The First Provisional Marine Brigade in Korea: Part I (July 2000)

By Maj John D Manza

The formation and employment of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in the summer of 1950 still offers lessons for today's Marine Corps. This, the first of a two-part article, examines the brigade's formation and first battles on the Korean Peninsula.

The landing at Inchon. The fighting retreat from the Chosin Reservoir. These are the battles of the Korean War that Americans remember today. Is any Marine's imagination not fired by the story of the 1st Marine Division's "victory at high tide" at Inchon or by the epic "attack in another direction" from the Chosin Reservoir? The tactical mastery, individual heroism, and rock-solid leadership demonstrated during those campaigns has become Marine Corps legend. Yet, those campaigns have overshadowed a campaign of the Korean War that is of much greater relevance to us today. In the months that preceded the Inchon landing, Marines had fought bravely and effectively on the Korean Peninsula. The Marines of the Ist Provisional Marine Brigade (Marine Brigade) had accomplished something that Marines have not had to do since those early days of the war. Without warning, they organized as a Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF), deployed to a major theater war, and immediately entered combat against a determined and well-armed foe.

The Marine Brigade exemplifies all that the Corps stand for as a force in readiness. Its excellence in battle was the result of effective training that was conducted during a period of reduced budgets. The Marine Brigade was formed from a division and wing that were nearly wrecked by the effects of downsizing after World War II. It was built on the fly to meet the requirements of a specific theater of operations. The men of that brigade demonstrated the same capabilities that Marines advertise today. However, Marines today can learn much from the way they trained, built, and fought that force. Marines today can also use this experience as a tool by which they can measure their own training, doctrine; and organization for combat. Although there is no recipe for victory in warfare, the operations of the Marine Brigade in the battles of the Pusan Perimeter provide an excellent example of the effectiveness of a balanced combined arms team in action. The story of how that team was built, deployed, and fought on the Korean Peninsula serves as a model of how the United States should build and deploy forces for combat in the major theater wars of the 21st century.

Strategic Setting

An important historical link exists between the global situation in the spring of 1950 and that of today. At the national level, the United States enjoyed the immense prestige that was the result of the victory in World War II. That victory, like the U.S. victory in the Gulf War, had led to an overconfidence in the capabilities of the American military. In addition to this overconfidence in the U.S. conventional warfighting capability, the United States embarked on a defense strategy that was built around the nuclear deterrent, and American conventional military forces had been allowed to decay in favor of strategic bomber forces designed to penetrate and punish the Soviet Union. Historian Robert Leckie wrote: "The U.S. .Army was top heavy with technicians and service people. The myth of the push button war had downgraded the footsoldier."t The North Korean People's Army (NKPA) of 1950 did not fit the mold of a likely U.S. adversary. Nuclear weapons and strategic bomber forces would have little impact on the low-budget, light infantry army of North Korea.

Analysis of Forces: U.S. Eighth Army and NKPA

The U.S. Army at the outbreak of the Korean War contained approximately 600,000 men, organized into roughly 10 divisions. The four divisions that carried out the occupation of the Japanese islands served as the nucleus for the U.S. Eighth Army. Much of the combat equipment in the Eighth Army was missing. At the time of its deployment to Korea, the 24th Infantry Division reported that it possessed only 60 percent of its organizational equipment. Many infantry units were missing mortars, machineguns, and recoilless rifles. Additionally, few of these units were practicing the fundamental ground combat skills of the attack and the defense. Units of Gen Walton Walker's Eighth Army in Japan had not carried out any regimentalor divisional-level field training in the years prior to the outbreak of the Korean War.2 American forces were neither physically nor mentally prepared for battle. T.R. Fehrenbach wrote in his classic Korean War history that the men had simply "grown fat."3

The NKPA was primarily a footmobile army. Its ranks included many combat veterans of Mao's People's Liberation Army. It was a low-technology army that possessed lightly armed, yet highly skilled infantry; the NKPA relied on the principle of the man over the weapon. Like their Chinese counterparts, the North Koreans carried out battalion- and company-level command and control primarily through the use of visual and audible signals. North Korean tactics relied on the discipline of the individual soldier. Through the use of expert camouflage, concealment, and the ability to dig in prepared positions, the NKPA was a brutally tough opponent on the defense. In the offense, the NKPA relied on stealth to close on enemy positions before opening up the attack. Attacks were almost always directed against the flanks and rear of an enemy position. Although the NKPA did not possess many tanks, artillery pieces, or combat aircraft, it employed its limited weapons as effective components of a combined arms team.

