Guerrilla Warfare Behind the Front

Do not now go into such dangerous and difficult places, but order your guides to lead you by the easiest road, unless it is much too long; for the easiest road is the shortest for an army.

XENOPHON, Cyropaedia

In late October and during November, guerrilla warfare was increasing in intensity behind the United Nations front lines in North Korea. Remnants of the North Korea People's Army retreating into North Korea from the Pusan Perimeter and, to a lesser degree, miscellaneous guerrillas carried on this action.

While the U.S. I Corps advanced beyond the 38th Parallel into North Korea together with the bulk of the ROK Army, the U.S. IX Corps in early October assembled in the Taejon-Chonju area, well south of the Han River. There it prepared to secure the supply routes from the old Pusan Perimeter, repair the railroad, and hunt down and destroy bypassed enemy groups. The IX Corps command post opened at Taejon on 5 October. The 2d infantry Division assumed responsibility generally for the area west and southwest of Taejon, and the 25th Division for the Taejon area and that south and east of it. The newly activated ROK 11th Division was attached to IX Corps on 5 October to help with security in rear areas. On 10 October the Eighth Army Ranger Company was attached to IX Corps, and it joined with the 25th Division Reconnaissance Company in antiguerrilla activity in the Poun area, northeast of Taejon. [1]

During October the 25th Division was the American organization most actively employed in antiguerrilla warfare. It had 6,500 square miles of mountainous country in its zone of responsibility. This lay athwart the escape routes from the old Pusan Perimeter of the larger part of the enemy units cut off or bypassed. On occasion, large groups of enemy soldiers were cornered and either destroyed or captured. On 7 October the 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, largely as a result of unusually effective artillery fire, killed or wounded about 400 of an enemy force estimated to number approximately 500 men. On another occasion the 3d Battalion of the same regiment captured 549 prisoners in one day. [2]

Enemy guerrilla action, in fact, extended all the way to the southern tip

[1] IX Corps WD, Sep 50, Personal Recollections of General Coulter; 
Ibid., bk. I, sec. II, Oct 50; Rd Inf Div Hist, vol. II, Sep 50, p, 44; 
25th Div WD, 7 Oct 50; IX Corps WD, 10 and 15 Oct 50. 

[2] EUSAK WD, Br for CG, 24 Oct 50; 25th Div WD, Hist, bk. I, 7-8 Oct 


of Korea. Reportedly it was co-ordinated and directed by Kim Chaek, the commander of the North Korean Front Headquarters. The guerrillas harassed isolated villages, ambushed patrols, fired on trains, cut telephone lines, and attacked South Korean police stations.

In South Korea bands of guerrillas ambushed vehicles on both the Green Diamond (east coast) and Red Diamond (mountainous western) routes between Pusan and Taegu, and at night raided villages for food, clothing, and hostages. In the latter part of November an estimated 20,000 guerrillas operated in the southwest corner of Korea. The Chiri-san area there between Hadong and Koch'ang continued to be a center of guerrilla activity despite the efforts of the newly organized ROK 11th Division and the National Police to suppress it. [3]

Near the 38th Parallel in the central part of Korea there was serious guerrilla action. A long series of incidents occurred in the Ch'unch'on-Hwach'on area north of Wonju. On 22 October an enemy force attacked and dispersed sixty ROK soldiers and police guarding the Hwach'on Dam. The North Koreans then opened the dam's control gates and the Pukhan River rose four feet by the next day and one pier of a railroad bridge many miles below was washed out. On the 25th when a ROK police battalion reoccupied Hwach'on and the hydroelectric dam east of it they found the turbine and control panels at the dam seriously damaged. In November the 1st, 3d, 5th, and 7th ROK Anti-Guerrilla Battalions were almost constantly engaged with North Korean forces in the Hwach'on area. Most of them apparently were elements of the N.K. 10th Division. At one time the North Koreans held Ch'unch'on, cutting off all its communications with Seoul only forty-five miles to the southwest. [4]

In the east, in the high Taeback Mountains southwest of Samch'ok, in mid-November there were 4,000 bypassed soldiers of the N.K. 3d, 4th, and 5th Divisions, with miscellaneous guerrillas, according to the report of a North Korean regimental commander who surrendered there. Guerrillas even operated at the edge of Seoul. On 15 October a group of them attacked a radio relay station four and a half miles north of the Capital building.

