Winter came early, howling off the roof of the world, screaming across the frozen Yalu

Friday, November 13th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachBeyond Chinhung-ni the road rose 2,500 feet into cold, thin mountain air, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), and from Kot-o-ri the road crept through mile-high hills to the city of Hagaru, near the southern tip of the thirty-mile-long Changjin Reservoir:

And here, in November 1950, winter came early, howling off the roof of the world, screaming across the frozen Yalu, the worst winter the world had seen for a decade.


Korea is not sheltered by the surrounding seas from the cold that sweeps the northern land mass of Asia. On a parallel with climes that are moderate in Europe or America, Korea is arctic when winter comes.


The mercury dropped to ten below. At the first shock, men became dazed and incoherent. Some grew numb, others cried with pain. No amount of clothing, even good GI issue, could entirely keep the cold out.

Many Americans were used to much worse weather — but not to fight in, without fires, shelter, or warm food. Water froze solid in canteens; rations froze in their cans. Plasma froze; medical supplies could not be stored more than eight feet away from a roaring stove at any time. Vehicles, once stopped, would hardly run again. Guns froze solid — all oil had to be removed from them; and many automatic weapons would fire but one shot at a time.


The ground froze eighteen inches down. To dig a hole with chapped, numb hands was prolonged agony; each night each man had to dig his shelter nonetheless, and lie shivering in its shallow length through thirteen hours of darkness.


  1. Kirk says:

    The Chinese didn’t do an awful lot better; I’ve seen reports from the war describing how some Chinese and North Korean troops were found wandering the hills, dazed by the cold and exposure.

    Winter warfare, real winter warfare, sucks absolute ass. You have to have experienced, well-equipped troops to deal with that environment, and it isn’t enough to simply hand out cold-weather gear. You have to have actually been out in that crap, and become acclimated (resigned?) to fighting in it.

    I’ve spent several winters in Korea, and I’m here to tell you, that peninsula has got to be the most God-awful place to fight a war we’ve ever deployed troops to. The hills are hell in the summer; in deep, cold winter? Satan would take one look at the conditions, and say “Yeah, that’s something I wouldn’t do to either the damned or my demonic staff…”.

    Garrison life sucks in Korea during the wintertime; being out in the field? Indescribable.

    Although, it is hysterically funny to observe the unacclimated trying to cope. Had a guy from Florida, who’d literally never, ever seen the snow or temperatures under about 50 Fahrenheit in his life. Poor bastard went through basic in summertime at Fort Leonard Wood, then was assigned to Fort Polk. He thought he’d seen the worst winter ravages possible, there, but then he got orders to Korea and arrived in early February, right before the last Team Spirit. Poor bastard nearly died of shock alone, from the discovery that it was colder outside than the inside of his momma’s freezer back home. Pitiful state… I think he’d have cheerfully let the enemy kill him, if we’d been at war, to make the suffering stop…

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