The NKPA's weapons were largely supplied by the Soviet Union, including the much-feared T34 tank. The NKPA employed this vehicle with great effectiveness in the early stages of an attack in order to break up infantry defenses and to attack soft command posts and artillery positions.4 In 1950, such a peasant army would not appear, on paper, as a formidable threat to American field forces. Yet, these men would prove to be more than equal to the U.S. Eighth Army during the first 2 months of the war in Korea.

The NKPA Attack

On 25 June 1950, eight divisions of the NKPA stormed across the 38th Parallel in an effort to reunite the Korean Peninsula. The NKPA attack was a spectacular success. Its 135,000 men were supported by mobile artillery, aircraft, and Soviet-built T34 tanks, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army was ill-prepared to fight such a force. Despite its heroic efforts, the ROK Army could not stop the North Korean advance.

On 30 June 1950, the United States committed its Eighth Army to the defense of South Korea. U.S. War Plan SL-17 covered the defense of South Korea against a North Korean attack. The plan called for a delay of the NKPA and an eventual defense of a perimeter outside of Pusan, South Korea.5 The first U.S. forces deployed to South Korea to execute the contingency plan were elements of the 24th Infantry Division, which arrived on I July 1950.

The 24th Infantry Division's first task force sent to delay the North Koreans was destroyed on 5 July 1950 while attempting to block the NKPA advance north of Osan, South Korea. A similar fate befell the subsequent task forces that were sent piecemeal into the fight. During the following weeks, the 24th Infantry Division was badly mauled while fighting a long delaying action. Despite its losses, the division did hold off the NKPA long enough to allow an additional two U.S. divisions to enter the theater. The delay phase of the operation ended when the Eighth Army's lines were finally consolidated into a defense behind the natural obstacle of the Naktong River-the defensive line we now know as the Pusan Perimeter. In early July 1950, Gen Douglas MacArthur, commander of all

U.S. forces in Korea, requested a Marine infantry regiment for use in a planned amphibious operation somewhere behind the NKPA lines.

The Formation of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade

Tough, Well Equipped, and Well Led

There are three key elements that describe the formation of the Marine Brigade. First, the basic infantrymen were physically and mentally tough. Second, the brigade was outfitted with the equipment required to fight. Third, the brigade was well led. The deployment of the Marine Brigade to Korea occurred on such short notice that there was no opportunity to train forces or key leaders prior to embarkation. The brigade was built primarily around the men and equipment currently on hand in southern California. The headquarters had only the time available to organize and deploy, just ahead of the amphibious ships, to the Far East, and there was no time for staff exercises.6 From the most junior private to the commanding general, all had to be ready on the day called.

Training With Less

Although Marines today are shocked by the post-Gulf War reduction in forces and the problems that they have in training their units due to budgetary cutbacks, we do not have to look too far back into our history to find those times when Marines trained with much less money, equipment, and personnel than we have today. The political realities of the late 1940s led to a quick abandonment of a three-division and three-wing Marine Corps. Many Marines today cite the National Security Act of 1947, which set Marine Corps strength at three divisions and three wings, as a floor below which our overall strength will never fall. But, as history has demonstrated, the strength of the Corps has been cut in the past, and the Corps will likely find its combat strength cut again. Actual strength of available Marine combat forces in 1949 was substantially less than the statutory three-bythree structure. Available combat strength in the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) of 1950 is shown in Figure 1.