In northeast Korea there was guerrilla action behind the X Corps front from the very moment troops came ashore at Wonsan and it continued until the corps left that part of the country.

Within a few hours after it landed there on 26 October, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, loaded onto gondola cars and just after noon started for Kojo, thirty-nine miles down the coast. There it relieved ROK troops guarding a supply dump. That first night passed quietly, and the next afternoon the ROK's loaded into a train and departed northward.

In a few hours the deceptive quiet at Kojo exploded into a wild night battle

[3] 2d Log Comd Act Rpt, G-2 Sec, Nov 50; EUSAK WD, Br for CC, 23 Nov 
50; IX Corps WD, bk. 1, 17-18 Oct 50.
[4] EUSAK WD, G-3 Jnl, Msg 2100 23 Oct 50; Ibid. G-3 Jnl, Msg at 1200 
12 Nov 50; Ibid. G-3 Sec, 13 Nov so; Ibid. Br for CG, 25 Oct 50; GHQ 
FEC, History of the N.K. Army, p. 69 (N.K. 10th Div); ATIS Res Supp 
Interrog Rpts, Issue 104 (N.K. 10th Div) p. so; ATIS Interrog Rpts, 
Issue 27 (Korean Opns), p. 81ff, Lt Col Yun Bong Hun, CO 19th Regt N.K. 
13th Div.


that began soon after dark and continued after daylight of the 28th. An organized force of North Koreans, later determined by prisoner interrogations to have been three battalions of the N.K. 5th Division, had silently crept close to the hill positions of the marines south and northwest of Kojo. The enemy attack came so swiftly at one platoon position that fifteen marines were killed there-seven in their sleeping bags. For a time two Marine companies were cut off, but they eventually fought off the enemy and re-established contact with the battalion. [5]

Upon receiving word of the enemy attack, General Almond requested the dispatch of two destroyers to Kojo where they delivered naval gunfire in support of the marines, and on his orders the 1st Marine Air Wing delivered strikes on Kojo that almost completely demolished and burned it. In the afternoon the 1st Marine Division started the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, from Wonsan for Kojo, and that evening a tank company began loading into an LST at Wonsan, its destination, Kojo. Before noon of the 28th, however, the North Koreans moved off west into the hills and the fight was over. The marines recovered their dead and counted their losses-27 killed, 39 wounded, 3 missing. [6]

Other guerrilla actions south and west of Wonsan, apparently by elements of the N.K. 5th Division, followed the Kojo incident. On 2 November, an enemy force ambushed a supply convoy behind the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, near Wonsan, killing nine and wounding fifteen men.

Some of the most destructive of the attacks behind the lines occurred along the main rail and highway route between Wonsan and Hungnam. On the night of 6-7 November, after dark, an enemy force ambushed a convoy south of Kowon, thirty-five miles north of Wonsan, and, after the drivers fled into the adjacent rice paddies, burned three jeeps and twenty trucks. North of town another group ambushed a military police patrol and then attacked a signal unit, inflicting casualties on both.

At the town of Kowon itself, before midnight, North Koreans attacked a northbound Marine Corps supply train. Thirty marines were riding the train as guards. The night was dark, and snow flurries increased the poor visibility. After the train had stopped at a water tank, a North Korean soldier violently flung open the door of the front coach and burst inside. A marine killed him instantly. Enemy burp gun and rifle fire now ripped into the coaches. Outside, enemy soldiers blew the track ahead and killed the engineer when he started to back the train. The North Koreans persisted in their efforts to enter the coaches despite heavy losses until they finally succeeded, shooting and clubbing every marine they thought still alive. But 2 wounded marines inside the coach successfully feigned death and escaped later. In this action the train engineer and 6 marines were killed, and 8 marines wounded. [7]

[5] 1st Mar Div SAR, 8 Oct-13 Dec 50, vol. I, p. 23; Ibid., vol. II, an. 
C, pp. 6-8, 26-28 Oct 50; Geer, The New Breed, pp. 196-203. 

