It was much easier to get a message to the rear than it was to get one carried forward

Tuesday, August 4th, 2020

Major General Dean found himself trying to hold back the North Koreans at Taejon, but, as T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), he had almost no communications:

If he wanted to know what was happening to the front-line troops, he had to be on the front lines. He had found, sadly, that it was much easier to get a message to the rear than it was to get one carried forward.

[...]

He had three basic reasons for remaining inside the beleaguered city; one, to keep up the crumbling morale of the 34th Infantry and the other defenders by the sight of their commander moving shoulder to shoulder with them; two, to set an example for the ROK officers and staffs fighting alongside the Americans, who by now had all virtually climbed on the Pusan Express; and three, Bill Dean wanted to see close up just what kind of fighting cat the North Korean was.

[...]

The North Korean assault on Taejon was like all other North Korean attacks — they crashed into the defenders head on pinning them down, forcing them back, while at the same time they flanked or infiltrated to the rear and blocked the defenders’ retreat. At any given moment, it was impossible for Dean or any other commander to know what the situation was to his rear; this was a kind of tactic that the Europe-trained American officers, who liked to keep tidy lines, could not grasp until too late.

As it developed, Dean kept what he wanted of the 34th in the city, and sent other elements of the division, including his own HQ, to the east. As he would say much later, what he did afterward could have been done by any competent sergeant — but in saying this, Dean was thinking of the old Army, not the forces of 1950.

[...]

He decided to go tank hunting. He did not know it, but Colonel Beauchamp, to whom he had just given command of the 34th, was doing the same. Like Colonel Martin, Beauchamp had found everyone deathly sick of the T-34’s, but now things were just a bit better, for a few of the new 3.5-inch bazookas, designed to stop any known armor, had been flown in from the States.

With Beauchamp guiding and directing a team, the 3.5’s knocked out one tank west of Taejon.

[...]

Meanwhile, hundreds of North Korean soldiers, disguised in the white robes of farmers, were infiltrating into the city. Once inside, they threw off the misleading civilian attire and opened fire on American troops. Soon snipers were everywhere.

Using HQ and service personnel, American officers were having very poor success in rooting them out. Most American boys no longer knew how to play cowboys and Indians, particularly with live ammunition.

By afternoon, Dean had located another bazooka man, this time with an ammo bearer.

Dodging sniper fire, shooting a few snipers on the way, his party hunted up another tank. But this target was covered by North Korean infantry, and rifle fire kept them from getting close. Dean and the bazooka men sneaked back through a Korean courtyard, and climbed up to the second story of a house facing the street.

Here, cautiously looking out the street window, Dean saw the muzzle of the tank’s 85mm gun pointed at him, not more than a dozen feet away.

The bazooka man aimed where Dean pointed, and fired. The blowback from the rocket shook the whole room. The shaped charge burned into the tank at the juncture of turret and body

From the tank came a shrill, horrible ululation.

“Hit ’em again!” Dean said.

After the third round, the screaming ended abruptly, and the T-34 began to smoke.

[...]

Because he took the wrong turn, Bill Dean would not rejoin the American Army until September, 1953. Thirty-five days later, after wandering lost in the hills, after making heroic attempts to reach his own lines, Bill Dean was betrayed to the Inmun Gun by Koreans. When they jumped him, he tried to make them kill him, but they put ropes around his wrists and dragged him to a police station. There they threw him in a cage, the sort reserved for the town drunk.

Only much later did the Inmun Gun realize that the old-looking, filthy, 130-pound emaciated soldier they had captured was an American general.

General Dean once said that he wouldn’t award himself a wooden star for what he did as a commander. His country saw more clearly.

It gave him the Medal of Honor.

Comments

  1. Adar says:

    “Bill Dean wanted to see close up just what kind of fighting cat the North Korean was.”

    At that exact moment the North Korean light infantry were probably the best in the world. Well-trained, combat experienced, Stalingrad and the Chinese Civil War. Fanatics almost and very resolute.

    North Koreans, their four man teams of infiltrators in civilian dress, each possessing a dagger, handgun, and hand grenades, posed a significant challenge for the U.S. Army at the start of the war. Mix in with civilian refugee columns during the day time, fight as guerrillas at night.

  2. Dave says:

    Well then, the US Army machine-gunning masses of Korean refugees was not the war crime we were led to believe. The war crime was North Korea concealing soldiers among those refugees!

  3. Harry Jones says:

    The whole notion of a war crime seems a bit incoherent to me. War is a breakdown of law and order resulting from a crisis of legitimacy. There is no applicable authority by which we can say something is or is not a crime, and no way of arresting and prosecuting the perps if we did.

    When the war is over, the victors can retroactively declare anything they like to have been a war crime. But that’s after the fact.

    Sometimes both sides agree on certain moral or “legal” principles of war. When this happens, there could hypothetically be acts that all concerned recognize at the time as war crimes. But if one side decides to commit such acts anyway, what are you going to do about it?

    The only real war crime is losing the war. So says history.

  4. Adar says:

    “Well then, the US Army machine-gunning masses of Korean refugees was not the war crime we were led to believe. The war crime was North Korea concealing soldiers among those refugees!”

    Only those machine-gunned who, when approaching a MP checkpoint, attempted to bypass it by running into a rice paddy on either side of a road. Korean women included those who did not want to be frisked by an American.

Leave a Reply