At Camp Pendleton, the 1st Marine Division was maintained in nearly a cadre status. The division was manned by only one of its authorized three infantry regiments, the 5th Marines. The infantry battalions of the 5th Marines were manned by only two of their authorized three rifle companies, and each rifle company was manned by only two of the authorized three rifle platoons. As a result, on the eve of the Korean War, the 5th Marines had only 1,800 of its 3,900 authorized men.7

Training dollars were equally short. Training operations were conducted in the normal Marine fashion, that is, on a shoestring. In his memoirs, LtGen Victor H. Krulak described the training at Camp Pendleton just prior to the outbreak of the Korean war:

Training presented a real challenge because of the limitations on ammunition, repair parts, and gasoline. But there was nothing . . . to prevent us from maneuvering up and down the brown hills of the 120,000 acre Camp Pendleton reservation.8

The lesson here is that, despite these limitations, during the winter of 1949 and 1950, something incredible was happening at Camp Pendleton. With no clearly identified enemy, Marines were training fox combat action in a high-intensity conflict. Americans in 1949 considered the Soviet Union as the enemy, but no tactical leader at Camp Pendleton in 1949 would have considered that a conventional attack against the Soviet Union was a likely occurrence. The conventional wisdom of the time stated that any major threat would be met with American nuclear arms.9 Still, at the infantry regiment and battalion level, Marine leaders were busily preparing their men for conventional war.

The infantrymen of the 5th Marines trained in the time-honored skills that had been the hallmark of the Marine Corps through both of the century's world wars. Men hiked long miles through the chaparral hills of southern California to dusty ranges, where they practiced attacks on enemy strongpoints and the construction of entrenched defensive positions.lo One wife said to then-Col Victor H. Krulak about the training tempo: "My kids have forgotten what their father looks like."11

The 5th Marines did not train in a vacuum. The 3d Marine Air Wing was integrated into the major field exercises of that winter. The hard-learned lessons of World War II were passed on to the junior officers by the men who had fought in the tough battles of the Pacific's amphibious campaigns. Capt Ike Fenton of the 5th Marines described the effectiveness of the training in an interview given after the Korean War:

During the month of December [1949] the division had a four day exercise in . . . mountainous terrain. The idea behind the field exercise was to move rapidly along highways, by-pass resistance on the high ground, and later come in and mop-up. Close air support and artillery were utilized and gave us very good training on proper usage of these two arms. [During the spring of 1950] . . . many field exercises were conducted and a lot of time was spent training in the field. The men of the 5th Regiment were well trained and well disciplined, and their training in the mountainous area of San Mateo [Camp Pendleton] was of a great help in Korea.12

Capt Fenton and the other leaders of the 5th Marines were training in a style that was counter to the national military movement toward an increased reliance on a technological alternative to close combat. The leaders of the 5th Marines recognized technology as a combat multiplier, not as a replacement to close combat. Today, the American love affair with technology, and the continual search for an alternative to close combat through a "revolution in military affairs" has led many contemporary American servicemen to believe that there is no longer a need for close combat.

Today's military leaders can learn a critical lesson from the members of the Marine Brigade-train for high-intensity warfare against a determined foe, regardless of the other missions that are, perhaps, more likely to arise. Peacetime infantry training is neither glamorous nor enjoyable. To develop the physical and mental toughness required for infantry combat, a man must become accustomed to hardship and deprivation. Today, this concept is foreign to us as a nation. Since the end of World War II, we have looked increasingly for a technological solution to replace infantry close combat. In his study of infantry operations in Korea, S.L.A. Marshall wrote:

The chief physical weakness of American Infantry is in the legs, due in part to underemphasis on the importance of the road march in the training schedule.13

History has often demonstrated that there is no easy way to make a good rifleman.

The danger today lies in a relaxation of our standards when faced with an unidentified threat. It is easy for a combat unit in today's FMF to avoid the tough training that is required for expeditionary operations. There are few true checks of battalion-level combat training. Some statistics do weave their way to the division command post. Rifle and pistol qualifications, Marine Corps Institute course completion records, and physical fitness test scores are dutifully sent by each battalion up through the chain of command. These scores, though, do not reflect the true readiness of an infantry battalion to perform in combat.

