Dark Earth: The Korean War

Simon Darkshade
Posts: 759
Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2022 10:55 am

Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by Simon Darkshade »

Thank you. I’ll post the rest of what has been written up here, but that will be about it; insofar as large pieces of writing are concerned, the ‘return on investment’ of time, research, engagement and in some cases expense is not worth it.
Simon Darkshade
Posts: 759
Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2022 10:55 am

Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by Simon Darkshade »

Spring Dawning (April 1951)

Introduction: Battles of Grand Strategy
The coming of warmer weather and the thawing of spring heralded a new phase to the Korean War as it approached its first anniversary. Seoul was free once again and the majority of the prewar territory of the Republic of Korea was under the control of the Rhee regime, although significant guerrilla activity continued in recently liberated areas. Both South and North Korea had been devastated by the shifting tides of war and countless villages and hamlets were now in ruins or wiped entirely from the map, victims of the awesome effects of modern military firepower. Millions had been left without homes and were now forced to survive in refugee camps surrounding the shattered cities of Korea. Yet peace was still so elusive as to be a bitter dream.

Despite the severe setbacks of the failure of the Fourth Phase Offensive and the twin stinging blows of the United Nations Command counteroffensives of February and March, the situation on the Korean peninsula was still delicately balanced. Vast numbers of Chinese troops were poised along the rugged terrain of Central Korea and supplies continued to flow down from the factories and armouries of Manchuria despite the dogged ongoing efforts at aerial interdiction by American and Commonwealth tactical and strategic airpower. They still outnumbered their opponents by over three to one and accurate intelligence estimates of their total strength remained elusive. That the enemy would launch another major offensive to dislodge the Allied position with the coming of spring was beyond question; it was only a matter of where the blow would fall.

Commanding the Imperial Chinese Army in Korea was Prince Shou Zheng, a 49 year old scion of the Imperial house who had earned a reputation throughout the long years of conflict with Japan and civil war as a talented and implacable commander with a flair for large scale offensive operations. His natural instincts had been constrained since the initial Chinese advances of late 1950, but now he was poised to deliver his planned ‘great blow’ that would drive the Allies from Korea into the sea. He could call upon a field force of 1,680,000 men organised in 84 divisions and four powerful army groups, supported by hundreds of tanks and thousands of artillery pieces and rocket launchers. Of these, the 3rd, 5th and 9th Army Groups would bear the primary responsibility for the Spring Offensive and each had been reinforced by a tank division and two artillery divisions to fulfil their key role.

The primary aim of the Chinese offensive was to recapture Seoul and thus rupture the Allied defensive front across the more open terrain of Western Korea, allowing a strategic encirclement of enemy forces defending the centre and east of the peninsula and preventing their withdrawal down to Pusan. It was a bold and ambitious plan that hinged upon breaking through the narrow sector of the front held by the Commonwealth Corps and falling upon Seoul and Inchon. Any delays here would prove to be severely deleterious to the overall success of the general offensive. Establishment of a second corps sized formation of British Empire forces in Korea was scheduled to be completed in June, so its current strength stood at four divisions – the British 1st and 3rd Infantry Divisions, the Commonwealth Division and the 4th Indian Division, with the 2nd Royal Marines being held in operational readiness for amphibious operations further up the west coast. The frontline ran along the Imjin River, a name that would soon be known around the world.

Before the first Chinese blow could fall, however, the world would be rocked by news of a different kind – President Truman’s sacking of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, General Douglas MacArthur.

Dismissal of MacArthur
It had been patently obvious for some months that tensions had been increasing between the White House and MacArthur’s Far Eastern headquarters in Tokyo regarding general Allied strategy for Korea and the global grand strategy of the Allied powers. MacArthur’s position was driven by two firmly held beliefs. Firstly, he saw the war in Asia as the main theatre of the global struggle against Communism and secondly, he considered the Soviet-Chinese alliance was simply a temporary union of convenience rather than a truly united front. The confluence of these positions meant that he regarded the expansion of the war into China as both necessary and not intrinsically destined to bring about Soviet intervention and a general conflagration; at the same time, General MacArthur was on record as regarding such a world war as better off being fought on American terms and at a time of strength. He was forthright in expressing these views, not just in military councils, but to the international press and members of the United States Congress.

