
“‘On March 23rd, we ran a 50-man patrol along the perimeter of Pork Chop,’ recalled Corporal Joe Scheuber of I Company, 31st Infantry. ‘We just got into our foxholes on the finger of Pork Chop when enemy mortar and artillery hit us. To our right, more incoming rounds. Then we saw Chinese behind us and realized we were surrounded. We fell back to the trench line at the top of the hill, but the Chinese had reached it first. Hand-to-hand fighting broke out. There was a tremendous amount of noise. I got nicked in the arm and my helmet got shot off. I worked my way down the hill, killing a Chinese soldier with a grenade. I ended up in a shell hole the remainder of the night, as the enemy artillery lasted most of the night. When dawn broke, I was found by another unit from I Company as they pushed the Chinese off the hill.’ The Chinese drove the defenders back 800 yards. Just after midnight, however, two companies from the 7th Division reserve counterattacked and recovered Pork Chop by morning.
“The 1st Battalion of the Chinese 141st Division, commanded by Hou Yung-chun, was selected to assault Old Baldy. The unit’s political officer hand picked the 3rd Company to lead the attack and plant the ‘Victory Flag’ on the hill. Facing the Chinese was the recently arrived and inexperienced Colombian 3rd Battalion. Supported by heavy artillery fire, the Chinese penetrated the U.N. position at about 2100 hours. Although the Colombians were reinforced by an American company, it was not enough to prevent them from having to fall back. Kao Yung-ho, a young soldier in the 3rd Company, declared, ‘This victory is to our company commander’s credit.’
“‘When the Chinese seized Old Baldy there was good military logic to abandon Pork Chop,’ S.L.A. Marshall wrote. ‘That concession would have been in the interest of line-straightening without sacrifice of a dependable anchor. But national pride, bruised by the loss of Old Baldy, asserted itself, and Pork Chop was held.’
Americans Beef Up the Defenses of Pork Chop Hill
Marino wrote in Military History magazine: “A lull fell over the area while the Chinese 47th Army was resupplied for its next objective — Pork Chop. Back in the United States, the press lambasted the 7th Division for the loss of Old Baldy and described the division as weary, slipshod and demoralized. Unwittingly, the American press supplied the Chinese with a propaganda tool — during the April and July fighting, 7th Division troops would hear those same caustic criticisms loosed at them from Chinese loudspeakers. [Source: James I. Marino, Military History magazine, April 2003]
“In April 1953, two platoons of E Company, 31st Regiment of the 7th Division, both under the command of 1st Lt. Thomas V. Harrold, garrisoned Pork Chop. The total strength within the perimeter came to 96 men, including attached artillery, engineer and medical personnel. The 1st and 3rd platoons mustered only 76 riflemen, and 20 of them were stationed at listening points outside the perimeter. Easy Company normally had twice that many, but it had begun its rotation out of the sector.
“The bunkers and trenches had been engineered according to the then-conventional pattern of the Eighth Army. As Marshall described it: ‘A solidly revetted rifle trench encircled it at the military crest, providing wall and some roof cover, which served for defense in any direction. Sandbagged and heavily timbered, fire-slotted bunkers were tied into the trench line at approximately 30-yard intervals. They gave troops protection while affording observation and command of the slope.’ The natural terrain, however, divided the two platoons, because Pork Chop was pushed in like the dent in a hat.
Chinese Attack Pork Chop Hill
Marino wrote: “General Deng’s plan to assault Pork Chop had been endorsed by the CMC on April 3, but Mao intervened, delaying the operation until the peace talks stalled. In that same month, the negotiators at Panmunjom agreed to exchange their sickest POWs, an operation called Little Switch. At that point, however, the Chinese political leadership wanted to show the U.N. that its cooperation did not reflect an unwillingness to fight. Deng was therefore authorized to attack Pork Chop Hill before April 20, when Little Switch was slated to begin. [Source: James I. Marino, Military History magazine, April 2003]
“At 2000 hours on April 16 a patrol from the 31st Infantry, consisting of 10 soldiers from Fox Company and five from Easy, advanced to within 100 yards of the shallow stream at the valley bottom and set up an ambush. At about 2300, some 50 Chinese soldiers approached from Hasakkol. Sergeant Henry W. Pidgeon of Fox Company flung grenades at them, thereby striking the first blow in the Battle of Pork Chop Hill. He then ordered the patrol back, but Easy Company’s mortars, firing at the advancing Chinese, cut off the American patrol. A few individuals filtered back into the trenches at 0445, but most of the patrol remained on the slope until 1900 the next evening.