[6] X Corps WD, G-3 Jnl, Msg 39, 28 Oct 50; Diary of CG, X Corps, 28 Oct 
50; 1st Mar Div SAR, vol. II, an. C, pp. 10-15, 29 Oct-2 Nov 50. 

[7] 1st Mar Div SAR, vol. II, an. C, p. 27, 7 Nov 50 X Corps WD, 7-8 Nov 
50; Ibid., PIR 42, 7 Nov 50; Geer, The New Breed, pp. 248-51.


Later in the night, at 0230, an estimated 500 North Koreans attacked a battalion of the 65th Infantry Regiment, 3d Division, which just the previous day had occupied Yonghung, eight miles farther north and midway between Wonsan and Hungnam, and inflicted 40 casualties. This same enemy force then struck a detachment of the 4th Signal Battalion nearby, and, in moving northward from it, stumbled into the camp of the 86th Field Artillery Battalion. There the North Koreans penetrated the battalion positions and by mortar fire destroyed six 155-mm. howitzers and the battalion trains containing all the ammunition supply, inflicting about 40 casualties. The enemy withdrew after daylight. Aerial observers later discovered an estimated 2,000 enemy troops moving on secondary roads into the mountains northwest of Yonghung. Two heavy air strikes on them caused an estimated 300 casualties. [8]

To the west, elements of the N.K. 15th Division held the upper Imjin River valley and centered their harassing action against Majon-ni. From the beginning this area was one of the worst centers of North Korean guerrilla action in the X Corps zone of operations. The Wonsan-Majon-ni road was the eastern end of the main lateral road across the peninsula to the North Korean capital city of P'yongyang. From Wonsan, ridge after ridge of the Taebaek Range rose westward for an airline distance of 60 miles. The road twisted along narrow gorges and climbed zigzag over mountain passes. Majon-ni, only 16 air miles from Wonsan, is 28 by road. The little village of 300 population is located at the junction of the lateral Wonsan-P'yongyang road and the north-south road following the Imjin River from Sibyon-ni. For 60 air miles this latter road followed the cramped, twisting gorge of the Imjin River through the heart of the Taebaek Range. It was a favorite route of travel for cutoff North Koreans and traversed one of the most important centers of guerrilla activity in all Korea.

The 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, commanded by Lt. Col. Thomas Ridge, drew the task of holding the Majon-ni road junction, and relieved ROK 3d Division troops there on 28 October. Ridge established a tight perimeter defense line around the village with a roadblock on each of the three roads coming into the Y-shaped junction. On 7 November the 3d Battalion came under general attack at Majon-ni and lost some outpost positions. Air strikes after daylight helped repel the North Koreans. That same day enemy forces on the Majon-ni-Wonsan road ambushed a convoy in Ambush Alley, as it came to be known, on the east side of the 3,000-foot pass. E Company, 1st Marines, accompanying the convoy as guard, lost eight men killed and thirty-one wounded. [9]

On 12 November the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry, left Wonsan to relieve the marines at Majon-ni. Because of enemy roadblocks it did not arrive there until the next day. On the 14th, the ROK 3d Korean Marine Corps (KMC) Battalion, which had landed at Wonsan four days earlier, arrived at Majon-ni and proceeded fourteen air miles westward to

[8] X Corps PIR 42, 7 Nov 50 and PIR 43, 8 Nov 50; X Corps WD, Diary of 
CG, 7 Nov 50. 

[9] 1st Mar Div SAR, vol. II, an. C, pp. 8-26, 28 Oct-7 Nov 50.