This stood in direct opposition to the position of Truman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who viewed Europe as the primary area of Soviet concern and regarded the war in Korea as a limited regional conflict that must not detract forces or attention from the former vital theatre. President Truman was acutely sensitive to the attractiveness of a negotiated end to the war in this light and was infuriated by MacArthur’s unauthorised communique to China on March 23rd, which threatened to expand the war by sea and air should they not agree to a ceasefire and open talks for their surrender. He very nearly dismissed MacArthur there and then, regarding his action as openly insubordinate and a direct challenge to Presidential authority.

The final straw came not as a single decisive event, but as a combination of several factors, including MacArthur’s authorisation of aggressive naval patrols off the coast of China, continued unauthorised public statements on the aims of the war and, most significantly, the publication of a letter from MacArthur to several high ranking Republicans, including House Minority Leader Martin. In it, the Supreme Commander harshly criticised the priorities and grand strategy of the Truman White House, proclaiming that there was no substitute for victory and concentration on Europe risked losing the decisive war in Asia.

On April 8th, after several days of meetings between the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his closest advisors, an agreement was reached that General MacArthur should be relieved in order to preserve the principle of civilian control of the military; the Joint Chiefs were careful in their recommendation not to invoke grounds of insubordination, in order to avoid the prospect of a public court martial. Secretary of the Army Frank Pace personally delivered the news of his dismissal to MacArthur, followed by a terse public statement by President Truman at a press conference in Washington DC.

Reaction in the United States and around the world was predictably terrific, with the most profound shock being experienced in Japan, where MacArthur’s position as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers had seen him play an instrumental role in the postwar reconstruction and reorganisation of the shattered nation. Emperor Hirohito paid a personal call upon the General, marking the first time that any Japanese ruler had visited a foreigner without noble or royal rank. A firestorm of controversy burst in the United States, with Senator Robert Taft calling for the impeachment of President Truman and numerous other politicians and newspapers echoing the call. MacArthur was met with a tumultuous reception upon his arrival in San Francisco, being received by a crowd of over 500,000 people, followed by a special address to a joint session of Congress and the largest tickertape parade that New York City had ever seen. In Europe, where he had enjoyed a slightly less hagiographic reputation, the relief of MacArthur was viewed somewhat more circumspectly, but the immediacy of the action still came as something of a surprise.

MacArthur’s replacement was General Matthew Ridgway, the erstwhile Commanding General of the Eighth Army, who enjoyed universal popularity among the soldiers under his command following the successful counterblows dealt to the Chinese and North Korean forces after the Great Retreat. Taking his place in turn as commander on the ground in Korea was General James Van Fleet, a highly decorated veteran of both World Wars who shared Ridgway’s preference for the use of firepower against the raw numbers of the enemy.

For the Allied soldiers and airmen on the front line in Korea, the questions of grand strategy, command and national policy were far away from their concerns. Their attention was focussed to the north.

Battle of the Imjin River
The first blow was to fall upon the crucial western flank of the Allied front, which was under the responsibility of the Commonwealth Corps. The sector around Panmunjom towards the coast was held by the Commonwealth Division and that along the Imjin River was defended by the British 3rd Infantry Division, while the British 1st Infantry Division and the Indian 4th Division lay in direct reserve. After months of hard battle, the 3rd Infantry Division was soon due to depart for Japan and thence home to Britain and as such their immediate replacements, the 5th Indian Division, were based at Seoul as they prepared to take their place on the front. The troops of the new British 1st Infantry Division had been blooded in the retreat back from the Han and subsequent counterattacks and comprised the single strongest reserve formation in the United Nations Command in the battle area of the Korean theatre. Both forward divisions were heavily supported by corps artillery, armour and engineer units, but had to hold a greater length of frontline than was optimal and were yet to augment their defensive wire and entrenched positions with minefields.

