“We are fighting a battle against time. There will be no more retreating, withdrawal or readjustment of the lines or any other term you choose. There is no line behind us to which we can retreat.…There will be no Dunkirk, there will be no Bataan. A retreat to Pusan would be one of the greatest butcheries in history. We must fight until the end.…We will fight as a team. If some of us must die, we will die fighting together.…I want everybody to understand we are going to hold this line. We are going to win.” – Lieutenant General Walton Walker’s order to the Eighth Army in defending Pusan 1 August 1950
Following Task Force Smith’s delaying action at the beginning of July, the American forces continually arrived in Korea piecemeal. This made any effort to fully stop the North Korean juggernaut futile. The 24th Infantry Division fought a tough battle in mid July near a town called Taejon which resulted in heavy losses and also forced them to fall back.
Continually losing ground to the North Korean forces, Lieutenant General Walton Walker, commanding general of the Eighth Army, ordered the Eighth Army to withdraw behind the Naktong River, and form a defensive perimeter around the vital port city of Pusan. Following attempts to drive into the perimeter around Pusan, the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA), having suffered losses up to this point, withdrew to rest, refit and prepare.
At the outset of hostilities the NKPA numbered around 90,000, a highly mobile mechanized force supported by armor. Fighting hard from 25 June until the beginning of August, NKPA losses were estimated at around 58,000 men plus a large number of their tanks. They began raising units from conscripted South Korean civilians to bolster their numbers. An estimate of what they had available to finish the job at Pusan was around 70,000 combat troops. General Douglas MacArthur, commander of all UN forces in Korea, boasted the UN numbers in Pusan to be 141,808, 47,000 of which were American. Additionally, US and Allied air power controlled the skies, providing support to the ground units.
General Walker’s order on 1 August 1950 was for the entire UN force to fall back behind the Naktong River and set up a defensive position to protect the port at Pusan. They were to hold at all costs, allowing the remainder of the UN forces to get to Korea. Victory in the eyes of the North Koreans was within their grasp; one more hard strike and they would drive the UN forces into the sea and the whole peninsula would be under communist control.
On the night of 5-6 August 1950 the North Koreans launched an offensive that penetrated the perimeter at the Naktong River on the western edge of the Perimeter. What would be called the first Battle of Naktong Bulge took place at a bend in the river that was difficult to defend for UN forces to defend. This penetration of the perimeter threatened to expand and ultimately drive the UN out of Korea, so every available man was sent to counterattack and drive the North Koreans out. By 7 August the Americans had secured the line and driven the North Korean 4th Division back across the river.
The Americans suffered 1500 casualties but they held the line. Multiple attacks by the North Koreans took place along the perimeter throughout the month of August and first part of September. Each time the North Koreans suffered heavy casualties and failed to destroy the UN force. In fact the North Korean 4th Division would be so battered that they would fail to be a fighting force for a year after Pusan. North Korea failed in their mission because instead of focusing all of their forces in one portion of the perimeter, they attempted to attack at multiple locations. The Americans were struggling to hold on, using World War Two era weapons, including ineffective bazookas to defend against modern Soviet armor used by the North Koreans.
The North Koreans knew that the longer the allies held out, the stronger they would become. Meanwhile, the NKPA was daily exhausting resources and men. For both sides it was a fight against time. For the UN it was the fact of holding on long enough for reinforcements to change the course of the war; for the North Koreans it was a matter to drive the UN off the peninsula before they could be strong enough to counter attack. As time went on, the tide of the war seemed to be favoring the UN As August turned into September, it wasn’t a matter of if the UN would counterattack, but when and where. Only the UN high command knew the answer to both of those questions.
Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Pusan Perimeter. https://dpaa.secure.force.com/dpaaFamWebInPusan
Korean War Legacy Foundation. Holding the Pusan Perimeter. https://koreanwarlegacy.org/chapters/holding-the-pusan-perimeter/