Table of Contents
In 1951, the United Nation’s American forces in Korea had to contend with a full retreat from Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) that joined the Korean War at the end of 1950. Before the intervention by the Chinese Army, the American command believed the war would end by December, 1950. The presumption was reached after General MacArthur had successfully led a landing operation earlier in September and managed to crush the North Korean Army, moving the war to north and spearheading operations to clear the North Korean military. However, the intervention of over 600,000 Chinese volunteers charging down the North Korean mountainous regions caused massive causalities, forcing the American soldiers to retreat. It was understood that once a retreat started, it was unlikely to stop, especially when the fighting soldiers were draftees that joined in the police action, yet they had prepared their minds to ‘spend Christmas at home’. Colonel Freeman realized that it was not possible to attack the over 20,000 Chinese soldiers by manning the hills, hence the only option included installing a perimeter along the lower ridges of the village, a reflection of impeccable leadership.
It required great leadership for the group to regain full fighting spirit in the US military. The first sign of excellent leadership originated from General Matthew Ridgeway and Colonel Paul Freeman. Ridgeway became the 8th Army commander after the death of General Walton Walker in December 1950. Ridgeway had served as a paratrooper in World War II as a Division commander of the 82nd Airborne Division. Upon discovering that the American Forces felt demoralized, he began to promote the implementation of the retreat policy. The first strategy included relieving the G3 operations officer that developed retreat contingency plans and availed the same for the General’s review. The challenge included getting soldiers to believe in the retreat policy and commit to implementing the same. The role of ensuring commitment to soldiers and proper implementation fall in the hands of Colonel Paul Freeman at a village known as Chipyong-ni.
Colonel Freeman was responsible for commanding the 23rd US Infantry Regiment under the 2nd Infantry Division. The regiment was still enjoying a small victory it obtained against Chinese troops at Twin Tunnels, three miles from Chipyong-ni. After the fierce battle, Colonel Freeman moved the entire regiment to a flat valley village surrounded with hillsides. After the success at Twin Tunnels, the group, led by Col Freeman, advanced to Chipyong-ni, a decision that left them disadvantaged tactically, because the friendly units to the East and West had already retreated after a Chinese assault. It meant Colonel Freeman’s flanks remained exposed to Chinese attacks. However, upon realizing the disadvantage in terms of tactical position, Colonel Freeman radioed the 2ID commander wanting to withdraw 15 south for purposes of securing his flanks with the remaining US forces. The request was approved by 2ID and Corps commander, but upon reaching General Ridgeway, he emphatically refused to approve. Colonel Freeman obeyed the order and planned to use the forces at his disposal to win against the Chinese.
Cohesive Teams with Mutual Trust
Chipyong-ni village represented a strategic place for Ridgeway because it was a major road intersection for any vehicular movement in the region. It meant, in case of any future US offensive operation, the village could play a significant role in setting the tone. However, the win at Twins Tunnel under the leadership of Colonel Freeman was an indication that he was an astute leader, and had impacted a fighting spirit in the team. Ridgeway believed that Colonel Freeman, under the 23rd INF, had the capacity and power to push his troops to defeat the Chinese and pass a strong message that they were beatable. Colonel Freeman invested in a long-term focus by building a disciplined force that remained cohesive from top to bottom.
The Colonel positioned all his units in a circular defense, with at least a single battalion covering every possible Chinese entrance to the village. More so, the 23INF soldiers worked hard to develop defensive lines that allowed them to see Chinese troops moving on the available hillsides, as they prepared to assault Chipyong-ni. On February 13th, at night, the group led by Colonel Freeman could spot Chinese soldiers moving into position to attack, but they failed because of the cohesiveness of the team and proper coordination.
Creating Shared Understanding
Colonel Freeman understood that he had limited members; thereby making it hard to hold positions on highest hillsides surrounding Chipyong-ni to prevent spreading the regiment. He, however, chose to consolidate his frontline on the small hills near Chipyong-ni village, which overlooked the rice paddies surroundings. The Colonel ensured that his engineers were at work enhancing their fighting positions around the entire village. More so, they stocked up supplies required in case of a siege by Chinese troops on the village. Therefore, when the Chinese launched a siege, everyone was well prepared. Prior the siege, Chinese troops had consolidated their positions along the 23INF, in addition to cutting all supply lines to the city. The intention was to destroy the 23INF for inflicting heavy casualties on the Chinese when they retreated from Kunu-ri, North Korea, as well as the Twin Tunnels two weeks earlier.
Accept Prudent Risk
The combat power under Colonel Freeman had three infantry battalions, augmented with B Battery 503 Field Artillery equipped with numerous 155mm guns and a B Battery Field Artillery Regiment. In fact, the regiment was an Air Defense artillery troop that had well equipped and tracked gun applications, Ranger, medical and Engineer Company. Colonel Freeman ensured that every area of the military group was well covered, planning for any form of eventualities. More so, it was augmented with over 1,000 volunteer battalions, in addition to the 1,500 under Col Freeman, meaning 2,500 soldiers had to face over 20,000 Chinese troops that had surrounded the hillsides.
Exercising disciplined Initiative
Colonel Freeman exercised a disciplined initiative in the sense that, as the Chinese continued to probe the regiment defensive lines throughout the night, he sent out recon teams all over the perimeter to ‘comb out’ any remaining Chinese soldiers and identify the dead ones. During the patrols, additional Chinese soldiers were killed, others captured; the body count reached 500 along the regimental lines, with unknown large number suffering from the effect of the artillery strikes along the hillsides. The 23rd RCT used disciplined tactics to maneuver and dominate the road, with leaders leading other soldiers at the intersection of the center of the village and combat the terrain.
Colonel Freeman realized that they had occupied a salient right in front of all military annals, using the siege by Chinese as the main defensive line. He requested permission to retreat and integrate the unit further, but General Ridgeway ordered them to remain intact. The decision could have affected their performance, but they focused and used the few soldiers they had to combat the Chinese. Colonel Freeman chose to stay and strengthen his position by requesting for air strikes and airdrops to be used the following day. Furthermore, he developed a secondary perimeter manned during the night by engineers, while positioning the tanks near the outside perimeter. The decision to order all gaps mined using the few soldiers available or blocked using machine gun fires led to the success of the units.
General Ridgeway set the pace for Colonel Freeman to commit and lead his troops towards overcoming the Chinese. The strategy he used to build a perimeter around Chipyong-ni village was effective and gave the 23rd RCT victory. Colonel Freeman listened to General Ridgeway Command intent, ensured cohesiveness and co-operation among his troops winning over the French group, and they worked together to defeat Chinese soldiers. Despite the Chinese having over 20,000 troops, the coordination in Col Freeman camp was a major boost for the group to succeed.
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