“The advance patrol’s encounter failed to raise alarm among Pork Chop’s defenders, and two full companies of Chinese infantry reached the ramparts before anyone knew of their presence. Slipping past the listening posts, the Chinese assaulted the 1st Platoon’s sector on the Pork Chop’s left flank. Sergeant 1st Class Carl Pratt and his 1st Platoon troops could hear the enemy but remained in their bunkers because of Chinese shelling. The 3rd Platoon, separated from it by terrain, was unaware of the 1st Platoon’s situation or of the growing danger it was in.
“At his command post (CP) at the far end of the perimeter, Lieutenant Harrold evaluated the situation. There had been increased Chinese shelling, contact had been lost with the outposts and 1st Platoon, and the volume of submachine gun fire had increased in the 1st Platoon’s sector. Sensing that Easy Company was in big trouble, he fired a red star rocket, signifying ‘We are under full attack,’ and a red star cluster, signaling ‘Give us flash Pork Chop.’ At 2305, the lights came on all over the hill, and two minutes later American artillery opened fire, to be answered by the Chinese batteries. Twenty minutes later, the firing ceased and members of Easy Company emerged from their bunkers. They found the Chinese in the trenches, and firefights broke out throughout the perimeter.
“Although the Chinese had infiltrated the defensive works, the command post, then held by Harrold, two other officers and two NCOs, prevented them from securing the rear slope or barring reinforcements from coming up. Other than the CP blocking Pork Chop’s back door, the hill’s defense was without a linchpin. The 3rd Platoon was pinned in the bunkers, while only six wounded soldiers remained of the 1st Platoon. By systematically killing the occupants and capturing the bunkers, the Chinese, aided by additional reinforcements, secured most of the hill by two hours after midnight.
American Reinforcements Arrive at Pork Chop Hill
Marino wrote: “Harrold relayed what he knew through his battalion command to the 31st Infantry’s commander, Colonel William B. Kern. One hour after the fighting began, three rifle platoons of L Company had been trucked forward, in case the Chinese overran Pork Chop. Shortly after 0200, Kern ordered one platoon from Fox Company and one from Love Company to reinforce Easy Company. The Fox platoon became lost and never arrived. Second Lieutenant Earle L. Denton was leading Love’s 3rd Platoon from Hill 200 to Pork Chop when, about 50 yards from the chow bunker, two machine guns opened fire and brought down six of his men. After a second burst of Chinese gunfire, Denton decided to pull back. [Source: James I. Marino, Military History magazine, April 2003]
“Returning to Love’s CP with only 12 men, Denton reported to the company commander, 1st Lt. Forrest James Crittendon, that the 3rd Platoon’s attack had failed. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. John N. Davis, ordered King and Love companies to counterattack at dawn. Love would launch its second assault with only two platoons and, incredibly, never learned that it was to be part of a joint operation with King.
“King Company’s 135 troops were stationed behind Hill 347. At 0330, they were ordered into an attack position behind Hill 200. Minus the weapons platoon, each soldier carried a full belt, extra bandolier and three more grenades than usual. The six Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) men in each platoon carried 12 magazines, and each light machine-gun team carried five boxes of ammunition. Each platoon also carried a flame-thrower and a heavy rocket launcher. Colonel Davis suggested that King attack Pork Chop’s rear slope with two platoons abreast and hold one in reserve. King Company’s commander, 1st Lt. Joseph G. Clemons, Jr., understood that King would receive support from Love, which would attack up the ridge finger on Pork Chop’s right. ‘Hit the hill hard and get to the top as fast as the men can go,’ Clemons told his platoons’ leaders. ‘Success depends on speed; we must close before daylight.’
Americans Counter-Attacks at Pork Chop Hill
Marino wrote: “With the 2nd Platoon deployed on the right, the 1st on the left and the 3rd in reserve, King Company reached the assault line. At 0430 the artillery barrage lifted and King stepped off. Although they were not fired on, it took King’s men 29 minutes to travel the 170 yards to the nearest bunker. ‘We managed to get over the first line of barbed wire through holes cut by shellfire and by walking on bodies of men lying on the wire to hold it down,’ said Sergeant Samuel K. Maxwell, a K Company medic who had been on the hill back on March 23. ‘Pork Chop was steep. We were heavily loaded with ammo for our weapons and the MGs, as well as the boxes of grenades. The steep climb had us pooped. We got within grenade range in small groups to begin grenading our way down the main trench, clearing out the Chinese.’ Just as the first man entered the defensive works at 0500, the Chinese artillery struck. [Source: James I. Marino, Military History magazine, April 2003]
“As the battle entered its second round, Love Company had launched its second attack about the same time as King, but met a Chinese barrage more intense than the earlier one. Both of its platoons were crushed and sent tumbling back to Hill 200, leaving King Company on its own.