If today's infantry leaders are not careful, they will fall into the void so eloquently described in 1950 by Col John "Iron Mike" Michaelis, commander of the 27th Infantry Regiment in Korea:

In peacetime training, we've gone for too damn much falderal. We've put too much stress on information and education and not enough stress on rifle marksmanship and scouting and patrolling and the organization of a defensive position. These kids of mine have all the guts in the world, and I can count on them to fight. But when they started out, they couldn't shoot. They didn't know their weapons. They have not had enough training in plain, old fashioned musketry.14


On 30 June 1950, FMF Headquarters Pacific received a message from the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) asking, "How soon can you sail for combat employment in the Far East: (a) A reinforced battalion; (b) a reinforced regiment?" The force operations officer, Col Krulak, dispatched the reply to the CNO: "(a) 48 hours; (b) five days, including a Marine aircraft group."15 This information was forwarded to Adm C. Turner Joy, commander of Naval Forces Far East, who offered a Marine brigade to Gen MacArthur. MacArthur, who had just completed an inspection of the crumbling frontlines in Korea, enthusiastically accepted the offer. 16

Events in southern California now moved with great speed. BGen Edward A. Craig was the senior Marine officer at Camp Pendleton and, as such, was directed to form and lead the brigade. The brigade's ground combat element (GCE) was the 5th Marines, led by LtCol Raymond Murray. Infantrymen from posts and stations all over the Marine Corps converged on Camp Pendleton in order to fill out the emaciated ranks of the 5th Marines. In just under 2 weeks, the regiment's strength rose from approximately 1,800 to roughly 2,200 officers and men. Despite these efforts, this influx of personnel only partially solved the manpower crisis. The infantry battalions of the 5th Marines deployed to Korea with only two of the three authorized rifle companies allotted by the table of organization. BGen Craig stated of ter the war that the lack of the third rifle company in each battalion caused unnecessary casualties in the battles at the Naktong Bulge.17 Craig was also concerned about the strength of the supporting artillery. Each firing battery contained only four of the authorized six guns. The following table lists the organization and key leaders of the GCE:18

Supporting the GCE, was a combat service support element (CSSE). This unit was organized under the Brigade Headquarters and Service Battalion and was built primarily around Company A, 1st Motor Transport Battalion; Company A, 1st Engineer Battalion; and Company C, 1st Medical Battalion. The following table details the organization of the CSSE:19

The aviation combat element (ACE) was Marine Air Group 33 (MAG-33), led by BGen Thomas H. Cushman. Cushman also served as the assistant brigade commander. The ACE was built around three squadrons of F4U Corsairs and an aerial observation squadron of light, fixed-wing observation and rotary-wing aircraft. The helicopters came from the Marine experimental helicopter squadron (HMX-1 ) at Quantico. The following lists the major units and key leaders of MAG-33:

Key Equipment and Leadership

Three key pieces of equipment were deployed with the Marine Brigade to Korea. The first was the 3.5-inch rocket launcher. The first American units deployed to Korea suffered with the 2.36-inch rocket launcher, which did not have enough penetration capability to knock out the NKPA T-34 tank. The 3.5-inch rocket, however, proved more than capable of penetrating the armor of the T-34. This weapon, in the hands of a well-trained assault man, would ensure that a basic infantry unit could fight and win against tanks, even without reinforcement. The second key item was the M-26 Pershing tank. This tank, manned by a well-drilled crew behind its 90mm gun, could easily destroy the T-34. Lastly, the ACE deployed with both the day and night attack versions of the F4U Corsair. This propeller driven, World War II vintage aircraft was ideal for the close air support role that would be required by the 5th Marines.

It is difficult to find higher quality leaders than Craig, Cushman, and Murray. BGen Craig had served during World War II as the commanding officer of the 9th Marines and as the operations officer of the Fifth Amphibious Corps at Iwo Jima. BGen Cushman had served as an aviator in Haiti, Nicaragua, and also as a Marine wing commander during World War II. LtCol Murray served as a company and battalion commander during the battles for Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Saipan. The key leaders of the Marine Brigade were technically and tactically proficient and experienced in their trade.

