The Defense Kaechon
As the rest of the division began to withdraw towards Kunu-ri, General Yazici and his men remained in place east of Kaechon. Due to a lack of communications with higher headquarters as well as language issues, the Turkish Brigade was late in receiving orders to withdraw. The Turks fought throughout the day against assaulting Chinese forces and were able to hold their positions at great cost. That evening General Yazici finally either received or properly understood the orders to withdraw towards the hamlet Sinnim-ni. Unlike the US units that withdrew during the day, the Turkish Brigade had to conduct their withdrawal during the night that caused mass confusion among the soldiers as trucks and equipment became backlogged on the narrow road towards the village. Additionally by withdrawing at night it opened the Turkish column to attack from the Chinese who preferred to conduct operations at night.
In the early morning hours of November 29, 1950 the Chinese opened an attack on the withdrawing Turkish Brigade which was now in the vicinity of Sinnim-ni. The brigade’s headquarters had pulled back about three miles west of Sinnim-ni into the village of Kaech’on. General Yazici was at first not even aware that his three infantry battalions had been enveloped by the Chinese in the vicinity of Sinnim-ni due to having no communications with them. The Turkish artillery battalion had withdrawn from Sinnim-ni to Kaech’on and informed General Yazici that his three infantry battalions had been completed surrounded and were not able to withdraw any farther.
In response Yazici ordered his one reserve infantry company and a platoon of attached American tanks from the 72nd Armored regiment to attack up the road towards Sinnim-ni to open a route for his infantry battalions to withdraw on. The relief element was successful in re-opening the route. Miraculously the three infantry battalions though suffering heavy casualties had survived the Chinese envelopment all night and were still intact. One battalion had actually ran out of ammunition and had to charge the Chinese attackers with swords to take their weapons from them to keep fighting.
This is how a December 11, 1950 TIME magazine report described the action at Sinnim-ni:
Red Chinese soldiers attacking a ridge line near Waewon last week were shocked to come face to face with swarthy, fiercely mustachioed Turks howling down upon them with bayonets fixed. In this and other Turkish bayonet charges some 200 Chinese were killed, and soon stories of the Turks were spreading like a tonic along the U.N. line.
The Turkish brigade (5,000 men) is led by Brigadier General Tahsin Yazici, who likes to twit British war correspondents with such remarks as, “Yes, I remember your General Townshend well. We took him prisoner at Kut-el-Amara [in 1916].” Last week Yazici’s smart, tightly disciplined Turks were thrown in to hold the line the R.O.K.s abandoned east of Kaechon. Estimated Turkish casualties at week’s end: 500. A U.S. doctor said it seemed that a Turk waited until he had at least three wounds before he reported to the medics.
After 48 hours of concentrated action on the shoulder of the Red Chinese wedge the Turks were short of food and ammunition, fighting with knives and fists, and even hurling stones at endless waves of Chinese attackers. Yet U.S. tanks that went forward to rescue trapped Turkish units found the Turks preparing to attack. Ordered to pull back from positions where they were surrounded by the swarming Chinese, the Turkish commander replied in amazement, “Withdraw? Why withdraw? We are killing lots of them.”
By the time the relief column arrived the Chinese were worn out from the failed assault on the Turkish positions that night and did not engage the withdrawing Turks. Instead the Chinese followed them along the hillsides that rimmed the small road towards Kaech’on. The Turks had been in contact for an entire day and night and had so far held up well to the Chinese offensive, however they had a whole lot more Chinese attacks to deal with coming up.
This Google Earth image depicts the route of the Turkish withdrawal towards Kaechon. This map also gives a good depiction of how isolated the Turkish Brigade was in the east.
The allied withdrawal was complete by noon and General Keiser then issued new orders to establish a new frontline against the Chinese onslaught. The Turkish Brigade was ordered to hold the right flank of the 2nd Infantry Division from their position at Kaech’on to include blocking a road southeast of Kaechon across the Kaechon River. American advisors to General Yazici passed the information to him, but either due to translation issues or Yazici’s fear of spreading out his brigade to thin, he did not send any units across the Kaechon River and manned a tighter frontline around the village of Kaech’on.
While the Turks were consolidating their position at Kaech’on the Chinese had launched an attack north of city against the frontline of the 38th Infantry Regiment. The Chinese had succeeded in breaking through the frontline and the 2nd Infantry Division headquarters relayed orders to General Yazici to attack north to re-establish the frontline position that the 38th IN had lost. However, once again General Yazici either did not understand the order or refused to follow it because he did not attack north. Once the Chinese had consolidated their position north of Kaechon they began to launch a mortar attack against the Turkish positions at Kaechon. In response to the mortar attack Yazici ordered his men to begin to withdraw further down the road to the west towards the village of Kunu-ri. However, since the Turkish Brigade had not secured the route on the south side of the Kaechon River the Chinese were able to use this route and go around the Turkish Brigade and establish blocking positions on the south side of the road heading to the west.
