Kanggye, the town considered but not selected as the objective of the X Corps' planned attack to the west, was now the seat of North Korean government. Forced out of P'yongyang by the Eighth Army's advance in October, Kim Il Sung, the premier of North Korea and commander in chief of the North Korean Armed Forces, had established a new capital at Sinuiju, the Yalu River city opposite An-tung, Manchuria. When UNC forces moved toward Sinuiju a short time later, he took his government to Kanggye, deep in the mountains of north central Korea.1
The North Korean Armed Forces
Also in Kanggye under Kim Il Sung was a recently formed Combined Headquarters staffed by both North Korean and Chinese officers. Kim was publicized as commanding the operations of both North Korean and Chinese forces from this headquarters, but the combined agency was really no more than a mechanism for coordinating North Korean operations with those of the Chinese, and Kim's voice in the conduct of joint operations was no stronger than the forces he was able to field. As of 23 November, these forces were few. North Korean air and naval forces, defeated early in the war, remained virtually nonexistent, and the North Korean People's Army, while on paper an impressive organization of eight corps, thirty divisions, and several brigades, was in fact a depleted force.2
The only major North Korean unit actively engaged at the front on the 23d was the IV Corps employing one division and two brigades, its bulk opposing the ROK I Corps in northeastern Korea. The II Corps also was active, but as a guerrilla force operating from a command post hidden high in the central mountains near the 38th parallel under the direction of General Kim Chaek, previously the commander of Front Headquarters, the now defunct tactical echelon of the North Korean People's Army General Headquarters. Along with bands of South Korean dissidents and North Korean irregulars who had long populated the Taebaek and southwestern mountains, four reduced divisions of the II Corps conducted desultory guerrilla operations both above and below the 38th parallel while they gradually reorganized around their own remnants and stragglers from other units.3
The rest of the North Korean Army was in north central Korea and Manchuria. Much of the General Headquarters itself had entered Manchuria to direct the reorganization and retraining of three corps and nine divisions that had crossed the border during the earlier UNC advance. Under Marshal Choe Yong Gun, the minister of national defense and deputy commander in chief of the North Korean Armed Forces, and Maj. Gen. Lee Sang Cho, the North Korean People's Army chief of staff, the remainder of General Headquarters was directing the restoration of three corps and sixteen divisions in the vicinity of Kanggye. Few of the twenty-five divisions being refurbished possessed more than a semblance of readiness. Least ready were those in Manchuria.4
TABLE 1-MAJOR NORTH KOREAN PEOPLE'S ARMY UNITS, 23 NOVEMBER 1950
|Korea||I, II, III, IV, V||1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 15th, 17th, 24th, 27th, 31st, 38th, 41st, 43d, 47th, 105th Tank|
|Manchuria||VI, VII, VIII||l3th, 18th, 19th, 32d, 36th, 37th, 42d, 45th, 46th|
The Chinese People's Volunteers
While few North Korean forces would oppose the renewed UNC advance, the Chinese opposition, except at sea, would be of major consequence. The People's Navy, small and scarcely a year and a half old, had primarily a coastal defense mission at home and would not sortie against the United Nations Command.5 The People's Air Force, though also young and small, had entered the fighting to oppose UNC air operations along the Yalu.6 Apparently
to reduce the risk of aircraft losses, the Chinese so far had confined their air operations to northwestern Korea and had made no real attempt to establish air superiority in that region. They were, however, putting up MIG-15s, which could outmaneuver the American F-80C Shooting Stars and F9F Panthers. The MIGs were a particular reason why the Far East Air Forces were importing higher performance F-84E Thunderjets and F-86A Sabres from the United States.7
Only a fraction of the Chinese People's Liberation Army had entered Korea.8 Field armies, or "tactical field forces," which were the elite of the organization's combat strength, numbered somewhere between two and three million men. Local garrison armies, which were second-line troops, numbered between one and two million more. In addition, a militia, from which the People's Liberation Army drew recruits, had a strength of five million. The fraction of the Chinese Army in Korea, however, was not the 70,000 given in the latest UNC intelligence estimate. Over four times that number were massed in the mountains opposite the Eighth Army and X Corps.9
Some 200,000 Chinese constituting the XIII Army Group of the Fourth Field Army faced the Eighth Army in western North Korea.10 With six armies, each with three infantry divisions and a total of about 30,000 men, two artillery divisions and the bulk of a third, a cavalry regiment, and two truck regiments, the XIII Army Group had entered Korea during the last half of October, crossing the Yalu at Sinuiju and Manp'ojin. Forces from four of its armies had fought the Eighth Army and X Corps in what the Chinese called their First Phase Offensive between 25 October and 6 November.11 The air attacks on Yalu bridges opened by General MacArthur on 8 November obviously had no chance to interdict the group's movement across the river.