Service Politics and the Deployment of the Brigade

It is worth analyzing here the effects of the Marine Corps political machine on the deployment to Korea. Any study of the organization and deployment of the brigade reveals that it was built, not just for the operational needs of the Nation, but also upon the political and survival needs of the Marine Corps. When Gen MacArthur asked for Marines to conduct an amphibious landing behind the North Korean lines, it was the Marine Corps that pushed to deploy more than just, ground combat power. When the CNO asked for a reinforced battalion or a reinforced regiment and the time required to deploy those assets, the Corps replied with a balanced combined arms team. When asked by the FMF Pacific chief of staff how he knew that the FMF could do that, Krulak replied, "I don't know, but if we can't, we're dead."20 Clearly, what Krulak meant was that if the FMF Pacific Forces could not pull together a brigade in that hurried period of time, the Marine Corps would be out of the fight and would not likely survive as an institution. It is important to bring this politicization of the mission to light here, because it illustrates an enduring concern of the Corps.

The response to this question drove events in southern California at fever pace and may have had negative consequences for the men who deployed with the brigade. For example, prior to the deployment to Korea, the tank company that deployed with the brigade had never before fired the 90mm gun on the M-26 tank. The company commander was able to squeeze a day trip to the range for his crews, at which each crew fired two rounds.21 One can imagine his concern about his unit's ability to handle the new gun and his wish that he had been allotted a few more days on the range, particularly when some of his tanks and crews were destroyed by NKPA armor and recoilless rifle fire. Thus the recorded history suggests the brigade accepted significant risk to deploy rapidly in response to what was perceived as both political and operational necessity.

The Marine Brigade in Combat

The Marine Brigade fought in three major battles during August and September 1950: the Chindong-niSachon offensive, the counterattack at the Naktong Bulge, and the second battle of the Naktong Bulge. Fought against a highly determined and ingenious enemy in extraordinarily rugged terrain, these battles demonstrated the effectiveness of the Marine Brigade's training, organization, and leadership. The study of these battles reveals much about the strengths and weaknesses of the Marine Brigade, and it also provides insight into the readiness of our forces today.

Deployment of the Marine Brigade

When the Marine Brigade sailed from San Diego on 14 July 1950, it was expected to move to Japan where it would reorganize and prepare for amphibious operations in Korea.22 The situation in Korea, however, deteriorated as the Marines made their long Pacific crossing. Gen Walker, commander of the Eighth Army, was at the time attempting a massive reorganization of forces behind the natural barrier of the Naktong River. The three U.S. divisions that had endured the brunt of the combat against the NKPA were stretched thinly behind the Naktong, and few reserves backed up the American lines. The situation further deteriorated when the NKPA 6th Division conducted an extraordinary foot movement that brought the division to the port of Pusan's undefended western flank. With the NKPA threatening to capture Pusan, Gen MacArthur ordered the Marine Brigade to proceed immediately to Korea.

The Chindong-ni-Sachon Offensive

The area of the NKPA advance was in the vicinity of Chindong ni. Upon disembarkation, the brigade drew up hurried plans for a counterattack. Meanwhile, the ACE deployed two-day attack Corsair squadrons onboard the carriers USS Sicily and USS Badoeng Strait, while the night-attack squadron prepared for operations from mainland Japan. An air support coordination section was rapidly established ashore in order to facilitate air and ground coordination.

On 6 August 1950, the Marine Brigade was attached to the 25th Infantry Division for the attack against the NKPA 6th Division. Due to the mix of U.S. forces that were hastily assembled for the attack and to simultaneous NKPA and U.S. attacks, the counterattack at Chindong ni was, perhaps, one of the most confused battles in the defense of the Pusan Perimeter. The operation plan called for the attack of three U.S. regiments on line. In the extreme south, the 5th Marines would advance along the coast road. In the center, the U.S. Army's 5th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) would attack, while the 35th Infantry Regiment would attack on the northern flank. This joint force of soldiers and Marines was organized into a task force named after its commander, MajGen William Kean, U.S. Army. The first phase of Task Force Kean's operations required a relief in place between the 5th Marines and the 5th RCT, with the 2'7th Infantry Regiment who were defending in the vicinity of Chindong-ni. This confused operation was carried out just as the NKPA 6th Division resumed their offensive to the east.

