Making a Stand
In the winter of 1951 the American commanded United Nations’ forces in Korea found themselves in a continuous full scale retreat from the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) that had entered the Korean War in November 1950. Prior to the Chinese intervention into the war, the American commanders and troops expected the war to be over by Christmas 1950 after General Douglas MacArthur’s successful Inchon Landing Operation in September 1950 ultimately crushed the North Korean army and moved the war into the communist north to conduct mop up operations of the remainder of the North Korean military. However, the UN advance into North Korea would be short lived as 600,000 Chinese “volunteers” charged down the North Korean hillsides, inflicting heavy casualties, and putting the UN forces into full scale retreat. Once a retreat is started it is hard to stop especially when many of the soldiers retreating are draftees fighting in a “police action” they hardly understood and had been told just weeks prior that they would be home for Christmas.
It was going to take great leadership in order to stop the retreat and regain the fighting spirit of the United States military. The first sign of great leadership would come from newly installed Eighth United States Army commander General Matthew Ridgeway. Ridgeway was installed as the 8th Army commander after the death of former 8th Army commander General Walton Walker in a jeep accident in December 1950. Ridgeway served as a paratrooper during World War II; most notably as the division commander of the 82nd Airborne Division to include jumping into Normandy with his division during the D-Day Landings in 1944. Before coming to Korea Ridgeway was the commander of the Panama Canal Zone and was thus far removed from the happenings of Korea. Once in theatre Ridgeway quickly discovered how demoralized the American forces were and aggressively began to implement a no retreat policy. He in fact relieved his G3 operations officer when he drew up retreat contingency plans for the general to review. However, it is one thing to say no more retreat and quite another to get soldiers to implement and most importantly believe in this policy. The job to both implement and get soldiers to believe in this policy would fall to a man named Colonel Paul Freeman, at a place called Chipyong-ni.
COL Freeman was the commander of the 23rd US Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division (Yes the same 2ID of taxi cab related incident fame). The regiment had just come off a minor victory over Chinese troops at a place called Twin Tunnels three miles south of the village of Chipyong-ni. After the battle COL Freeman moved the regiment to the village that was located in a flat valley of rice paddies surrounded on all sides by steep hillsides. The regiment’s success at Twin Tunnels followed by their advance to Chipyong-ni had left the regiment ultimately at a tactical disadvantage because the friendly units to their east and west had retreated from the prior Chinese assault, leaving COL Freeman’s flanks exposed to Chinese attack. Once COL Freeman realized his tactical situation he radioed to the 2ID commander that he wanted to withdraw 15 south to secure his flanks with the remainder of the US forces. The 2ID commander approved his request along with the Corps commander, but once the request for COL Freeman’s withdrawal reached General Ridgeway he simply said said something to the equivalent of “F–k No!”
The village of Chipyong-ni was of strategic value to Ridgeway due to the fact it was a key road intersection for all vehicular movement in the area. If any future American offensive operation was to be launched Ridgeway needed to hold on to Chipyong-ni. Most importantly Ridgeway needed to set a tone. The 23rd INF’s earlier success at Twin Tunnels showed that the unit had fighting spirit and good leadership. Ridgeway needed someone to make a stand against the Chinese and show the rest of the US and UN forces that the Chinese were not the unbeatable adversary that most of the demoralized troops thought they were. He was counting on COL Freeman and the men of the 23rd INF to be ones to make that stand.
Next Posting: Preparing for Battle