Tongyang where it established a blocking position at another north-south road intersection with the Wonsan-P'yongyang road, near the U.S. X Corps-Eighth Army boundary. Relieved at the isolated Majon-ni mountain crossroads, the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, joyfully departed on 14 November for Wonsan. [10]

On the night of 20-21 November, an estimated 200 enemy soldiers with armored support again attacked the Majon-ni perimeter. After penetrating it at one point the enemy was repulsed just before daylight.

That day, 21 November, a motorized patrol consisting of two officers and ninety-one men of the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry, moved west from Majon-ni to establish contact with the 3d KMC Battalion at Tongyang. In an 8-mile gorge about midway between the two places a hidden enemy force ambushed the column. In this action the patrol lost twenty-eight men and most of its vehicles and heavy weapons. A platoon of tanks and a company of infantry from the 2d Battalion arrived to reinforce the Majon-ni garrison. A second attempt to get through to Tongyang on the 22d also failed when a tank-led column turned back because, overnight, the enemy had badly cratered and mined the road. It now became necessary to supply the 3d KMC Battalion at Tongyang by airdrop.

Again, on the 23d, a reinforced rifle company left Majon-ni with the task of repairing the cratered road and proceeding west to contact the ROK marines. The ROK's at the same time were instructed by an airdropped message to send a force eastward on the road to meet the 15th Infantry force. The westbound column had just passed the point of the ambush two days earlier when an estimated 300 enemy troops opened fire on it. Fortunately, the ROK force arrived from the opposite direction and joined in the fight. But both the ROK and the 15th Infantry forces withdrew after the latter had lost sixteen wounded and three missing in action.

Finally, on 25 November the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry, and the 3d KMC Battalion made a co-ordinated attack against the enemy force that had cut the road between them and decisively defeated it, killing 150, capturing four 120-mm. mortars, and destroying a large ammunition cache. This action temporarily reopened the supply road to Tongyang. But determined and destructive enemy activity in this area never ceased as long as U.N. forces were there. [11]

Between the U.S. 65th Regiment and the ROK 26th Regiment to the north, a large gap existed in the U.S. 3d Division zone that was also a center of guerrilla activity. Near the Eighth Army-X Corps boundary there the 5,600-foot-high mountain mass of Paek-san interposed its trackless waste between the two regiments and the lateral roads they had to use for communication and supply. Between 18 and 22 November B Company, 65th Infantry, tried to establish contact with the ROK 26th Regiment to the north but was driven back after two engagements with enemy forces on Paek-san. The 3d Division estimated that the bulk of 25,000 North Korea

[10] 1st Mar Div SAR, Oct-Dec 50, vol. II, an. C, pp. 26-40, 7-14 Nov 
50; 3d Inf Div Comd Rpt, sec. III, Narr of Opns, pp. 5-14, Nov 50; 1st 
Lt. Charles R. Stiles, "The Dead End of Ambush Alley," Marine Corps 
Gazette (November, 1951), p. 39; Geer, The New Breed, pp. 206-15. 

[11] 3d Div Comd Rpt, sec. III, pp. 5-9.


People's Army guerrillas in its zone were within a 10-mile radius of Paek-san. [12]

Because there were no usable roads in the northern part of its zone, the U.S. 3d Division could supply the ROK 26th Regiment only with great difficulty. Because of this, Maj. Gen. Robert H. Soule on 21 November requested General Almond to move the boundary between the 3d Division and the 1st Marine Division northward a few miles so as to place the Huksu-ri-Sach'ang-ni road within the 3d Division zone. The next day the X Corps granted the request and changed the boundary. General Soule thereupon ordered the ROK 26th Regiment to establish blocking positions at Huksu-ri and Sach'ang-ni. In the course of capturing these places, the ROK's fought several engagements. An enemy battalion defending Sach'ang-ni was driven away only after it had lost more than 100 men killed or captured.