After sorting out the lines, the Marine Brigade attacked west as planned on the coast road. The 2d Battalion, 5th Marines (2/5) led the advance to the west and immediately ran into an NKPA battalion that was simultaneously attacking to the east. In the following melee, 2/5 managed to gain ground against the NKPA and, with the help of several close air support sorties, managed to capture a key enemy position that dominated the approaches to the west.23 Temperatures during this engagement climbed to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the ef forts at Camp Pendleton to prepare the men for the physical rigors of combat, more than six times as many men fell to heat prostration as were wounded by enemy fire.24

During the evening of 6 August, the NKPA infiltrated a battalion behind Task Force Kean's forward lines. This unit dug in on blocking position that cut the road to Masan. On 7 August, the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5) led the assault to dislodge this blocking position. This unidentified NKPA battalion stubbornly held its position for 3 days despite numerous air, artillery, and infantry attacks. Finally, on the third day of fighting, 3/5, reinforced with elements from two battalions of the 24th Infantry Regiment and the fire of U.S. Army artillery, finally cleared the enemy strongpoint. Marine casualties were heavy in this action, with Company H, 3/5, alone suf fering 16 killed and 36 wounded. Heat casualties, again, significantly hampered infantry operations; more than half of 3/5's casualties in this battle were heat related.25

With the enemy situation in the rear stabilized, the 5th Marines again began to move west on the coast road. While moving in this attack, the battalions of the 5th Marines rotated duty as the regimental advance guard. Marine Corsairs from the carriers USS Sicily and USS Badoeng Strait provided support to the attacking infantry, while the Ist Battalion, 11th Marines bounded its artillery batteries forward. This combination of infantry, artillery, and close air support placed the NKPA in the classic combined arms dilemma. When the NKPA chose to stand their ground and fight, they were pounded by the Corsairs and artillery while the infantry continued to close on their position. Again, the training in the coordination of close air support at Camp Pendleton paid dividends for the brigade. Even during these first battles of the campaign, aircraft were on target within 5 to 7 minutes of each request. When the NKPA chose to displace, they were strafed by the Corsairs. Enemy positions on the high ground were uncovered through the use of the brigade's helicopters flying aerial reconnaissance missions in support of the infantry advance.26

Corsairs from the carriers complicated the battle for the NKPA by conducting armed reconnaissance ahead of the 5th Marines advance. One such mission found a column of the NKPA 83d Motorized Regiment of some 200 vehicles on the road. Repeated air attacks on this column left a reported 31 trucks, 24 jeeps, and 45 motorcycles destroyed.27

Despite their heavy losses, the NKPA continued to disrupt Task Force Kean's attack through the infiltration of light infantry into the task force rear area. On 12 August, the NKPA 6th Division infiltrated a regiment into the Task Force's rear, which then assaulted and overran the 555th Field Artillery Battalion. For a second time in the Chindong-ni-Sachon battles, 3/5 was dispatched to clear an enemy force from behind friendly lines. The Marines combined air, artillery, and mortar fire with a two company infantry assault and cleared the enemy as night fell on 12 August.28 These tenacious, light infantry efforts on the part of the NKPA provided an excellent preview of what the brigade could expect in the battles to come.

Casualty evacuation was executed through a wide variety of means during the offensive.