IX Army Group, part of the
Third Field Army, had entered Korea with
three armies during the first half of November. The leading army had crossed
the Yalu at Manp'ojin, the other two at Lin-chiang on a big bend in the river
about sixty miles northeast of Manp'ojin. Far East Air Forces planners had not
selected the highway bridge at Lin-chiang as a target for the Yalu bombings,
judging it less important than the crossings at Hyesanjin and over the lower
reaches of the river. With the Manp'ojin crossings (a highway bridge and a railway
bridge) standing despite the bombing and with the Lin-chiang bridge untouched,
Army Group had crossed the river with little difficulty, then moved southeast to the Changjin Reservoir in the X Corps zone. Although a Chinese army normally comprised three divisions, each in the IX Army Group had been reinforced by a fourth, giving it about 40,000 men, and the group a strength approaching 120,000. The total Chinese commitment in Korea by 23 No-
TABLE 2-THE MAJOR CHINESE UNITS IN KOREA 23 NOVEMBER 1950
|XIII Army Group||IX Army Group|
vember thus had risen above 300,000 men.12
A major reason UNC intelligence failed to reveal more closely the extent to which the Chinese had entered Korea was their concerted effort to avoid aerial observation through a rigid march and bivouac discipline, movements under the cover of darkness, and substantial use of secondary roads. In fact, UNC aerial reconnaissance had made small opportunity to observe the Chinese. Other than Mosquito control aircraft operating at the front, the Far East Air Forces had no planes committed to visual reconnaissance, and as of 8 November available photo reconnaissance aircraft were committed mainly in support of the attacks on the Yalu bridges.13 These aircraft appeared over Sinuiju and Manp'ojin too late to spot the crossing of the XIII Army Group and were in the wrong place to sight the crossing of the bulk of the IX Army Group. The area between the river and the front was not entirely neglected, but the limited number of reconnaissance planes largely restricted coverage to areas adjacent to main roads, and few sorties were flown at night. Consequently, very little evidence of the Chinese entry was from the air.14
Hiding the fact further were code designations the Chinese used to identify units. Perhaps most deceptive was a battalion designation for a division.15 But even after captives from the initial engagement had explained the designations and correctly identified their units, skeptical intelligence officers accepted only parts of the units named as being in Korea. By 23 November the U.N. Command had acknowledged the presence of twelve Chinese infantry divisions when in fact there were nine armies with thirty infantry divisions.16
The units committed included the best in the People's Liberation Army. The Fourth Field Army, commanded by Lin
Piao, was the strongest, and its XIII Army Group included armies honored for past achievements with the title of "iron" troops.17 The Third Field Army, commanded by Chen Yi, was not particularly strong as a whole, but its IX Army Group included at least one army considered to be a crack unit. But however highly rated by People's Liberation Army standards, the two groups essentially constituted a mass of infantry with little artillery support, no armor or air support, and primitive, haphazard logistical support. They were, characteristically, poorly equipped. Individual and crew-served weapons, from company to army, were a collection of diverse makes and calibers; other equipment was equally mixed; and both weapons and equipment were in short supply, small arms to such a degree that as many as two-thirds of some infantry units lacked them. Their strongest points were experience and morale. Most of the troops were veterans of the recent civil war, and virtually all senior officers had fought the Japanese during World War II. Their high morale presumably was the result of effective political indoctrination, notwithstanding that former Nationalist Army members constituted much of the strength of the intervention force. It was on a combination of morale and guerrilla warfare tactics that Chinese leaders had long depended to compensate for inferiority in weapons and equipment. Supporting the efficacy of this "man-over-weapons" doctrine were successes against the Japanese and Nationalist Chinese, and most recently against the United Nations Command.18
Upon leaving their parent field armies in China, the two army groups had come under Headquarters, Chinese People's Volunteers, specially organized for operations in Korea.19 Under the command of Lin Piao, the special headquarters was located in Mukden, Manchuria. It was Lin in Mukden, not Kim Il Sung at Combined Headquarters in Kanggye, who made the basic tactical decisions, including those affecting the operations of North Korean forces. But publicizing the Kanggye headquarters under the North Korean premier as controlling all military operations lent support to claims made by both Chinese and North Korean officials that the Chinese presence in Korea was simply the result of individuals and units having volunteered to assist the North Koreans.20 (Chart 5)
CHART 5- ENEMY LINES OF COMMAND
23 NOVEMBER 1950
Giving China's entry into the war a veneer of voluntary participation evidently had two purposes. In China itself, the image of voluntary action was projected to gain total popular support, material and moral, for the commitment in Korea. Otherwise, that image attempted to reduce the risks of intervention, primarily to mitigate the U.S. response. According to a former highranking Communist Party member, concern that Chinese forces might be defeated in Korea, that American forces might invade the Chinese mainland, and that the United States might employ the atomic bomb had permeated deliberations leading to the decision to enter the war.21 Intervention, according to the same source, had been stoutly opposed by a number of Peking authorities, including some People's Liberation Army officials. They had argued that the newly established regime needed peace so that. it could concentrate on national reconstruction and that China, in any case, could not afford to accept the risks of waging war with a first-rate power like the United States.22 Officials in favor of entering the war had insisted that the threat to China posed by a UNC victory in North Korea made it necessary to accept the