The ROK's then attacked north and west out of Sach'ang-ni for several miles, encountering enemy delaying forces. On 24 November in this continuing action, the ROK 26th Regiment captured twenty-six CCF soldiers in the vicinity of Sach'ang-ni, the first Chinese soldiers encountered in the X Corps zone with the exception of those in the reservoir area. The road on which this action occurred ran south from Yudam-ni and the west shore of the Changjin Reservoir. Their presence here indicated that Chinese forces were working southward along the X Corps left flank. Information obtained from prisoners indicated that Chinese forces had been in position there for approximately three weeks to check any U.N. attempt to advance north over this road. It chanced that the ROK 26th Regiment on 24 November was the first organization to reach the point where Chinese of the 125th Division stood guard. This was the newly developed situation when on 25 November the 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry, relieved the ROK 26th Regiment at Sach'ang-ni. [13]

A survey of 110 enemy prisoners taken in one 24-hour period early in November in the X Corps rear areas showed they came from sixty-two different organizations. In the latter part of November, X Corps intelligence estimated that 25,000 North Korean Army guerrillas operated south and west of Hungnam in the X Corps rear areas. The pattern of guerrilla activity gradually shifted northward during November, from below Wonsan to the mountains west of Hungnam. A special report prepared by X Corps listed 109 separate guerrilla attacks in the corps zone during the month, an average of better than three and a half a day. [14]

In the west coastal area of North Korea in the Eighth Army zone, guerrilla activity at this time was not as great as in northeast and central Korea. Patrols, nevertheless, were necessary.

In the hills north and east of P'yongyang these patrols uncovered large quantities of enemy war supplies in caves,

[12]  3d Div Comd Rpt, sec. II, p. 2, and sec. III, p. 7, Nov 50; 65th 
Inf Comd Rpt, Nov 50, p. 3. 

[13] 3d Div Comd Rpt, sec. III, pp. 10-13; X Corps PIR 60, 25 Nov 50; 
FEC Intel Digest, vol. I, Nr 4, 1-15 Feb 53, Histories of CCF Army 
Groups Active in Korea, pt. III, XIII Army Group, pp. 32-33. 

[14] 1st Mar Div SAR, vol. I, pp. 23, 28, X Corps PIR's 38, 3 Nov, 43, 8 
Nov, and 46, 11 Nov 50; 3d Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nov 50, sec. II, Intel 
Summ, p. 2; X Corps, Guerrilla Activities, X Corps Zone, Nov 50, with 
location map of attacks. 


tunnels, and other hiding places. Much of this was found in the mining area east of P'yongyang in old mine shafts and tunnels accessible to spur rail lines. The most important find of all was made by Lt. Doric E. Ball's patrol from M Company, 23d Infantry Regiment, 2d Division on 6 November. With the aid of a local chief of police, the patrol found a huge arsenal in an old lead mine nine miles northeast of Kangdong. In it were about 400 lathes of mixed American, English, and Russian manufacture; all the machinery needed to make Russian-type burp guns and 120-mm. mortars was there. The arsenal consisted of nineteen large rooms used variously as machine shop, storage room, office space, and an auditorium. This armament factory, known as Arsenal No. 65, had originally been above ground in P'yongyang, but aerial bombing had caused the North Koreans to move it to the mine.

East of the main supply road strong guerrilla bands were active in the Sibyon-ni area. One of the worst incidents in this area occurred on 6 November about midway between Kumch'on and Sibyon-ni when an enemy force ambushed the I&R Platoon and a platoon of L Company, 27th Infantry, reinforced by C Battery, 8th Field Artillery Battalion. The 1st Battalion hurried to the scene and at midnight rescued several wounded and missing men, but the enemy had disappeared. Three days later the bodies of fifteen men from the ambushed patrol were found in a shallow grave. According to a survivor, the North Koreans had murdered these men when they followed the example of 1st Lt. Harold G. Parris, an officer captured with them, in refusing to give their captors information beyond their name, rank, and serial number. [15]

At the same time, an enemy force estimated at 1,000 men held control of the Ich'on area some miles eastward. It required a combined attack of the U.S. 27th Infantry from the southwest and of the ROK 17th Regiment from the east on 7 November to drive this force into the hills. A week earlier, on 28 October, North Koreans had killed all the ROK wounded and hospital personnel in a field hospital at Ich'on. [16]

It was inevitable that the Iron Triangle of central North Korea would become the scene of enemy guerrilla and harassing action since it was a principal assembly area for North Korean soldiers retreating northward. The U.N. effort to open the railroad from Seoul through the Iron Triangle to Wonsan encountered almost unceasing guerrilla attacks. Most of them occurred just north of P'yonggang at the apex of the Triangle. ROK troops rode all trains as guards, and pitched battles often were fought between them and the guerrillas.