The brigade's CSSE or ganized an innovative and effective use of an LST, which followed the brigade in the advance along the coastline. In addition to carrying combat supplies, the LST also served as an improvised hospital ship. Members of Company C, Ist Medical Battalion, embarked on the ship and treated the scores of heat and battle casualties that were evacuated from the front.29

BGen Craig's headquarters was located, throughout this battle, in the midst of the 5th Marines maneuver battalions. The 5th Marines relied on close communications with the brigade headquarters to coordinate air support and combat service support. Meanwhile, the brigade headquarters relied on the 5th Marines for security from enemy attack. This close physical relationship provided Craig with a highly accurate view of the needs of the GCE and made him instantly responsive to their needs. From his forward command post, Craig conducted leader's reconnaissance of the battlefield from the ground and, with the aid of his observation helicopter squadron, from the air.30

While still short of their assigned objective, the Marine Brigade was suddenly ordered to withdraw from the line in response to another NKPA penetration of the Pusan Perimeter in the vicinity of Miryang. Gen Walker's other reserve element, the 27th Infantry, had already been committed to a counterattack in the vicinity of Taegu, and this left him with only the Marine Brigade to stem the NKPA attack west of Miryang.

Chindong-ni-Sachon Lessons Learned

The battles of the Chindong-ni-Sachon of fensive provide several important lessons for today's combat leaders. The first is the legitimacy of the Marine Corps maneuver warfare doctrine. The Marine Corps defines maneuver warfare as:

a warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy's cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope.31

In the Chindong-ni-Sachon offensive we see the Brigade effectively employ two of the critical tenets of maneuver warfare: shaping the battlefield and the use of combined arms. Marine air shaped the battlefield through its operations ahead of the GCE. Through the conduct of armed reconnaissance, enemy units were often uncovered prior to engagement by the infantry battalions. On several occasions these enemy units were flushed out into the open, struck by the Corsairs, and then rapidly engaged by the GCE. This exemplifies the maneuver warfare goal of developing the ". . . turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope."

These actions also demonstrate fully the often misunderstood use of combined arms. Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1 defines the combined arms as, "the full integration of arms in such a way that to counteract one, the enemy must become more vulnerable to another."32 Many Marine leaders today fail to understand the difference between employing multiple arms and the employment of the combined arms effect. The use of differing weapons systems does not necessarily develop the combined arms effect. The key is the vulnerability of the enemy to one arm, as the result of attempting to protect himself from another. Through the Marine Brigade's battles in the Pusan Perimeter, we can see the NKPA forces caught in that combined arms dilemma. In order to protect themselves from the Corsairs, the NKPA would disperse, thus making themselves vulnerable to the advancing infantry. Later we will see that while massing to attack infantry in the offense, the NKPA would become grossly vulnerable to the heavy ordnance delivered by Marine air.

The second major lesson of the Chindong-ni-Sachon offensive is the need to closely integrate infantry, artillery, and air support in peacetime. This peacetime training is vital if these systems are expected to operate upon first contact with the enemy. Clearly, in the Chindong-ni-Sachon battles, the integrated training carried out at Camp Pendleton served as a solid investment in the future combat capability of the brigade. Perhaps the greatest missing link in this equation today is the full integration of artillery forward observers into the day-to-day training of the infantry that they support. The habitual relationship between a supported infantry battalion and an artillery battery liaison team is the key to successful integration in combat. In the physical realm, the forward observer teams must be able to move with their communications equipment with the lead elements of a dismounted rifle company. In the realm of tactics, techniques, and procedures, the forward observer teams and the battery liaison officer must be fully familiar with the methods employed by the supported infantry company fire support cells and the infantry battalion fire support coordination center. The integration of artillery and infantry is absolutely fundamental in mid- or high-intensity warfare. The Marine Corps is placing its infantry battalions at grave risk by not forcing integration of these elements in day-to-day training.