risks. The principal and winning argument for intervention may have been that China needed a friendly buffer state along its Manchurian border. A minimal Chinese goal in entering the war, then, was to maintain a Democratic People's Republic of Korea, but not necessarily to restore its 38th parallel border.23
Whether the Chinese predetermined a larger military objective is less evident. Some of the first forces to enter Korea were told beforehand that the objective was to drive UNC troops out of Korea and that they could expect a quick and easy victory. Propaganda appearing on the wider home front soon after forces crossed the Yalu marked the United States as a "paper tiger." The United States could be defeated, the claim went, because its strategy rested on its atomic bomb and air force. This strategy could not be devastating to a rural China and left U.S. ground forces so weak in numbers that they were incapable of waging ground warfare on a large scale.24
On the other hand, that the Chinese believed they could make important political gains but were uncertain of achieving any grand-scale military success is perceptible in a retrospective explanation of China's decision for war attributed to Premier Mao Tse-tung. A victory, according to Mao, would immediately raise China's international status, a stalemate between backward China and a power like the United States would amount to a victory for China, and a defeat would simply require that China engage in a war of resistance as it had done against Japan. Evidencing concern that People's Liberation Army forces might be defeated in Korea and that the U.N. Command might carry the war into China, Foreign Minister Chou En-lai in reporting the international situation to a group of government officials soon after China's intervention announced, "We are prepared to withdraw, if necessary, from the coastal provinces to the hinterland, and build up the Northwest and the Southwest provinces as bases for a long-drawn-out war."25 The Chinese
did in fact remove machinery and other material, including the huge furnaces of an important steelworks, from the coastal provinces. Thus is appears that the Chinese entered the war not confidently, but gingerly.26
The voluntary disengagement of the XIII Army Group on 6 November is further evidence of how warily the Chinese entered the war. The disengagement suggests that Lin Piao was reluctant to continue operations without a greater concentration of force and ordered a pause while the IX Army Group completed its move into Korea, or that the Chinese leadership suspended operations until the UNC response to China's intervention could be determined.27 These considerations, of course, could have been restraints only briefly. The additional army group reached the Changjin Reservoir by mid-November, and by the last week of the month it was clear that the U.N. Command would limit its response to bombing Yalu bridges on the Korean side of the river. However cautiously and tentatively the Chinese may have intervened, their ultimate decision, evidently made soon after the XIII Army Group broke off its opening attack, was to resume offensive operations. Perhaps relieved when the U.N. Command did not carry the war to China, and perhaps encouraged by the confident tone of field appraisals of the initial battles- especially those with U.S. forces- the Chinese high command concluded that the two army groups would be able to operate successfully against the United Nations Command.28
Earlier, after the XIII Army Group had broken contact, group commander Li T'ien-yu set out light forces to screen his major units, which assembled far north of the line reached during their initial attack. As disposed on 23 November, the group's six armies were located ten to fifteen miles north of the Eighth Army front. The 50th and 66th Armies stood opposite the I Corps in the west; the 39th and 40th Armies were centrally located north of the IX Corps; the 38th and 42d Armies were above the ROK II Corps in the east.29 The 42d Army earlier had opposed X Corps forces below the Changjin Reservoir but had shifted west into the Eighth Army zone after being relieved by the 20th Army of the IX Army Group. The latter group, also deployed with major units assembled behind screening forces, was now located above and west of the reservoir. Group commander Sung Shih-lun had set the 20th Army to the west and south of Yudam-ni, in the path of the X Corps' coming westward drive, and had assembled the 26th and 27th Armies in the mountains to the north and northeast of the reservoir.30
This arrangement of forces followed a long-existing Chinese concept of mobile defense designed for operations against a superior force.31 Aimed not
to hold ground but to destroy opposing forces in brief actions, the underlying strategy was to invite attack; fight a delaying action while allowing the attack force to penetrate deep; then, at a point of Chinese choice, counterattack suddenly while the opposing force was illprepared to receive the assault.32
It was because the Chinese deployed major forces well behind screening units that Eighth Army patrols and X Corps assault forces had encountered only outposts after mid-November. Showing little awareness of their adversary's doctrine, however, UNC officials had assumed from the light contact that the Chinese had withdrawn into position defenses far to the north, and they had interpreted the deep, voluntary withdrawal as further indication that the Chinese were weak in numbers.33 With unwarranted optimism, then, the Eighth Army and X Corps started forward on 24 November, believing that they comfortably outnumbered enemy forces and expecting to encounter these in defensive positions that their weakness, and perhaps their mission, had forced them to establish.
