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The Battle of Chipyong-ni has been regarded as being one of the best examples of a regimental defense in military history. The battle took place from February 13 – 15 1951. The allied forces consisted of the United States and our French partners. The enemy forces consisted mainly of 25,000 Chinese soldiers. The 23rd Regimental Combat Team and Chipyong-ni defensive perimeter was lead by COL Paul Freeman. His leadership and tactical ability had a major influence on the outcome of the Korean War. COL Freeman’s ability to apply the mission command principles allowed for a successful allied counter attack, which ultimately led to the armistice at the 38th Parallel.
COL Freeman was born on June 29, 1907 and died April 17, 1988. He graduated from the United States Military Academy on June 13, 1932. He was stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Fort Benning, and China prior to the Korean War. His previous duties included Company Commander, CO/BN Maintenance Officer, Assistant Military Attaché at the American embassy in china, instructor to Chinese and Indian armies, Director of Arms Training for the Joint Brazil-United States Military Commission, and U.S. Army delegation to the Inter-American Defense Board. “With the outbreak of the Korean War, he was deployed to that theater as the Commander of the 23rd Infantry Regiment in the 2nd Infantry Division, and remained in command until he was wounded in February 1951 at Chipyong-ni.” Although COL Freeman had an outstanding regimental defense that turned the tide of war, the peninsula had already been at war seven months.
The Korean War was a back and forth power struggle. One side would gain the advantage then lose it after a critical attack. The conflict originated from the division of the North and South in 1945. North Korea chose the socialist approach aligning their support with China and the Soviet Union. The South chose a capitalist approach and aligned their views with the United States.
The North and South leadership both claimed that they represented the entire peninsula. North Korea began their assault and declaration of war on June 25, 1950. The United Nations organized a fighting force in order to defeat the North Korean’s aggression. The United States made up roughly 90% of this fighting force. The allied forces were unable to sustain combat operations and logistical supply routes. They were driven back to the 140-mile Pusan Perimeter.
Although the North Korean army was winning, they made a fatal mistake by spreading their army too thin. This allowed for the allies to gather strength and “draw a line in the sand… it was becoming clear that the North Koreans would not be able to move beyond the Pusan Perimeter. This battle lasted from August 4 to September 18, 1950.
While the allied forces maintained an area defense in the south, Supreme Commander General Douglas MacArthur made a bold decision to send about 70,000 marines from the southern port of Pusan, around the western coast of South Korea, to land on the beaches of Incheon. The plan, codenamed Operation Chromite, was executed on September 15, 1950. This strategy cut the North Korean supply lines and allowed allied force capture Seoul on September 26. “Allied troops then converged on the North Korean army from the north and the south, killing or capturing thousands of enemy soldiers.”
The allied forces continued to push the North Korean threat towards the Chinese boarder. On October 19, 1950 “U.N. forces capture the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, which sits 90 miles northwest of the 38th Parallel.” By October 25, 1950 North Korean troops are pushed back against the Yulu River. Chinese Soldiers engaged some sections of the allied forces. This is important because it became the first instance of China’s involvement in the Korean War.
November 25, 1950 China retaliated with about 300,000 soldiers, which forced the allied forces to hastily retreat. “The CCF (Chinese Communist Forces) onslaught took General MacArthur and the U.N. forces completely by surprise and almost instantly changed the tide of the war”. Task Force Faith, under the command of LTC Don C. Faith, took the full force of the attack. Their aggressive defense allowed for the Marines to withdraw. As Task Force Faith began to deteriorate, the stragglers began the march to link up with the Marines. “The survivors, along with other 7th ID soldiers, were organized into a provisional battalion and attached to the 7th Marines. Known as the 31/7, the battalion participated in the 1st Marine Division’s breakout from Hagaru-ri to the coast beginning on 6 December.”
The North Korean/Chinese Forces continued to push the allied forces back and recaptured Seoul on January 4, 1951. The allied forces held the line about 30 miles from Seoul and began to conduct counter offense operations. The tide began to slowly change on January 31, 1951 when the 23rd Regimental Combat Team was sent to destroy enemy units near the railroad tunnels about three miles southeast of Chipyong-ni. The battle was considered a success and allowed COL Freeman to occupy Chipyong-ni.
When COL Freeman had his unit occupy positions at Chipyong-ni he noticed that he didn’t have enough Soldiers to man the large mountain perimeter. With only 4,500 men, he decided to move them back into a tighter position in order to keep the lines together. He wanted to make sure that the enemy couldn’t slip through their defense. This area consisted of roughly 12 miles of ridgelines, but the men only occupied an area of about 4 miles.
During this repositioning there was a debate about whether the U.S. wants to hold Chipyong-ni or disengage and move further south. The reason for this was that the Chinese force seemed impossible to beat due to their large numbers of Soldiers. COL Freeman did not want to stay because he didn’t think he could successfully establish a defense strong enough to withstand the endless amount of Chinese Soldiers. After being overruled, he asked for immediate air strikes and resupply missions. He also quickly began preparations to include organizing the attached units.