On the morning of 2 November one of the largest of these actions occurred when a force of about 1,000 guerrillas ambushed a work train ten miles north of P'yonggang. Fortunately, 200 soldiers of the ROK 17th Regiment were riding the train as guards and they succeeded in beating off the attackers, killing 40 and capturing 23 of them. These prison

[15] 27th Inf WD, 6, 9 Nov 50; 8th FA Bn WD, 5-9 Nov 50. Eighth Army 
General Order 484, 1 July 1951 awarded the Distinguished Service Cross 
posthumously to Lieutenant Parris. The sixteen captured men were from C Battery, 8th Field Artillery Battalion. 

[16] EUSAK WD, Br for CG, 7 Nov 50; Ministry of National Defense, ROK, 
Korea in War, vol. I, 1 May 1950-June 1951, p. A-67.


ers said there were 4,000 guerrillas in the vicinity and that they planned to attack every train going toward Wonsan. Enemy activity became so intense in this area that the entire ROK 17th Regiment was sent there, and gradually elements of the U.S. 25th Division also entered the fight in the Iron Triangle. [17]

On 9 November about 1,400 enemy troops of the 18th Regiment, N.K. 4th Division, attacked Ch'orwon in the Iron Triangle, driving away 800 South Korean police. The next day about 500 men of the 5th Regiment of the same division occupied Yonch'on, ten miles to the south on the road to Seoul. Elements of the 14th Infantry Regiment, 24th Division, tried but failed to regain the town. That evening a North Korean roadblock force ambushed an I&R Platoon and A Company, 24th Infantry, column near there. The next day when the regiment retook Yonch'on it found the bodies of thirty-eight American soldiers at the ambush site and all vehicles burned.

Co-ordinated with the enemy action at Ch'orwon and Yonch'on, an enemy regiment, supported by mortars, attacked the 1st and 2d Battalions, ROK 17th Regiment, at P'yonggang on 10 November, and had surrounded them by daylight the next morning. Maj. Robert B. Holt, a KMAG adviser with the regiment, radioed a request for the 3d Battalion of the ROK regiment at Ich'on to attack eastward, and he also arranged for an airdrop of ammunition. During the day a Mosquito plane landed at P'yonggang and picked up Holt, who directed air strikes on the enemy positions with reportedly heavy casualties to the North Koreans. The enemy force withdrew from around P'yonggang during the night of 11-12 November. But two nights later part of it returned and again attacked the airstrip and the town. The ROK's cleared both places of enemy troops before noon of the 14th at a cost of 11 men killed and 23 wounded, as against 141 enemy killed and 20 captured. The enemy pressure in this area never ceased and the situation there became more precarious when the 25th Division troops moved north to participate in the 24 November Eighth Army attack. [18]

[17] EUSAK WD, G-3 Jnl, Msg at 2315, 2 Nov, and Off for Co-ordination of 
Protection of Lines of Comm, Rear Areas, Daily Rpt, 28 Oct and 2 Nov 50.
[18] EUSAK WD, G-3 Jnl, Msg 0700 9 Nov, 50; EUSAK PIR's 121-25, 10-14 
Nov 50; EUSAK POR 370, 1 Nov 50; 25th Div WD, 11-14 Nov 50; GHQ FEC, 
History of the N.K. Army, pp. 59, 68; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 
94 (N.K, 4th Div), p. 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 100 (N.K. 
9th Div), p. 54; ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 18 (Enemy Forces), p. 94 and 
p. 152; Interv, author with it Lt Robert J. Tews (Pit Ldr A Co, 24th 
Inf, at time of incident and present at scene of ambush, 11 Nov), 3 Sep