By W. V. H. White - Originally published in the August 1990
The First Provisional Marine Brigade arrived at Pusan, Republic of Korea (ROK), on August 2, 1950.
General MacArthur's initial plan to hold the Marines in reserve in Japan had been overtaken by events. The failure of the lightly armed ROK forces, and U.S. Army divisions, soft from five years of occupation duty in Japan, in halting the northern invaders prompted MacArthur to deploy the Marine Brigade directly to the seriously threatened Pusan Perimeter.
The Brigade's aviation support, Marine Aircraft Group 33, had already arrived in Japan. By August 3, one of its fighter squadrons, VMF-214 was in action. Flying off the aircraft carrier USS Sicily, eight Corsairs carried out an air strike using incendiary bombs, rockets and strafing runs on enemy-occupied Chinju and Sinban-ni. The squadron followed this attack with similar ones over the next few days, ranging as far north as Inchon and Seoul.
On August 6, Corsairs of VMF-323, operating from the carrier Badoeng Strait, hit targets well behind the enemy lines. VMO-6, the Brigade's observation squadron, deployed to Korea with its light aircraft and helicopters. VMF(N)-513's night fighters flew missions from Japan.
The infantry regiment, around which the Brigade was formed, was the old and highly honored Fifth Marines. Although the regiment was still at peacetime strength, with only two rifle companies in each of its three battalions, it was a veteran unit. As was true throughout the Brigade, the leadership was superb. The vast majority of its senior and junior officers and noncommissioned officers were battle-hardened veterans of WW II.
Despite that fact, on the night of August 3, when the Brigade was set up in a defensive position behind the lines near Changwon, firing broke out. There were enough green troops to fire at shadows, and it took a good part of the night to settle them down. Two casualties resulted from friendly fire.
The Brigade was attached to the Army's 25th Infantry Division and moved into the lines in relief of an Army regiment, on August 6. Early the next morning, elements of the North Korean 6th Division attacked. The enemy advance was stopped by units of the 2d Battalion, Fifth Marines, along with Army troops and a platoon from 3/5.
The Marines counterattacked and drove the enemy toward Chinju. After an advance of some 26 miles and the destruction of a large part of the North Korean People's Army (NKPA) 6th Division, the Marines were halted by higher command and shifted back to an assembly area near Miryang, a few miles to the east of Yongsan.
The North Korean 4th Division had crossed the Naktong River, attacked elements of the U.S. Army's 24th Division, seized the high ground east of the river, and carved out a sector that became known as the Naktong Bulge.
The Marines were attached to the Army's 24th Division, and plans were made for the reinforced Division to assault the enemy's bridgehead. Lieutenant Colonel Ray Murray's Fifth Marines led the August 17 attack on Obong-ni Ridge. After fierce fighting, taking heavy casualties, and staving off an enemy counterattack, the ridge was secured by mid-afternoon on August 18 by 1/5.
Meanwhile, 3/5 had moved against Hill 207, Brigade Objective Two, and had secured it shortly after noon on the 18th. Next, the attack was continued to Hill 311, Brigade Objective Three, the dominant terrain feature in the Naktong Bulge. The objective fell early in the morning of August 19.
The withdrawal of the North Korean 4th Division had become a rout. The enemy ran from the hills and crowded along the banks on the Naktong, trying to flee across the river. Marine air, artillery, mortars and machine guns had a field day. The panic-stricken enemy were slaughtered while trying to escape. The NKPA 4th Division had ceased to exist.
Throughout the First Battle of the Naktong, the depth of leadership in the Brigade became evident. Many platoons and some companies were led by staff noncommissioned officers following the wounding or death of their officers.
The battle had not been without a heavy cost. The Brigade lost 66 killed and 278 wounded.
Following mop-up operations, the Marines were detached from the Army's 24th Division and were moved near Masan to become the 8th Army reserve. The bivouac area, located in a large bean field, was called the "Bean Patch" and would become familiar to the Marines in months to come.
The "rest" would be a short one. The Brigade began arriving on August 21. The Army's 25th Division had been penetrated by the enemy, and General E. A. Craig, the Brigade commander, was alerted that there was a strong possibility that the Marines would be committed to mount a counterattack in that division's sector. The Brigade's artillery battalion, 1/11, was immediately attached to the 25th Division and moved near Chindong-ni to support Army infantry.
The Brigade's next few days were spent training, checking weapons, and replenishing supplies. More than 800 replacements arrived; these were integrated into the existing units. Hot chow, mail and beer were a welcome change from the preceding weeks of deadly combat.
In the closing days of August, units of the First Marine Division began arriving at Kobe, Japan. A typhoon struck the area, causing damage to gear that had been unloaded on the docks prior to being combat-loaded for the upcoming Inchon landing.
Major General Oliver P. Smith, the Division commander, had to fight to secure the release of the Brigade from the 8th Army so it could participate in the amphibious landing at Inchon. The decision was made that the Brigade would be restored to the First Division during the first of September.
This would not come to pass.
Editor's note: Information for this account was largely drawn from "U.S. Marine Operations in Korea, 1950-1953, Volume I, The Pusan Perimeter," by Lynn Montross and Capt Nicholas A. Canzona, USMC, and "A Concise History of the United States Marine Corps 1775-1969" by Captain William D. Parker, USMCR.