It was 59 years ago today . . .
The Korean War began at 04:00 on 25 June 1950 when large numbers of North Korean troops crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded South Korea with the objective of overthrowing the regime of President Syngman Rhee and unifying the whole Korean Peninsula under Communist control.
The United Nations, in an emergency session without the presence of the Soviet delegation who had staged a recent walk-out, passed an immediate resolution calling on North Korea to withdraw. When this was ignored, the United Nations Organization called for military intervention by member states to support the forces of South Korea and to help drive the North Koreans back over the 38th Parallel.
General Douglas MacArthur, then commanding the occupation forces in Japan and its virtual military governor, was placed in supreme command of the US forces which were the first to arrive in Korea. These were later joined by varying forces from a considerable number of United Nations member states all of whom agreed to serve under the overall command of MacArthur.
Overwhelmed by the North Korean forces (NKPA), the UN troops fell back and by the end of July 1950 occupied only the extreme south-east portion of the Korean Peninsula surrounding the port of Pusan which became the provisional capital of South Korea. Despite strenuous efforts by the NKPA, they were unable to break into the Pusan Perimeter and the North Korean high command became extremely anxious about the difficulties of supplying their armies surrounding the Perimeter through the communications bottleneck of the Seoul area and along their extended lines of communication.
MacArthur realized that if he could strangle these lines of communication, the force which did this could become the anvil against which the hammer of the troops within the Perimeter could strike the NKPA and so he looked for a suitable place for an amphibious landing for this purpose.
. . .
The American Joint Chiefs of Staff sent a delegation to Tokyo to meet with MacArthur in an endeavour to dissuade him from what they regarded as a suicidal operation. General Lawton Collins, Army Chief of Staff, and Admiral Forrest Sherman, Chief of Naval Operations, had a lengthy meeting with MacArthur and his senior commanders and advisers on 23 August 1950 at his headquarters in the Dai Ichi Building in Tokyo where a detailed briefing lasting some eighty minutes was presented by the staff of Admiral Doyle, the amphibious commander. Doyle himself then rose to make his own assessment by saying that, in his opinion, the best he could say about the operation was that it was not impossible. Both General Collins and Admiral Sherman presented the objections of the Joint Chiefs who recommended that Kunsan replace Inchon as the objective.
MacArthur sat quietly smoking his famous corn-cob pipe whilst all the objections to his plan were expounded, occasionally interrupting to ask a question. When the rest had finished, he quietly presented all the reasons which made him so certain of the correctness of the plan – the fact that the operation presented a gamble which the enemy was likely to discount for all the reasons which its opponents had advanced was, in itself, the main reason for attempting to do the apparently impossible. He drew the comparison with the assault of General Wolfe on the fortress of Quebec, emphasising the weakness of the enemy defences in this area which they obviously felt was unlikely to be attacked and stressing that no other landing area could so effectively pinch the vital nerves of the enemy and hasten the end of the war. His immense confidence allied to his enormous prestige as a field commander eventually won over all his detractors and the Joint Chiefs of Staff finally approved the landing having covered themselves by involving the President of the United States in their decision.
. . .
The plan of attack
On account of the tidal problems, the first attack had to be planned in two phases with approximately twelve hours between them. It was necessary for the island of Wolmi-do to be neutralized before the main force could proceed to land and, apart from the previous three days’ aerial and naval bombardrrients, this required an amphibious assault by US Marines who would occupy the island during the main landing. Thus the 5th Marines would land an assault battalion on the morning tide around 06:00 which was intended to overcome the garrison and occupy the island, holding it without further support until the evening tide when the main forces would land to the north and south of Inchon proper. These two landing forces would establish their own perimeters for the night of 15 September and break out on the morning of 16 September, link up together and drive inland to capture Kimpo airfield, cross the Han River and enter Seoul.
The landing on Wolmi-do
Third Battalion Fifth Marines sailed from Pusan on 12 September loaded on the LSD (Landing Ship Dock) Fort Marion and the destroyer-transports Bass, Diachenko and Wan tuck. Escorted by British and New Zealand warships, they slipped north up the coast of Korea buffeted by the howling winds and mountainous seas that came in the wake of typhoon ‘Kezia’.
At midnight on 14/15 September they reached Inchon Harbour passing the brightly lit lighthouse of Palmi-do where the gallant Lieutenant Clark sat wrapped in his blanket. Accompanied by the gunfire support ships, they entered the harbour and at 05:45 on 15 September the naval bombardment by shells and rockets was resumed and Wolmi-do was soon blazing once again. By the light of these fires, carrier-based Corsair fighter-bombers strafed the beaches and at 06:31, just a minute behind schedule, the leading landing boats disgorged the first US marines on Wolmi-do. Ten minutes later nine tanks were landed comprising three with flamethrowers, three with bulldozer blades and three conventionally armed. These at once started to attack the defenders who were holed up in numerous caves and strongpoints. A few of the approximately 500 defenders were able to escape over the causeway to Inchon, about 120 were killed, 180 were taken prisoner and a few who refused to surrender were entombed in their caves and bunkers by the blades of the bulldozer tanks. The American flag was raised on the highest point of the island only 47 minutes after the first landing and at 08:00 Lieutenant-Colonel Taplett, the battalion commander, radioed the fleet ‘WOLMI-DO SECURED’.
