Korean War Series: The Drive North; Capture of Pyongyang and the push to the Yalu.

“You tell the boys that when they get to the Yalu they are going home. I want to make good on my statement that they are going to eat Christmas dinner at home.” – General Douglas MacArthur 29 November 1950.

5th Cavalry Regiment enters the North Korean Capitol Pyongyang 19 October 1950. Photo Credit: Korean War Online.

19-20 October 1950

The US Army’s 1st Cavalry Division and the Republic of Korea (ROK) 1st Division capture the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) is collapsed and is falling back to the Yalu River. The war seems almost over to the UN high command, as no one takes the Chinese promise of intervention if the UN forces cross the 38th parallel seriously. Around 14 October Communist Chinese Forces (CCF) had began crossing the Yalu River and hiding themselves in the mountains of North Korea. Allied air recon flights failed to discover these troops, and the two allied columns, the Eighth Army and X Corps moved along two routes through the mountains that prevented one from supporting the other.

Map of the Chinese attack on the 8th Cavalry Regiment. Photo Credit: 1st Cavalry Division Association.

1-2 November 1950

After the fall of Pyongyang the Republic of Korea (ROK) 1st Division advanced north, intent on making it to the Yalu River. To the UN forces, the war seemed to be coming to a close, the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) was in disarray and losing ground at a rapid pace.  After the UN forces crossed the 38th Parallel at the beginning of October, and keeping to their threat, Communist Chinese Forces (CCF) began to cross the Yalu and secreting themselves in mass numbers in the mountains of North Korea. On the 25th of October, as the 1st ROK Division entered Unsan they came under fire from the CCF forces there. They began to suffer severe casualties and also began running low on ammunition. As the battle raged around Unsan between the ROK forces and the CCF, captured Chinese soldiers told both ROK and American interrogators that there were thousands of Chinese now in Korea.  Even with the battle and the reports from the incoming Chinese prisoners, General MacArthur didn’t take it seriously. The 8th Cavalry Regiment moved north from Pyongyang to relieve the 11th and 12th ROK regiments at Unsan. Once the whole unit was in the area, the relief in place of the ROK’s began. On November 1st as the relief began to take place, small firefights began to break out between the Allied defenders and the Chinese forces. As the day progressed, the small firefights began to escalate to a large fight all along the Allied lines. After dark and as the threat from the Chinese began to be overhwhelming, it was decided for the 8th Cavalry to withdraw closer to the village of Unsan to better defend it. As they withdrew, the forces that attempted to enter the village were fired upon by Chinese troops that had already entered behind the lines. As the ROK and American units withdraw, thus giving up their defensive positions, the Chinese utilized these positions to put more pressure on the withdrawing force. The next morning, 2 November, the Main Supply Route (MSR) that was the focus of the withdraw was held by and under fire from the Chinese. The 8th Cavalry vehicles were ordered destroyed and men made the decision to escape to the surrounding hills. By noon the survivors of the battle consolidated at Ipsok. The battle was the first contact between American forces and the Communist Chinese Forces and resulted in the 8th Cavalry being rendered ineffective. The overwhelming numbers of Chinese crushed the defense at Unsan, and was a prelude to a much larger attack yet to come.

Two battle hardened captured members of the 124th Chinese Division, captured by the 7th Marines on 2 November 1950. Photo Credit: Korean War Online.

3-7 November 1950

Moving ever northward, lead companies of the 7th Marine Regiment encounter not North Korean soldiers but Communist Chinese Forces (CCF) for the first time. These Chinese forces were part of the Chinese First Phase offensive. Approaching a hill on 2 November the Marines of Dog Company encountered Republic of Korea (ROK) soldiers fleeing south, and pointing back from where they came yelling Chinese! Chinese! Dog Company assaulted the highest and nearest hill in an attempt to secure high ground, under fire from heavy machine guns. After some fierce fighting with this new enemy, the 7th Marine held their objectives north of Sudong, and dug in in anticipation of a counterattack on the evening of 3 November. That attack came in the early morning hours of 4 November, and forced the Marines to withdraw partially, but the combined air and artillery support drove off the attackers. By 7 November the battle was over, and the estimated casualties for the CCF was 3,000. The POWs that the Marines captured during the battle and after revealed that the Marines with their effective use of combined arms had decimated the 124th Chinese division, to the point that they would not recover until spring of 1951. This was to be the only defeat the CCF would suffer in their First Phase assault.

Bombing of the bridges over the Yalu River connecting North Korea from Manchuria. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

8 November 1950

Given the contact the Allies began having with Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) in their drive to the Yalu, General MacArthur ordered an all out bombing campaign against the bridges across the Yalu River that led to Manchuria. This was to isolate the battlefield and supposedly stop the flow of Chinese forces into North Korea. However, 150,000 of these forces were already in North Korea by this time, hiding among the rugged mountainous terrain. The slow moving B-29’s were hampered by not being allowed to enter Manchurian airspace, and also by attacks from the new MiG-15 fighter jets slowed the progress of destroying the bridges. By the end of the month they cut four of the bridges but the Yalu was frozen over by then, and the Chinese were building pontoon bridges too. The effort was halted by 5 December.

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