Posts Tagged ‘Korean War’
Back on July 5th, 2008 when I was reading East of Chosin as assigned for the class “Studies in U.S. Military History,” I posted several thoughts which you can read here. I made mention of it in another post on Technology in U.S. Military History here. This is a remarkable story and one of those rare books that I count among the best I have read. I know others in my class felt the same.
Roy E. Appleman. East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950. Reprint. Texas A&M University Press, 1991. See the Texas A&M University Press page on East of Chosin here.
This haunting work by Roy Appleman falls into the genre of narrative history that is difficult to set down once a reader begins. Appleman’s stated purpose is to “tell the neglected story of American soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division who fought on the east side of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.” He succeeds in portraying in significant detail the fate of these near 3000 U.S. Army soldiers trapped east of the Chosin Reservoir in the dead of the winter of 1950. This is good history. Because Appleman uses a number of primary sources (interviews with survivors), it is likely the most complete account of what actually occurred during this episode. Official records were almost non-existent.
The narrative spans a short period of time, approximately four days and five nights during which the battle took place. Appleton begins by setting the scene of the war in Korea in November of 1950. This framing of the picture provides an excellent background for the events of the story: a war five months old, an over confident MacArthur who saw unprecedented success in his Landing at Inchon, a “Chinese phantom force” stealing across the Korean border. He then chronicles the deployment of U.S. Army troops in the area of the reservoir. Pointedly he also devotes a chapter to what the troops and their leaders did not know, predominately the massing of Chinese troops in the vicinity. The remaining chapters give a day-by-day account of the action. He ends with a chapter that explores whether the troops could have been saved and a thoughtful epilogue. The text has an impressive collection of maps and photos. Appleman created the maps himself after careful study. Most of the photographs are published here for the first time having been collected by Appleton from survivors. The author includes a large number of first person accounts of experiences by the men who returned which adds to the work’s credibility.
In an essay in the Appendix, Appleton addresses the inevitable rival-based comparisons between the disastrous breakout attempt of the Army’s soldiers east of Chosin Reservoir and the successful breakout to the sea of the much larger Marine forces that occurred in December of 1950. His conclusion is that the Army units east of Chosin were pieced together quickly to guard the Marine flank. They were not given adequate time for supply and planning, This points the finger of blame for the resulting tragedy clearly at senior leadership.
The audience for East of Chosin is clearly military historians but it also has relevance for the families of those involved in the event. It is equally informative to lay readers who want to better understand the nature of the Korean Conflict, much forgotten to the current generation.
Appleman brings respectable academic credentials and those of a soldier who fought in the Korean War. He was not a professor of history, rather a civil servant and soldier and his experiences inform his publications. He received the A.B. degree (magna cum laude) from The Ohio State University, attended Yale Law School, and was awarded an A.M. degree from Columbia University. He was first employed as a sites survey historian by the National Parks Service in 1936, and in July 1937, entered on duty as regional historian in Richmond, Virginia. He retired as chief, Branch of Park History Studies, Washington Office, in 1970. Appleman served in both World War II and the Korean Conflict. He was combat historian and captain with the Tenth Army on Okinawa and lieutenant colonel with the X Corps in Korea. His service as army historian during the Korean War required him to interview troops shortly after combat, a role that gives him a truly unique perspective from which to approach his writing. Appleman authored (or co-authored) several other military history studies including South to Naktong, North to the Yalu, Okinawa: The Last Battle, and Ridgway Duels for Korea, which won the Truman Library Book Award.
Appleman has successfully woven into his narrative much about the American military force in Korea including the weapons at its disposal and its command and control structure. The book is an excellent choice for providing a real accounting of the experience of soldiers in the Korean War. Highly recommend.
The growth in level of focus that the United States has placed on technology as manifested by the Vietnam War era cannot be stated better than by Andrew F. Krepinevich (The Army and Vietnam) who posited that the United States’ army was “equipped with the most sophisticated technology in an age when technology had assumed the role of a god of war.” 
Air power technologies continued to grow in importance throughout the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The helicopter was used in the Korean War for both removal of wounded and the shuttling of commanders to and from the front. Use of helicopters in Vietnam was extensive as a tool for troop mobility and weapon. Roy E. Appleton (East of Chosin) describes the masterful albeit not flawless use of Marine Corsairs in support of ground troops and their ability to deliver deadly machine gun and rocket fire as well as napalm.  Use of radio communication between ground personnel (air controllers of the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) and fighter and bomber pilots was also impressive in ensuring that strikes hit their mark.
More in Part 4.
 Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. The Army and Vietnam. Reprint. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.
