He wanted positions that would stand under enemy artillery

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021

Lieutenant Colonel Wallace Hanes, the C.O. of the 3/38, gave explicit orders, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), to cut fields of fire, to dig bunkers, and to build covered positions for every man of the rifle companies:

Colonel Hanes discovered what many had discovered before and since — that while the American soldier is among the best in the world at getting his tents up and his socks dry, he has no love for digging in the earth. Inspecting, Hanes found that most men had merely dug a foxhole, put a poncho over it to keep out the cold spring rain, and a few leaves over the poncho as concealment. American troops always despise physical labor.

[...]

He wanted positions that would stand under enemy artillery — or friendly, if the 3/38 were overrun.

With the deep positions ready after a week of Hanes’ prodding, wire was strung across the front, and mines emplaced along the forward hill slopes. All of the matériel was carried up the steep slopes on the backs of Korean laborers and laboriously emplaced by the grudging U.S. troops.

When Hanes had first explained to them what he wanted, many had thought him joking.

When Colonel Hanes was satisfied, they had used up 237,000 sandbags, 385 rolls of barbed wire, more than 6,000 steel wire pickets, and 39 fougasse drums. A fougasse was an improvised land mine, consisting of a 55-gallon POL drum filled with napalm, a small explosive charge, usually white phosphorous shells, and a detonator. When exploded, the crude mine threw a mass of 3,000-degree Fahrenheit flame over an area ten by thirty yards long, with extremely salutary effects on any CCF who might be nearby.

In addition to fortifications, the 3/38 had to carry its water, food, and ammunition up the hill. It took three to four hours for a round trip.

The only way Colonel Hanes found to get his heavy 4.2-inch mortars up was by the use of Korean oxen.

With his front completely wired in, Hanes now insisted on trip flares and AP mines being strewn over the forward slopes, and his wire communications being placed underground.

The 3/38, which already figured it knew how to fight, now learned how to work.

[...]

Waiting in their deep positions, Hanes’ men were now proud of their handiwork, and confident. It had dawned on them, that while they had never had positions half so good, they had seen some the Chinese had made that were as good, or better. Once the work was over, they were at last glad they had done it.

Hanes, talking to Major General Ruffner, the division commander, said, “I’m worried about only one thing now, General — I’m afraid the bastards won’t hit us!”

Wallace Hanes need not have worried, Fehrenbach says, and ends up rallying some of his his panicked troops when the attack does come:

“Get back upon the hill — we don’t give up a position until we’re beaten, and we’re not beaten if every man does his share!”

After they reclaim their position, the Chinese keep coming:

The Chinese, climbing over their dead, came again.

When they were firmly on his hill, Brownell called for every inch of 800 to be seared with fire. The 38th Field Artillery, that night, fired ten thousand rounds alone, and other artillery units supported, too.

Nothing above ground could live. Brownell and his men, who had built well, were untouched. At dawn, the CCF broke and streamed north, leaving only their dead behind.

Comments

  1. Kirk says:

    Like anything in life, there is no substitute for hard work. In warfare, however, the penalties for not working hard and preparing are a bit harsher, and imposed much more quickly.

    The Roman legions knew this. It’s not rocket science, but apparently every single generation has to re-learn it in the US Army, which seems addicted to the same syndrome that befell Varus in the forests of Teutoberg.

    You can actually witness this happening in real time. Once upon a time, I was a young soldier in a unit with a bunch of Vietnam veterans in it. Those guys were some of the most paranoid people I’ve ever met, but I spent a lot of time watching and listening to them. One of the key things I noted about them was the way they set up perimeters and “wired us in” with the defenses. No matter what, the gate or access point always, always included a backup position with our heaviest bit of firepower, the 90mm recoilless set up and in overwatch. There was also never a straight shot into the perimeter–You had to make a dogleg, and the the 90mm covered it. Should you decide to try to run the gate with something, or do anything at all that the guys on the gate didn’t like, the 90mm was going to wreck your day. Had we gone to war with those guys running things, the 90mm would have been locked and loaded with HEAT and whatever backup flechette rounds they could scrounge out of the system.

    Imagine my surprise at reading the After-Action Review from Beirut, wherein the Marines on gate guard weren’t even allowed to have loaded weapons on duty in what was, at the time, damn near the world capital for truck bombing.

    There are moments when I really have to wonder just how much of the Marine reputation is really justified, and that was one of the first. At the time, the unit I was in was a third-tier corps-support Engineer battalion, and we were running a more survivable defensive posture in peacetime training than the Marines were in an active overseas combat zone, known for the use of truck bombs.

    All I can say is, WTF?

    Same thing is going on today, too–The Army has totally ignored the actual lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, in that the only way a commander is going to get visibility on the battlefield is if he fights for it–Which led to the formation of ad-hoc Personal Security Detachments enabling that being formed out of the hides of just about every organization that needed them.

    And, yet… Did we look at that and then go “Gee, we’re probably gonna have to do this again… Maybe we ought to make these ad-hoc solutions a permanent part of the MTOE…?”.

    I’ll save you the time of looking it up: No, we did not. Next time ’round, the same ad-hoc BS is going to have to be done, only with even less “meat” out in the various line components to scrape the PSD elements up out of. Instead of having dedicated elements that are a permanent part of the units, what we’re going to have are little clots of men gathered up from everywhere in a unit, thrown together with borrowed gear, and then expected to keep the commanders alive on a very lethal modern battlefield.

    I’m here to tell you that if anyone ever refers to the US Army or any other US military organization as “Learning Organization”, you need to slap the shit out of that person, and can safely ignore anything else that delusional dumbass has to say. Actually, you’d probably better pay attention to it–And, then do the diametric opposite of whatever they’re recommending.

  2. Harry Jones says:

    There is no learning organization, because too much organization prevents learning.

    There are learning populations, where the stupid cull themselves by natural selection. These populations are not very organized, but somehow they get by.

    There are learning individuals, who jettison any ideas from their heads that don’t work. These people organize their lives and their thoughts strictly on an ad hoc and provisional basis.

    From the outside, every learning process looks like chaos.

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