INTO THE BREACH AT PUSAN: The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in the Korean War

Written by Kenneth W. Estes, a man uniquely qualified to speak with authority on the subject matter, “Into the Breach at Pusan—The 1st Provisional Marine Bri­gade in the Korean War” not only sets the record straight regarding the U.S. Eighth Army saving itself during the perilous Pusan Perimeter campaign in August 1950, but also fills a long-recog­nized gap in Ma­rine Corps literature: the neglected analysis of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade’s role during the initial 90 days of the North Korean invasion.

A retired Marine lieutenant colonel who served from 1969 to 1993, Estes also penned “Tanks on the Beaches: A Marine Tanker in the Pacific War” and “Marines Under Armor: The Marine Corps and the Armored Fighting Vehicle, 1916-2000,” and serves as editor of the enduring “Ma­rine Officer’s Guide.” He draws upon combat records, command reports and biographical materials to provide readers with fresh insights and interpretation of the joint performance between U.S. Army and Marine personnel along the 150-mile-long defensive perimeter around Pusan, a port on the southeastern Korean coast, as U.S. troopships began assembling for a possible evacuation.

Lest you’ve forgotten, here’s a brief sum­mary of the Korean War: At 3:30 a.m. on June 25, 1950, Communist North Korea, egged on by the Soviet Union and supplied by Red China, attacked across the 38th parallel into the Republic of South Korea. The United States immediately responded by obtaining a U.N. resolution approving the use of force. President Harry Truman selected General of the Army Douglas Mac­Arthur as supreme commander to defeat the North Koreans and unify the country—not just repel the invaders and restore the status quo.

After the North Korean Army quickly seized Seoul, the capital, and drove the U.N. forces down the peninsula to the outer hills of Pusan, GEN MacArthur staged a daring, almost sensational, land­ing at Inchon, cutting off the enemy sup­ply lines. That, plus the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, allowed the allies to push north toward the Yalu River and the border of Communist China. However, it wasn’t long before hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops poured across the river into North Korea. GEN MacArthur wanted to take the war to China (including the use of nuclear weapons). President Truman, fearful of provoking the Russians, relieved GEN MacArthur. 

In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President, and he assisted in the armistice agreement. The result of the 1,000-plus-day war was some 54,000 U.S. casualties, more than 500,000 Chinese and Korean casualties, and the NK-SK boundaries unchanged. We consoled our­selves that we had at least contained Chi­nese communist aggression. 

Estes, however, focuses upon an early aspect of this “not-so-forgotten” war. He writes that his in-depth research and efforts were to recognize the significant role the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade had in the early days of the war, and in doing the research, he found frequent “contradictions,” especially in the Pusan Perimeter campaign. 

In the preface he writes: “It became clear that the Pusan Perimeter campaign loomed much larger than most Marine Corps observers realized at the time, and was really the U.S. Eighth Army’s finest hour, still unheralded. Yet the interservice rivalries stand out in most accounts. A closer examination reveals considerable cooperation by all units and services directly engaged at Pusan.”

What he writes next and covers in de­tail in his book is what many Marines will find most interesting. “It remains my chief finding that the Marine Corps’ efforts in the Pusan Perimeter fighting did not ‘save the Army,’ as Marine historians have claimed, but did in fact contribute sig­nificantly to the Eighth Army’s suc­ces­s­­­­ful defense of the perimeter.” 

Slight in size and focused in scope for such an intense military study, “Into the Breach at Pusan,” nonetheless, proves to be a remarkable blend of writing: brief, well-organized, authoritative, and so ad­mirably direct in presentation that it will be read and understood by any in­terested reader. However, for the military-minded reader, Estes’ frankness and clarity of stra­tegic exposition, along with his shrewd­ness in evaluating and depicting complex perimeter fighting, as well as elucidating the human factors of high command in battle decision making, lead us not only to a whole new appreciation of the Pusan defense, but also catapults “Into the Breach” as a permanent high-level reference that all military people must read.


INTO THE BREACH AT PUSAN: The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in the Korean War
By Kenneth W. Estes 
Published by the University of Oklahoma Press. 216 pages 
Stock #0806142545
$26.96 MCA Members. $29.95 Regular Price

 

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