COL Freeman’s defense consisted of his original force, a French battalion, and First Ranger Company. COL Freeman coordinated artillery and close air support before the morning of February 13, 1951 through the 37th Field Artillery Battalion and 503rd Field Artillery Battalion. This would be extremely important because coordinated fires would keep large amounts of enemy from moving through a sector quickly. It was noted during the battle that “any daytime advance was stopped short by the defender’s (23rd RCT) expert use of artillery, but it would only provide momentary respite as the enemy began to prepare a nighttime attack on the defenses.”
The defenses of the 23rd Regimental Combat Team consisted of deep trenches and barbed wire scattered across the most likely avenues of approach. This was satisfactory for the daylight hours, but for night operations they placed booby traps that would produce a flare in the area signaling an enemy presence. This disciplined initiative also led to the placement fougasse (napalm) throughout the line so when detonated it would engulf the enemy in a fiery blaze. Every emplacement of an obstacle or weapons team position provided the best possible tactical advantage. In addition to the obstacles, COL Freeman exercised disciplined intuitive when he took upon himself to horde as much ammo as he possible could. “It reached the point that he began to worry he might get in trouble for hording so much if a battle did not occur.” This would prove vital during the coming battle.
Before the impending battle took place, COL Freeman made sure final preparations were complete and the men were ready. He created a shared understanding that the enemy had them surrounded, made sure each company knew their section and responsibilities, and ensured his subordinates understood the importance of the events about to unfold. His subordinate leaders used the common operational picture and COL Freeman’s intent to engage the enemy and execute battle drills that very night.
On February 13, 1951 a machinegun crew noticed lit torches moving along a distant hillside. They decided to engage the shadowy figures. Lieutenant Robert Peters was writing a letter in his tent when he heard the noise and went to check. He yelled to his battery executive officer Lieutenant McKinney “get up, McKinney; this is it!”. Although the enemy surrounded the 23rd RCT, it seemed as though G Company’s sector was hit hard.
Once the enemy started to make heavy contact, Officers from each platoon began to identify friction points and reacted to contact. Officers were organizing counter attacks and recovering the wounded. They often had to motivate the scared soldiers to move. Lieutenant Heath, G Company Commander, ordered artillerymen to reinforce 3rd platoon’s position. “Heath grabbed a couple of the men by their clothing, yelling: ‘Goddammit, get back up on that hill! You’ll die down here anyway. You might as well go up on the hill and die there…When the artillerymen tried to find cover, Lieutenant Heath ran back and forth yelling and pulling at the men to persuade them to stand up and move.” He, and other leaders, understood the critical need to hold the line. They fully embodied the mission command principles COL Freeman had emphasized before the battle.
Some of the men were absolutely terrified, but executed their duties because of the trust that their leaders would make good decisions. “This phenomenon (unwavering trust) caused both the leaders and the led to rise above their abilities to a level of performance that few units equaled.” This trust was first established when COL Freeman used his leadership and good judgment to get his men a victory at the Battle of the Twin Tunnels.
COL Freeman’s second example of building trust was his ongoing attempts to spend time with his soldiers. He would walk the line every day. He would stop “to talk to soldiers and reassure them that things were going well.” He expressed a genuine care for his soldiers. This unparalleled trust is important because it maximizes the soldiers’ willingness to complete the mission for their brothers.
This trust was also earned through the level of risk COL Freeman was willing to accept throughout the battle. He had already accepted moving the soldier away from the hill tops and closer to the road. This calculated decision, combined with coordinated close air support, “proved to be a major advantage that equalized the battlefield.” He also accepted a certain level of risk by keeping his reserves in the rear until he absolutely needed them. He used those resources only after the heavy bombardment from friendly artillery and air support. This combination maximized his combat power, which allowed him to take out massive amounts of enemy forces.
The overall battle was a success and was labeled as “one of the greatest regimental defensive actions in military history.” The 23rd RCT destroyed over 5,000 enemy personnel and only took 52 allied losses. This eliminated the Chinese momentum, greatly increased the U.S. moral, and allowed for Operation Killer and Ripper to push the enemy forces back along the 38th Parallel. This resulted in the signing of an armistice on July 27, 1953.
Through the actions of COL Freeman, we are taught the importance of using the mission command principles. He empowered his subordinates to use the tools at their disposal to prepare, engage, and defeat the Chinese offensive. “He created shared understanding by keeping his staff involved in the decision-making process and ensuring that his entire chain of command was informed. COL Freeman solidified the trust of his soldiers by remaining on the battlefield after being seriously wounded. He showed great talent in weighing risks.” If COL Freeman had lost the battle at Chipyong-ni, the Korean and Chinese army may have won the war. This would have created a completely different world than what we live in today.
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