They would fight, in their own way, in their own mountains

Sunday, October 25th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachLin Piao knew almost everything there was to know about American fighting men, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), including strengths and weaknesses:

“The coordinated action of mortars and tanks is an important factor…. Their firing instruments are highly powerful…. Their artillery is very active…. Aircraft strafing and bombing of our transportation have become a great hazard to us…. Their transport system is magnificent. Their rate of infantry fire is great, and the long range of that fire is even greater.”


“Cut off from the rear, they abandon all their heavy weapons…. Their infantrymen are weak, afraid to die, and have no courage to attack or defend. They depend always on their planes, tanks, artillery…. They specialize in day fighting. They are not familiar with night fighting or hand-to-hand combat. If defeated, they have no orderly formation. Without the use of their mortars, they become completely lost…. They become dazed and completely demoralized. They are afraid when the rear is cut off. When transportation comes to a standstill, the infantry loses the will to fight.”


They would plan attacks to get in the enemy rear, to cut escape and supply roads, and then to flail the enemy with pressure from both front and rear. They would use what they called the Hachi-Shiki — a V-formation, which moved open and against the enemy, then closed about him, while other forces slashed through to his rear, engaging any unit that tried to relieve the trapped enemy. Simple tactics, they were suited to the violently broken Korean terrain — and they could be coordinated with flares and bugle calls, the only means of communication the Chinese possessed.

“As a main objective, one of our units must fight its way quickly around the enemy and cut off his rear…. Route of attack must avoid highways and flat terrain in order to keep tanks and artillery from hindering the attack operations. Night warfare in the mountains must have a definite plan and liaison between platoon groups. Small, leading patrols attack and then sound the bugle. A large number will at that time follow in column.”

The Chinese soldiers to whom the instructions were read were well fed, well clothed, and sturdy. They wore warm quilted jackets of white, mustard-brown, or blue; many had fur-lined boots. They were tough. They did not fear to leave their own lines; they carried their supply and food, even mortar rounds, with them, over hills, through valleys. Their minds were conditioned by the vast, flowing landscapes of China itself; they would move over the land as if it were the sea, caring little whether they were before the enemy or behind him, for on the sea all position is relative.


In open battle, openly arrived at, an American army might have slaughtered them. On the fields of Europe, or in the deserts of North Africa, they would have died under the machines and superior firepower of a mechanized host. But now, Lin Piao’s hosts were not going to engage in open battle, openly arrived at, with the West.

They would fight, in their own way, in their own mountains, and they would inflict upon American arms the most decisive defeat they had suffered in the century.


  1. Bomag says:

    Sounds like he’s discussing the Schlieffen plan.

  2. Bomag says:

    Meant to reference Sichelschnitt, the Manstein plan for an unexpected attack and push to the rear.

    Successful generals like to fill in the blanks of how they out-figured the opponent.

  3. Kirk says:

    A lot of the problem in Korea was that we just didn’t have the depth of experience that we needed, nor did we have the manpower possessed of the fieldcraft necessary to stay up in those hills and fight effectively.

    It was a very one-sided fight when the respective sides had things going their way–The conflict was very asymmetrical in that regard. The Chinese/NORK forces were very manpower-intense, with highly skilled light infantry forces that could roam the hills around the UN forces and outmaneuver them at will. On the other hand, the UN had all the firepower, and whenever they were able to have things their way, the Chinese and NORK forces got slaughtered in job lots by firepower.

    I’m of the opinion that with better-trained troops and having them in better condition for the war, we’d have done a lot better than we did. Root problem was that whole “linear battlefield” mentality we allowed to develop across the forces. Nobody operated as though anything behind them could ever be a threat, and never took precautions against things happening in their rear. The reality is that you only control what you’re standing on, and if you allow yourself to get panicked thinking that the enemy is in your nonexistent “safe zone”, you are going to have your ass handed to you by him.

    The Chinese and NORK forces weren’t anything profoundly special–They had their foibles, and they had their strengths. What they did have going for them was mostly in the heads of the UN leadership and what that leadership allowed to grow up in the minds of their troops. Once professionals showed up on the scene, and the troops got seasoning, things decidedly shifted against the Communist forces.

    People make a lot about how mobile and inured to suffering the Chinese were, but the intel reports are rife with reports of finding Chinese troops suffering the results of exposure and poor leadership. There were entire Chinese platoons encountered who were so thoroughly out of it from the cold and lack of food that they were virtually catatonic. You can imagine for yourself what UN troops did to them in those conditions…

    Whole thing just points to a surfeit of wishful thinking and a total fantasy-land idea of how war is conducted on the part of the US military. All the hard-case Army and many of the Marine officers were sidelined in favor of the perfumed princes that all bought into the whole mentality of “push-button warfare”, where there would never be a need for the shellback types ever again.

    An awful lot of this played into far too many decisions of the era–You look at everything, including the procurement of the 7.62 NATO and M14, and the rest of the nut-and-bolt Army, and what you’ll find behind a lot of it all is that the people who were in charge were pretty much convinced that they’d never need any of it, ‘cos nukes. I think that’s one reason why the M14 was chosen, because the people making the decision thought that they’d only ever have to use them on the ranges at Camp Perry.

    In a way, it’s an awful lot like the vaguely feudal military forces of the late Middle Ages–The pretty-pretty knights were there, in all their martial glory, but the actual reality was that they weren’t doing much of the fighting–It was all down to those guys with the cannon and so forth. The people running those forces were pretty sure they’d never really need the knightly horsemen again, and so they neglected to make sure they were actually, y’know, up-to-date and fit for combat. Plus that, they had no respect for those filthy commoners and their peasant weapons… Which is how Zizka managed what he did.

    I think you can argue for a similar syndrome being prevalent in the US military, post-WWII.

  4. Altitude Zero says:

    Of course, by the time the Korean War ended, the US Army was pretty good, but they had learned in a hard school. As someone once said, one of the big differences between Korea and Vietnam is that the US started the Korean War with a terrible army, and ended up with a pretty good one, while the opposite was true in Vietnam. But of course, the rot in Vietnam didn’t really start until it became obvious that the US had no intention of winning. In the early and middle portions of Vietnam, US forces fought as well as any Americans have anywhere.

  5. Lucklucky says:

    A side note i just came across other day.

    During their operational lifetime F-15As, mostly operating from bases in Japan, were responsible for most of the aerial maps of North Korea used at the start of the Korean War. These photographs were to prove extremely valuable, as it was not until the arrival of Marine photo-reconnaissance F7F-3P in late 1950 that additional photographs of the peninsula could be made, and then only under constant threat from attacking North Korean MiGs.[2]

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