“Sergeant 1st Class Walter Kuzmick’s squad of King Company’s 2nd Platoon encountered its first fire at the chow bunker just below the main trench. Kuzmick reached the main trench at 0520 and pushed his men along it toward the CP. Second Lieutenant Robert S. Cook, the 2nd Platoon’s commander, reached the CP first and called Kuzmick forward. As Kuzmick rushed the bunker, grenade in hand, a lieutenant of Easy Company sprang out the door, also brandishing a grenade. Both men froze. Just then, Clemons appeared, stunned to find any Easy Company men left on the hill. Before anyone could move, three shells of undetermined origin hit the bunker. Cook, the Easy Company officer and several King Company men were wounded, but the Easy Company survivors inside were unharmed.
Heavy Fighting and Counter-Attacks at Pork Chop Hill
Marino wrote: “While weary King Company settled into the trenches and Love regrouped on Hill 200, fresh forces from the Chinese 141st Division moved toward Pork Chop. ‘Pork Chop was a maze, a rat’s nest of bunkers, line and commo trenches, shell holes and rock clumps,’ Sergeant Maxwell said. ‘The Chinese kept feeding fresh troops into their counterattacks. The survivors of the previous attacks would then come out of cover and join them. We fought with the men we had. Every hour, we numbered less.’ [Source: James I. Marino, Military History magazine, April 2003]
“Clemons did not have enough men to take the hill by storm, so he and his executive officer, 1st Lt. Tsugi O’Hashi, returned to the chow bunker to sort things out. Clemons, guessing that he had lost half of his men and that the rest were low on ammunition, decided to bring up the 3rd Platoon.
“By 0745, King Company had not advanced more than 200 yards in two hours, and the Chinese still held bunkers along two-thirds of the trench line. Feeling that his men were stretched to the breaking point, Clemons waited for help. It came in the form of 12 men from Love Company.
“Crittendon had pushed 62 men of the regrouped Love Company back up the right-hand finger. On the way up, Crittendon was hit, along with the next company commander, 2nd Lt. Homer F. Bechtel. Command fell to 2nd Lt. Arthur Marshall, who led Love on through a buzz saw of artillery and machine-gun fire. By the time Marshall reached Clemons’ position, he had 12 men left, including Lieutenant Denton.
“The total of 65 Americans on Pork Chop — survivors of Easy, King and Love companies — was about the same number as Easy Company had had at the start of the battle. At 0814, more reinforcements arrived in the form of G Company, 17th Infantry, commanded by Clemons’ brother-in-law, 1st Lt. Walter B. Russell. At the same time, however, a fresh Chinese company arrived at the other side of the hill’s ridge and fighting blazed anew. At 1100 Clemons radioed his battalion, ‘I must have water, plasma, more medical assistance, flamethrowers, litter, ammunition, several radios.’ Only a little water and C rations arrived.
“At noon, 1st Lt. James Blake, the battalion intelligence officer, entered Clemons’ CP with a message from Colonel Davis, ordering him to send survivors of Easy and Fox to the rear, and for George Company to withdraw at 1500. ‘When they go out,’ Clemons told Blake, ‘it is not reasonable to expect that we can hold the hill.’ Battalion did not respond to his message. Clemons’ and Russell’s men held on for the next few hours, but at 1445 Clemons sent another message to Battalion: ‘We must have help or we can’t hold the hill.’ This time Colonel Kern responded by calling division headquarters and urging either relief or reinforcements for Pork Chop.
“The 7th Division faced a more complex issue regarding the hill. If it fell, the Chinese could strike next at Hill 347, which could turn into a bloody, battalion-per-day meat grinder like Triangle Hill, an objective that had ended up in Chinese hands by the end of October 1952. The division asked for a decision from I Corps, which asked the Eighth Army, which asked Far East Command. The Eighth Army wanted to weigh how many men it was prepared to lose against the importance of preventing the Chinese from flaunting a victory at Panmunjom. While the high command debated the issue, the 7th Division commander, Maj. Gen. Arthur G. Trudeau, and his aide-de-camp, Brig. Gen. Derrill M. Daniel, helicoptered to Davis’ regimental CP to get a clearer view of King. They arrived at 1500, just as George Company withdrew from the hill.