1 Appleman, South to the Naktong, pp. 663-64.
2 Ibid., p. 769; GHQ, FEC, Order of Battle Information,
North Korean Army, 20 Aug 51 and 16 Sep 51.
3 GHQ, FEC, Order of Battle Information, North Korean Army, 20 Aug 51 and 16 Sep 51. See also Appleman, South to the Naktong, ch. XXXVII, "Guerrilla Warfare Behind the Front."
4 GHQ, FEC, Order of Battle Information, North Korean Army, 20 Aug 51 and 16 Sep 51; Hq, FEC, History of the North Korean Army, 31 Jul 52, pp. 84, 91-92.
5 The approximate composition of the People's Navy was a light cruiser, perhaps twenty frigates and destroyers, some landing craft, and a few hundred gunboats and speedboats. See John Gittings, The Role of the Chinese Army (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 141-42.
6 The People's Air Force was organized in 1949. In early 1950 its aircraft numbered about 100, but purchases from the Soviet Union, according to Far East Air Forces estimates, raised the inventory to 650 by December. Of this total, 250 were conventional and jet fighters, 175 ground-attack planes, 150 conventional twin-engine bombers, and 75 transports. See Gittings, The Role or the Chinese Army, p. 136, and Futrell, The United States Air Force in Korea, p. 231.
7 Gittings The Role of the Chinese Army, pp. 136-37; Futrell, The United States Air Force in Korea, pp. 205-07, 210-12, 230-33; Field, United States Naval Operations, Korea, p. 259.
8 In this volume People's Liberation Army refers only to ground forces, although by Chinese definition it includes air and naval forces as well. The term Chinese Communist Forces, frequently used in official reports and the press to designate Chinese military formations, is of U.N. Command origin.
9 Gittings, The Role of the Chinese Army, pp. 76-79; GHQ, FEC, Order of Battle Information, Chinese Communist Regular Ground Forces (China, Manchuria, and Korea), 9 Dec 51; Appleman, South to the Naktong, pp. 768-69.
10 People's Liberation Army tactical field forces were organized as four numbered field armies, the First through the Fourth, and some separate units known collectively as the North China Independent Unit. In each field army, the major groupings in descending order were army groups, armies, and divisions.
11 Hq, USAFFE, Intel Dig (Digest), vol. 1, no. 4, 1-15 Feb 53, pp. 2638 Appleman, South to the Naktong pp. 766-68.
12 Appleman, South to the Naktong, p. 768; Hq, FEC, History of the North Korean Army, 31 Jul 52; Hq, USAFFE, Intel Dig, vol. 1, no. 3, 16-31 Jan 53, pp. 32-37; Futrell, The United States Air Force in Korea, pp. 212-13.
13 The Fifth Air Force's 45th Squadron, the single visual reconnaissance unit in the theater, apparently was not employed over Korea until early 1951, and after 9 November 1950 the B-29 photo planes of Bomber Command were not used along the Yalu because they proved to be easy marks for the MIG-15s.
14 Appleman, South to the Naktong, p. 770; Futrell, The United States Air Force in Korea, pp. 216-17.
15 The 55th Unit, for example, was the 39th Army, and the 1st Battalion, 55th Unit, was the 115th Division, 39th Army.
16 Appleman, South to the Naktong, pp. 752-54, 763.
17 Officers of the People's Liberation Army were not designated by nominal ranks as in the U.S. Army. Troop commanders held positional ranks and staff officers held equivalent ranks. The commander of a regiment, for example, held the positional rank of regimental commander, and a regimental staff officer held the equivalent rank of assistant regimental commander. See DA Pam 3051, Handbook on the Chinese Communist Army, Sep 52, pp. 75-76.