At a cost of some 20 men wounded, the first phase was successfully completed and the 5th Marines settled down to long and apprehensive hours of waiting as the tide receded over the vast mud flats cutting them off from their supporting ships which were forced to withdraw down Flying Fish Channel. The North Koreans were by now fully alerted to the impending attack on Inchon itself and it was expected that they would attempt to reinforce the town. With this in mind, aircraft from the carriers flew interdiction sorties throughout the day covering a radius of 25 miles [40 km] from the landing area to seal it off whilst the Marines on Wolmi-do fired on any movements seen on the mainland. Their tanks had already broken through the lightly held roadblock on the causeway between Wolmi-do and Inchon but Lieutenant-Colonel Taplett was refused permission to push any of his troops across to establish a bridgehead on the mainland. Despite only having about 20 000 troops in the area of Inchon, the North Koreans made no attempt to reinforce the town.
The main assault on Inchon
Using what navigable channels there remained, the assault shipping for the main landing assembled and the main naval bombardment to cover Red and Blue Beaches began at 14:30 to the intense relief of the 5th Marines on Wolmi-do. Under the effect of the naval bombardment, Inchon slowly began to burn and a huge pall of smoke billowed upwards and began to drift south towards Blue Beach. At 16:45 as the landing craft began to push off from the transports, some 2 000 rockets were loosed off at the beaches and low-flying aircraft attacked the defenders with bombs and cannon.
On Wolmi-do, the men of 3rd Battalion had a grandstand view of their comrades as they landed on Red Beach just to the north and were able to give them fire support with every weapon they possessed enfilading the enemy defences from the south-east. The objective of the 5th Marines on Red Beach was the early capture of the important features of Cemetery Hill and Observatory Hill which dominated the town and the surrounding countryside. The ‘beach’ on which they were to land was, in fact, a stretch of sea-wall and at 17:31 when the first waves arrived, there was still some four feet of wall above the ramps of the landing craft. Scrambling up their hook-ladders or leap-frogging over the backs of their buddies, the first wave landed successfully under cover of a shower of grenades from their comrades behind them without being fired upon by the enemy. Enemy resistance was limited except for one or two isolated pockets although a larger group on the left of the ‘beach’ was more tenacious and killed eight Marines before they were dislodged. In 25 minutes Cemetery Hill had been overrun and a NKPA mortar company taken prisoner. The leading company moved forward into the town heading for Observatory Hill in the gathering darkness. By midnight the regiment held a firm line round these two vital features and eight LSTs (Landing Ship Tank) were firmly grounded at Red Beach disgorging a stream of tanks, trucks and stores with which to supply the attacking troops.
To the south, the landing at Blue Beach was much more confused and it was fortunate that the 1st Marines did not run into determined resistance. The combination of the gathering rain clouds and the billowing smoke from the fires started by the bombardment reduced visibility to a few metres. Few of the landing craft or the amphibious vehicles had serviceable compasses and the helmsmen relied on instinct coupled with their last general view of the landing area when they entered the thick gloom which covered this ‘beach’ which, too, was mainly a rocky sea-wall. Many units became separated in the smoke and one reserve battalion was landed some 2 200 yards [2012 m] from the designated beach area.
Many of the Marines in the assault were hastily mustered reserves. One Amtrak (amphibious troopcarrier) helmsman, when asked where the compass was, replied ‘Search me! Two weeks ago I was driving a bus in San Francisco.’ The sea-wall itself was breached by shells from the naval guns as well as by an LST ploughing straight into it which made a hole large enough to allow its bow doors to be opened through the wall to offload bulldozer tanks. These tanks literally buried enemy snipers who were shooting from slit trenches behind the wall. One Marine sergeant was horrified to see the barge of Vice-Admiral Struble approach the sea-wall with the Admiral and Major-General Almond, the Corps Commander, on board just as the sergeant was lighting the fuse on a demolition charge. After a brief burst of colourful language from the Marine, the barge moved to a safer distance to watch the charge blow a useful hole in the sea-wall.
Once ashore the confusion of the landing was overcome and the Marines began to move out, swinging north-east to cut off the town of Inchon from the east and working their way slowly through the industrial area where small pockets of enemy were fighting among the warehouses of the waterfront. By 01:30, 16 September, they had reached and cut the main road running due east to Seoul and along which any enemy reinforcements could have been expected to travel. On both beachheads the weary Marines dozed over their weapons anticipating a night counter-attack which never materialized whilst their radio operators struggled to make contact with missing units to draw the battalions together. Thanks to the very light enemy resistance, the effects of the heavy bombardment beforehand and the small numbers of NKPA troops in the area, the whole landing had been accomplished with minimal casualties amounting to 20 killed, one missing and 174 wounded some of which were, unfortunately, the victims of misguided fire from their own LSTs. Air cover throughout the operation was provided by Royal Navy Seafires and Fireflies from HMS Triumph and US Navy Corsairs and Skyraiders from the carriers Valley Forge, Boxer and Phillippine Sea. It appeared that the North Koreans had withdrawn almost all their aircraft from the Inchon-Seoul area once the Naval aircraft began their strikes on enemy airfields prior to the landings and virtually no enemy air activity was experienced. The sole exception was an abortive sortie by two Yak-9 fighter-bombers on 17 September. These aircraft dropped a few small bombs near the USS Rochester and HMS Jamaica which replied by shooting down one of the Yaks and driving off the other one.
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Operation Chromite Inchon Landing X Corps Report 1950
Battle of Inchon
Korean War: Operation Chromite
Operation Chromite: counterattack at Inchon
The Inchon Landing: Operation Chromite
Operation CHROMITE – The Inchon Invasion
So, 59 years later we’re still at war with North Korea, they still threaten South Korea, claim to have nuclear weapons, and MacArthur and Truman are long dead.
/remember, we only signed a ceace fire, not a peace treaty
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