American Units Suffer Heavy Losses on Pork Chop Hill
Marino wrote: “By then, King Company had suffered 18 men killed and 71 wounded. ‘We were down to 25 men, including a few men from Love Company,’ Sergeant Maxwell recalled. ‘With no reinforcements in sight, Lt. Clemons grouped us onto a high hill knob on Pork Chop where we might hold out. Somehow we held the rest of the day into the night.’ Troops also manned two bunkers at the top of the crest, and Clemons remained in the CP with the radio while O’Hashi and Kuzmick directed the troops. In preparation for a night attack, the Chinese shelled the American positions for four hours. [Source: James I. Marino, Military History magazine, April 2003]
“At 1640, Clemons reported to the regiment: ‘We have about 20 men left still unhurt. If we can’t be relieved, we should be withdrawn.’ General Trudeau, who was present when the message came in, decided to hold the hill. He got official backing from the Eighth Army, because of its linkage to the talks at Panmunjom. Trudeau attached the 17th Infantry Regiment’s 2nd Battalion to the 31st Infantry and moved the 17th’s 1st Battalion into the support area of Pork Chop Hill.
“Colonel Kern immediately ordered Captain King of Fox Company to move onto Pork Chop and relieve Clemons’ force as soon as possible. Fox’s troops arrived at 2130 and deployed into the trenches with the remnants of King and Love companies. At the same time, a Chinese force attacked from Hasakkol. American artillery scattered the Chinese, but they responded with a barrage of their own, killing 19 men of Fox Company.
Easy Company’s Assault on Pork Chop Hill
Marino wrote: “With Fox Company bloodied and exhausted, Kern committed Easy Company of the 17th Infantry, while Trudeau released that regiment’s 1st Battalion to Kern, just in case. Easy’s commander, 1st Lt. Gorman Smith, moved his company around the right finger of Pork Chop and marched directly up its face — the Chinese side — hoping to catch them off guard. [Source: James I. Marino, Military History magazine, April 2003]
“Inside the American CP on the hill were Clemons, Denton, King and 14 enlisted men. At midnight, when Chinese fire let up, Clemons pulled his survivors off the hill. ‘About 2200, Fox Company of the 31st counterattacked and reached us,’ Maxwell said. ”King’ was relieved at 2400. We made our way one by one in the gaps between Chinese artillery salvos to the foot of Pork Chop. Here, 20 hours earlier were 135 men in nine 6-by-6 trucks. Now, the seven of us sat in a one-ton weapons carrier. On leaving Fox Company, one of their medics had asked me to leave my med kit with him. I showed him it was empty. I had used every item I had carried up that hill. King Company would need 150 replacements before it could fight again as a full-strength rifle company.’ Denton remained at the CP, because Captain King requested further help.
“About 0130, the Chinese attacked again, swarming around the CP and lobbing grenades into the bunkers. The Americans were wounded, but held on. Denton called for fire directly onto the bunker’s roof. Fire from quadruple .50-caliber machine gun mounts swept the roof of Chinese. As the enemy launched another assault, Denton and his men knew that this time they would be overwhelmed. Chinese fire intensified. Then, suddenly, there was silence, followed by the crack of rifle fire as Easy Company of the 17th Infantry arrived. Driven from the crest, some Chinese scampered back across the valley, while others took refuge in the outline trench works. Evaluating Gorman Smith’s risky maneuver in retrospect, S.L.A. Marshall wrote that ‘For the embattled group within the Pork Chop CP, the minutes thus saved by one man’s intuition and hard work were as decisive as a last-minute reprieve to the condemned.’
“Easy Company’s assault was the pivotal event in the battle for Pork Chop, but it did not end the fighting. By 0230, Easy was deployed over the trench works, and the Chinese launched company-size assaults at 0320 and 0429. At dawn, Kern committed A Company of the 17th to the struggle, and throughout April 17 the three American companies reoccupied the trench system, using small arms, grenades and bayonets, finally crisscrossing the peak and taking control of the hill. Denton and a few diehards of Love Company remained on the hill until midafternoon.