The Desperate Withdrawal
Since the Turkish withdrawal was not coordinated with the division headquarters they became inter-mixed with the withdrawing elements of the 38th IN. The small road became clogged with vehicles and men from both units. As night fell the mixture of Turkish and American units on the road were attacked by the Chinese unit positioned on the southern hillsides of the road. Mass confusion due to the loss of command and during the withdrawal occurred and soldiers took to northern hillside to take cover from the Chinese attack. The only thing that saved the withdrawing column the night of the 29th from destruction was a deadly B-26 bombing strike on the attacking Chinese unit. A successful bombing strike at night was a rarity at this point of the Korean War, but this successful strike came at just the right time for the Turks and Americans. The strike gave them enough time to get back on their vehicles and continue the withdrawal west towards Kunu-ri.
Turkish soldiers withdrawing from Kaechon.
At the end of the valley to Kunu-ri one last Chinese position was pouring fire into the column from Hill 107. A mixed unit of American and Turkish soldiers conducted a bayonet charge up the hill and secured and held it from Chinese attack thus allowing the remaining elements in the column to reach Kunu-ri.
Reconsolidating at Kunu-ri
As the 38th IN and the Turkish Brigade retreated towards Kunu-ri, Colonel Paul Freeman’s 23rd Infantry Regiment continued to hold the northern frontline to allow these elements enough time to withdraw and reconsolidate their units. Once the units were reconsolidated they were to travel down the road heading south from Kunu-ri towards the village of Sunchon while the 23rd IN fought a delaying battle against the Chinese to give these elements enough time to withdraw.
It is clear at this time of the battle that the Turkish Brigade was decimated from their first fight with the Chinese. Colonel Freeman would later comment about the Turkish soldiers, “The Turks had been committed, but they had taken a look at the situation and they had no stomach for it and they were running in all directions.” Colonel Freeman’s assessment of the Turkish Brigade conflicts greatly with the public perception of the performance of the brigade at Kunu-ri. The reasons for this would become clear later on.
Throughout the remainder of the night the 38th IN commander Colonel Peploe was able to consolidate his men as they exited the valley just south of Kunu-ri. Colonel Peploe tried to consolidate the men of the attached 3rd ROK Regiment, but they had received orders from their own commander to withdraw south cross country and left the 38th IN where they were at. Meanwhile the Turkish Brigade was still exiting the valley and General Yazici continued to try to reorganize his men after the disorganized withdrawal.
At daybreak on the morning of November 29th a resupply column of Turkish trucks had driven up the road from Sunchon to Kunu-ri to resupply the reconsolidating Turkish Brigade that had used much of their supplies after the frantic withdrawal that night. As the Turkish column had driven up the road they had been attacked and nearly wiped out by Chinese forces. The few surviving Turks who survived the attack notified the 2nd Infantry Division headquarters about the roadblock. A platoon of MPs were dispatched to investigate the roadblock and they came under intense fire about 4 miles down the road and returned to division headquarters at Kunu-ri. A large Chinese element had infiltrated through the division’s exposed eastern flank and set up positions on each side of the road heading south from Kunu-ri to Sunch’on.
Trapped at Kunu-ri
In response General Keiser decided to send a reconnaissance company to try and clear the roadblock. Around noontime the company had radio backed to division headquarters that they could not remove the Chinese roadblock and needed reinforcements. That afternoon Keiser then sent an infantry company from the 38th IN reinforced with a platoon of tanks from the 72nd Armored Regiment to help the reconnaissance company to open the pass to Sunchon. Even this combined unit could not remove the Chinese blocking the pass to the south. At dusk General Keiser called off the attack and ordered his elements to form a perimeter around Kunu-ri. General Keiser then coordinated a plan with the British 27th Commonwealth Division located in Sunchon to launch a simultaneous attack the next morning from both the north and the south to try and open the road so the 2nd ID could withdraw south.
Advancing Chinese soldiers.
With the 2nd ID trapped at Kunu-ri the adjacent I Corps to the division’s west offered to allow division elements to withdraw on the road heading west and then south towards Sinanju in their sector. The division’s supply trucks and the 2nd ID headquarter’s advanced party all took the route towards the west and then south towards Sinanju, the remainder of the division maintained the perimeter at Kunu-ri. General Keiser actually considered withdrawing the rest of the division down this road but after his supply elements had crossed the road heading west the headquarters had received an erroneous report that the road had become blocked by Chinese forces when in fact it had not plus the I Corps commander General Coulter would not give permission for the entire division to use the road. Since General Keiser believed he could not use the road, he decided to stay with his original plan of launching a simultaneous attack with the British the next morning to reopen the route heading south.
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