A third lesson from the battles of Chindongni-Sachon is the requirement to locate regimental- and brigade-level headquarters with the fighting units that they support. In the battles of Chindong-ni-Sachon, the NKPA demonstrated the light infantry tactic of maneuvering on foot into the enemy rear areas. Once established in the rear, the NKPA infantry would cut American lines of communications and attack soft targets. In order to avoid destruction from such forces, a brigadelevel headquarters must be austere and mobile. As seen on Combined Arms Exercise, a typical regimental headquarters serving as a MAGTF headquarters is capable of keeping pace with maneuvering battalions, and yet it is small enough that it can locate in a battalion zone of operations without significantly disrupting the operations of the supported units. One of the many negative lessons from the Gulf War is that headquarters units today often maneuver as if they are invincible from the threat of dismounted infantry (although an Iraqi mechanized battalion almost destroyed the Ist Marine Division's tactical headquarters during the ground offensive). Iraqi infantry was so poor that it never seriously threatened American command posts. This has resulted in poor habits amongst our headquarters elements. In the Chindong-ni-Sachon battles, it was only through their small size and great mobility, that the regimental and brigade headquarters of the Marine Brigade were able to collocate with the forward battalions and avoid the NKPA light infantry threat.

The final lesson is to always deploy forces that are ready to carry out their combat mission immediately. When the Marine Brigade left San Diego, they expected that they would stage in mainland Japan and then reorganize for combat in Korea. The dire situation in the Pusan Perimeter demanded the immediate deployment of the brigade to the defense of the perimeter, and the brigade entered into close combat with the NKPA only 4 days after off loading at Pusan. This example reinforces the need to always deploy forces with the means to fight. Frequently, in the FMF today, detachments are deployed away from their parent organizations to conduct routine training. We must ensure that these units bring the basic warfighting equipment required to operate in combat, should the need arise while on a routine deployment.


1. Robert Leckie, Conflict: The History of the Korean War, 1950-53 (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1962), p. 195.

2. Roy E. Appleman, South to the Naktong North to the Yalu (Washington, DC: GPO, 192), p. 113.

3. T.R. Fehrehnbach, This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History (New York, Macmillan, 1994), p. 66.

4. Ist Provisional Marine Brigade, Special Action Report (Brigade SAR), dated 11 September 1950, intelligence annex, pp. 13-17.

5. Clay Blair, The Forgotten War (New York: Random House, 1987), p. 87.

6. Brigade SAR, 2 & 21. BGen Craig notes in the SAR that the Brigade headquarters was formed ad hoc and that there was no time to prepare the newly formed staff for duty in Korea.

7. Victor H. Krulak, First to Fight (Annapolis: United States Naval Institute, 1984), p. 122.

8. Ibid., p. 123

9. At the national level, the Truman Administration was wrestling with the concept of containment, but that policy had not yet been shared with the American people. See John L. Gaddis, Strategies of Containment (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 3-54.

10. Interview of Capt F.I. Fenton, Jr., Korea Campaign. Date not available. (Historical Division; Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps) Marine Corps University Research Archives, Quantico, VA, p. 1.

11. Krulak, p. 123

12. Fenton, p. 1.

13. S.L.A. Marshall, Infantry Operations and Weapons Usage in Korea (London: Greenhill Books, 1988), p. xvii.

14. Max Hastings, The Korean War (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1987), p. 95.

15. Krulak, p. 123.

16. Lynn Montross and Nicholas Canzona, U.S. Marine Operations in Korea 1950-1953, Volume 1, The Pusan Perimeter, (Washington, DC: GPO, 1954), pp. 48-49.

17. Edward A. Craig, Oral History Transcript, Korea Campaign, dated 4 March 1954 (Historical Division: Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps) Marine Corps University Research Archives, Quantico, VA, p. 160.

18. Brigade SAR, Annex How, pp. 1-25.

19. Ibid.

20. Krulak, p. 124.

21. Montross and Canzona, pp. 50-51

22. Brigade SAR, p. 4.

23. 5th Marines Special Action Report (5th SAR), dated 10 September 1950, p. 5.

24. Appleman, p. 272.

25. Appleman, pp. 273-274.

26. Fenton, p. 17.

27. Appleman, p. 275.

28. 5th Mar SAR, p. 7.

29. Montross and Canzona, p. 143.

30. Brigade SAR, pp. 21-22.

31. Department of Defense, Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1: Warfighting (Washington DC: GPO, 1997), p. 73.

32. Ibid., p. 94.