Pork Chop Hill Ordered Abandoned After Relentless Chinese Assualts
Marino wrote: “In the early morning of April 18, more troops from the Chinese 141st Division assaulted the hill again, but after a bloody close-quarters fight they were driven back by an arriving company of American reinforcements. At dusk, the Chinese finally conceded the fight and withdrew to their side of the valley. Marshall called Pork Chop Hill ‘an artillery duel,’ noting that the nine artillery battalions of the 2nd and 7th divisions had fired 37,655 rounds on the first day and 77,349 rounds on the second. ‘Never at Verdun were guns worked at any such rate as this,’ he wrote. ‘The battle of Kwajalein, our most intense shoot during World War II, was still a lesser thing when measured in terms of artillery expenditure per hour, weight of metal against yards of earth and the grand output of the guns. For this at least the operation deserves a place in history. It set the all-time mark for artillery effort.’ [Source: James I. Marino, Military History magazine, April 2003]
“Pork Chop became a well-publicized battle and therefore an important bargaining chip at the peace table. In June 1953, Marshal Peng provided General Deng with a fresh unit, the First Army, consisting of the 1st, 2nd and 7th divisions, to relieve the 47th Army. On July 6, the Chinese command decided to make another attempt to take Hill 255. A few days earlier, the Communist and U.N. delegates had reached a tentative ceasefire agreement, but South Korean leader Syngman Rhee had balked at the settlement. The Chinese meant the attack on Pork Chop to chastise the Americans for failing to keep Rhee reined in.
“‘The Chinese were on their loudspeakers telling us to surrender,’ recalled Angelo Palermo, a 21-year-old private in Able Company, 17th Infantry. ‘If we did not, they said, we were all going to die. They announced that they were going to take Porkchop and that they would take no prisoners. On the night of July 6, as it started to get dark, the Chinese attacked in force. I was on a .50-caliber machine gun when they started to swarm up the hill. I could have sworn that all of China was on that slope. With enough firepower, we could have killed a thousand gooks, but we hadn’t nearly enough ammunition to turn back this kind of attack. We fired the .50 until we ran out of ammo, and by that time the Chinese were in our trenchline, so we fought them with rifle butts, bayonets, and even fists and helmets. They were pushing us back, but before we were driven off the hill, Baker Company came up to help us. However, the sheer numbers of Chinese drove us off the top of Porkchop.’
“The Americans sent in successive companies of reinforcements, and the Chinese matched each one with an additional battalion. The 17th Infantry gained and lost Pork Chop twice in four days. ‘General Trudeau came up on an inspection and told us that Porkchop had to be held at all costs,’ wrote Private Palermo.’I thought generals only talked like that in movies, but apparently I was mistaken.’ Trudeau organized a counterattack force from the reconnaissance battalion and personally led it up the hill. For that exemplary action, he was awarded the Silver Star. S.L.A. Marshall also noted that the much-maligned 7th, the only U.S. Army division to fight a major battle in 1953, ‘acquitted itself with the highest credit.’
“By July 11, five American battalions held a company-size outpost against a full Chinese division. On that same day, however, General Taylor, I Corps and the 7th Division ordered the hill abandoned. Taylor wrote in his book Swords and Plowshares, ‘The cost of continuing to defend Pork Chop became so prohibitive under the massed Chinese attacks that I authorized its evacuation.’
“Korea and Vietnam War veteran Colonel Harry G. Summers wrote more critically of his rationale: ‘Ever the politician (as he would prove to be again in the Vietnam War), General Taylor had made his decision based on his perception of American public and political reactions to the high number of U.S. casualties.’ Marshal Peng praised the outcome as ‘an example of how Chinese forces effectively employed the ‘new tactic’ of active defense in positional warfare.’ The British, who fought a similar battle at the Hook, thought the struggle for Pork Chop was foolish. Asked what he would have done to recapture Hill 255, Maj. Gen. Mike West, commander of the Commonwealth Division, answered: ‘Nothing. It was only an outpost.’
“With the final signing of the armistice agreement at Panmunjom on July 27, 1953, Pork Chop Hill became part of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. It has since become a symbol, both positive and negative, of a controversial war. In his book The Korean War, Max Hastings summed up both by writing: ‘The struggle for Pork Chop became part of the legend of the U.S. Army in Korea, reflecting the courage of the defenders and the tactical futility of so many small-unit actions of the kind that dominated the last two years of the war.’
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.
Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2021