 Roy E. Appleman. East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950. Reprint. Texas A&M University Press, 1991
This post continues on the theme introduced in post 1 here.
The growth in technological firepower was certainly evident in the Korean War. Roy Appleton in his fascinating work, East of Chosin (see previous post here) brings to life the murderous effect of mobile artillery including the M19 full-track (dual-40) below as used by trained American soldiers in their desperate defense of positions east of the Chosin Reservoir in 1950.
The two 40-mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns which were mounted on revolving turret wreaked havoc among attacking Chinese soldiers as long as ammunition held out as did quad-50s.
That said, the effects of the extreme cold and lack of fuel also showed the weapon’s vulnerability as a mobile gun platform. Tanks were used by the American’s as well although Appleman covers well their limitations on icy terrain in Korea. The American’s use of 75-mm recoilless rifle (below) was also deadly, especially when in the hands of trained gunners. Likewise, the use by Chinese soldiers of American-made Thompson submachine guns showed the destructive power of automatic small arms against U.S. forces.
More in part 3.
This week I continue reading as a part of my class on Studies in U.S. Military History East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950 by Roy E. Appleman. In chronicles in great detail a little remembered event in the bone chilling winter of 1950 as a team of American infantry 3000 strong are caught by a surprise massing of Chinese and attacked in their position east of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Only 385 survived.
The contrast between my comfortable holiday weekend in a mid-summer American suburb and the desperate events that took place east of Chosin that winter couldn’t be greater.
- Author: Roy E. Appleman
- ISBN-10: 0-89096-465-3
- Published on: 1991-03
- Number of items: 1
- Binding: Paperback
- 416 pages
A tip of my hat to Mr. Appleman (1904 – 1992) (see biography here and photo below) for an excellent piece of military history. His research and use of first person accounts is exemplary. The book is nothing short of spellbounding.
Roy E. Appleman (1904 – 1992)
Photo Credit: National Park Service
The 1st Marine Division fought on the west side of the Chosin Reservoir in equally desperate battle. I discovered a website that collects information about the conflicts that took place near the reservoir here. Available on the site is an essay by Patrick C. Roe (Major, USMC, Ret) about the destruction of the 31st Infantry east of Chosin. There is also a picture gallery.
I just took a break from working on my academic book review due today to register for my next class which starts April 7. “Studies in Military History” is the second in the “core” requirements courses and so deals with more general topics. The first was “Great Military Philosophers.” The course examines the military heritage of the United States from the colonial period to the present. “Through a study of the literature of American military history, this course is a study of the individuals, military policies, postures, organizations, strategies, campaigns, tactics, and battles that have defined the American military experience.”
The reading list looks outstanding. Since I’ve placed my book order, I’ve posted these books on my virtual bookshelves that you can find here. The breadth of conflicts dealt with required that I expand my shelf categories which I’m completely fine with. I’ll post more about each of these as I get into the sememster.
- American Civil War and The Origins of Modern Warfare
- A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the 7-Year War
- The Army and Vietnam
- Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War
- For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, Revised and Expanded
- A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783
- War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War
- The Philippine War, 1899-1902
- Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America
- The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945
- The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity
- Strategies of Containment: A Critical Reappraisal of American National Security Policy During the Cold War
- Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq
- Their War for Korea: American, Asian, and European Combatants and Civilians, 1945-1953
The instructor, Kelly C. Jordan, also looks excellent (ok they’ve all been excellent).
BA, History, Virginia Military Institute, 1986
PhD, Philosophy, The Ohio State University, 1999
MA, History, The Ohio State University, 1996
From the AMU staff biography site:
Kelly C. Jordan is a Colorado native who received his bachelor’s degree from the Virginia Military Institute but never quite got the hang of the South. Moving to the Midwest, he earned his master’s degree and Ph. D. from The Ohio State University. A retired Army lieutenant colonel, Jordan served for 21 years in the Infantry in mechanized and light units, including service in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He retired from active duty in August of 2007. He is the author of numerous publications, including works addressing Military History, Military Education, and Strategy. He is currently preparing his Ph.D. dissertation regarding the combat effectiveness of the US Eighth Army in Korea for publication. Dr. Jordan has served on the faculties of the United States Military Academy at West Point, the United States Army Command and General Staff College, the United States Naval War College, and the University of Notre Dame, and he specializes in 20th century post-WWII land warfare, the Korean War, limited war, military leadership, and the development of US Army doctrine. He has won numerous awards for his teaching and writing, he is a huge Notre Dame football fan (even this year!), and he is always looking for ways to incorporate movie clips and other cool things into his classes, discussions, and presentations.
Really looking forward to this class! Now back to my paper!!!