Advancing in a Different Direction

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

On CSPAN2′s Book TV Thomas Ricks discussed The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today and told the story of O.P. Smith at the Chosin Reservoir:

In October 1950, the 1st Marine Division landed at Wonsan on the eastern side of Korea under the command of the Army’s X Corps commanded by Edward Almond. Almond and Smith shared a mutual loathing of each other that dated back to a meeting between the two in Japan before the landing at Inchon. During the meeting Almond had spoken of how easy amphibious landings were although he had never planned or taken part in one and then referred to Smith as Son although he was only 10 months older than he was.

Smith and the Marine command also felt Almond was overly aggressive and were sure that there were large numbers of Chinese Forces in North Korea when higher headquarters in Tokyo was telling them it was not the case. Although ordered to go north to the Yalu River as fast as he could, Smith continuously slowed the division’s march to the point of near insubordination. Also along the way he established supply points and an airfield.

In November 1950, with the 1st Marine Division surrounded at the Chosin Reservoir, he directed the breakout and subsequent 70 miles (110 km) march to the seaport of Hungnam. In the end his careful march north and ability to keep the division together saved it from total destruction and quite possibly the entire X Corps.

He’s the one who famously said, “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction.”


  1. L. C. Rees says:

    The same retreat led to Chesty Puller’s observation that, “We’re surrounded. Great. Now we can shoot at those bastards from every direction.”

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