18 Alexander L. George, The Chinese Communist Army in Action (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), pp. vii-viii, 5-7, 83-84, 173; Samuel B. Griffith II, The Chinese People's Liberation Army (New York: McGrawHill Book Company, 1967), p. 131; Gittings, The Role of the Chinese Army, p. 77; DA Pam 30-51, Handbook on the Chinese Communist Army, 7 Dec 60, pp. 8, 66; ibid., Sep 52, pp. 38-39; GHQ, FEC, Order of Battle Information, Chinese Communist Regular Ground Forces (China, Manchuria, and Korea), 9 Dec 51.
19 The shape of the Chinese field command would elude UNC intelligence for some time. As late as March 1951, for example, the Eighth Army intelligence officer could state only that "it is possible that the XIII CCF Army Group may be the controlling headquarters of 4 CCF armies .... Unconfirmed." See Eighth Army PIR 234, 3 Mar 51.
20 A communique released by the North Korean government on 7 November stated that "volunteer units formed by the Chinese people participated in operations along with the People's Armed Forces, under the unified command of the General Headquarters." On 11 November a spokesman for Chou En-lai, China's minister of foreign affairs, admitted that Chinese forces were fighting in Korea but denied official responsibility. As precedents the spokesman cited the French assistance to the American colonists during the Revolutionary War and the individual volunteers, including Americans and British, in the Spanish Civil War. Captives taken from the first forces to enter Korea revealed that, before entering, the members of some units were asked, or, if they refused, pressured, to sign statements volunteering their service in the war. See Whiting, China Crosses the Yalu, pp. 137-38, and George, The Chinese Communist Army in Action, pp. 156-57.
21 This was Chou Ching-wen, a prominent writer and scholar and former president of Northwestern University in Manchuria, who held high party positions for eight years. Chou broke with the Peking regime and fled to Hong Kong in 1957. See Chou Ching-wen, Ten Years of Storm (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960).
22 This account is borne out by contemporaneous evidence. A 6 November 1950 editorial in the Jen-min Jih-pao (People's Daily), an official Communist Party organ in China, stated and then refuted the views of those who had opposed China's intervention.
23 Tang Tsou, America's Failure in China, 1941-1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), pp. 575-77; Chou, Ten Years of Storm, pp. 116-17; Whiting, China Crosses the Yalu, p. 155; Gittings, The Role of the Chinese Army, pp. 83-86.
24 George, The Chinese Communist Army in Action, pp. 164, 187; Tang Tsou, America's Failure in China, pp. 576-78. On page 578, Tang Tsou relates that in a discussion with Indian Ambassador Panikkar, Nieh Jung-chen, People's Liberation Army chief of staff, remarked, "After all, China lives on farms. What can atom bombs do there?"
25 Quoted in Chou, Ten Years of Storm, p. 117. Chou writes that he was one of the group to whom Chou En-lai spoke.
26 Tang Tsou, America's Failure in China, pp. 578-79; Chou, Ten Years of Storm, p. 117.
27 Whiting, China Crosses the Yalu, pp. 132, 138-39.
28 The field appraisals lauded American equipment, firepower, and air support but depreciated American infantry and summarized results as satisfactory. See Appleman, South to the Naktong, pp. 719-20.
29 The 50th Army was formerly Nationalist China's 60th Army, which had defected en masse during the civil war. It was kept intact except for being given a Communist cadre. See George, The Chinese Communist Army in Action, p. 6.
30 Hq, USAFFE, Intel Dig, vol. 1, no. 4, 1-15 Feb 53, pp. 28-33, 3638; ibid., no. 3, 16-31 Jan 53, pp. 34-37.
31 Chinese defensive tactics would not include the development of a main line of resistance until later in the war when the front became stabilized during armistice negotiations. See Mono, Hq, Eighth Army, "Enemy Tactics," 26 Dec 51, copy in CMH.
32 Like all People's Liberation Army precepts, the strategy reflected the guerrilla warfare doctrine developed by Mao Tse-tung. As Mao expounded it in his classic study, On the Protracted War: "To achieve quick decision we should generally attack, not an enemy force holding a position, but one on the move. We should have concentrated, beforehand under cover, a big force along the route through which the enemy is sure to pass, suddenly descend on him while he is moving, encircle and attack him before he knows what is happening, and conclude the fighting with all speed. If the battle is well fought, we may annihilate the entire enemy force or the greater part or a part of it. Even if the battle is not well fought, we may still inflict heavy casualties." See Whiting, China Crosses the Yalu, pp. 132-33, for a correlation of Mao's teaching with Chinese strategy so far employed in the Korean War.
33 Eighth Army PIRs 118-135, 7-24 Nov 50; Hq, USAFFE, Intel Dig, vol. 1, no. 4, 1-15 Feb 53, p. 26.
page updated 25 May 2001
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