Opposing them across the Imjin River were the Chinese 63rd and 64th Armies of the 3rd Army Group, which deployed a total of 14 divisions supported by over 500 guns and mortars, 120 rocket launchers and 300 assorted tanks and self-propelled guns, some of which were newly delivered Soviet ISU-203s, which would develop a fearsome reputation in the middle years of the war. The 20th Armoured Division with a further 240 tanks lay in reserve, hidden in the broken valleys of the Korean border area and waiting to reinforce the main axis of direct success in the forthcoming offensive. Their objective was simple – to overrun and destroy the Commonwealth Corps and recapture Seoul by May 1st, both to provide a much-needed fillip to the morale of the remnant North Korean forces and government and to demonstrate Chinese military power to the Soviet Union. Success would also outflank the main part of the Allied line in Central Korea and offered up tantalising opportunities for decisive victory. Commonwealth Corps and Eighth Army intelligence had predicted that a Chinese attack would fall upon this end of the Allied line, but through a combination of illusion magics and more mundane concealment, some small measure of tactical surprise was achieved in regard to the timing and intensity of the assault.

The terrain of the river was strongly suited to defence, with steep cliffs and rugged hills rising up from the river bed on both sides and the water level kept artificially high for this time of year by complex enchantments developed by Allied hydromancers. Yet even as this seemingly provided ample protection, the waters would serve as a direct highway for the advance of the Chinese. Their plan was both simple and ingenious – the wu-shen of the Imperial Army would use mighty spells to freeze the river in several sectors at once, allowing crossings to be forced and more permanent assault bridges to be assembled. It was thought that this tactic would more effectively preserve the element of surprise, rather than the alternate option of using dragons to dam the river upstream. The characteristic infiltration of small units of Chinese soldiers through the highly stretched Allied lines was launched on April 15th, even as they were being driven back by Ridgway’s counteroffensive and many deadly traps and wicked ambushes would delay the response of Commonwealth troops and support forces to the initial attack.

At 2230 hours on April 22nd, 1951, the northern horizon turned to a sea of fire as the massed Chinese artillery and rocket launchers suddenly opened fire on the forward British positions. Carefully husbanded squadrons of Tu-2 night bombers struck key junctions and targets across the front, although they suffered substantial losses from the deadly automatic radar-guided fire of the 3.75” anti-aircraft guns of the Royal Artillery. Forth charged tens of thousands of Chinese infantrymen of the 64th Army, heralding their presence with the now familiar cacophony of bugles, drums and gongs and accompanied by T-34 tanks and ISU-152 mobile guns.

Six British battalions faced down almost ten times their number. Many frontline company positions were swiftly outflanked, leading to orderly pullbacks to the main line of resistance under cover of artillery and mortar fire. The Chinese advance across the Imjin itself was slowed in several locations by pre-registered fire missions by 15” howitzers positioned at corps headquarters, but the sheer scale of the attack meant that such preparations swiftly became obsolete. Desperate calls for naval gunfire support and air strikes were responded to by battleships and carriers offshore and HMAS Australia would carry on a steady shelling of Chinese supply routes throughout that long first night, whilst flights of Hawker Sea Hawk fighter-bombers bombed and strafed the river crossings. Despite this, the situation was increasingly seeming quite grim even as dawn approached and both reserve armoured regiments attached to the 3rd Infantry began to move forward to cover the beleaguered frontline forces.

General Sir John Hackett ordered a phased withdrawal to the secondary defensive line prepared behind the Imjin early on the morning of April 23rd, as aerial reconaissance revealed the full extent of the Chinese offensive. This was to take place over the next 48 hours, with each of his three forward brigades to cover the withdrawal of the next formation and his fourth brigade being kept in reserve to strike at any Chinese penetration. Heavy air raids by RAF Korea bombers, strike fighters and fighter-bombers took place throughout the day and the heavily escorted Lancasters caused particular damage and chaos with their loads of twenty-four 1000lb bombs. A full scale strike by the aircraft of three British, Australian and Canadian carriers offshore destroyed a number of bridges and railheads that would prove significant later in the battle, but the main part of their attention was focused on events emerging to the west of the Imjin.

Chinese attacks resumed in ferocious strength after nightfall on the 23rd and what had been planned as an orderly withdrawal soon acquired an altogether more desperate character. The British 27th Brigade was forced back with heavy losses of men and equipment from their position on the left flank of the divisional front by the early commitment of the Chinese 20th Armoured Division, leaving the 29th Brigade dangerously exposed for several perilous hours. It was at this moment that the battle took on the stuff of legend, due to the tremendous stand of a single British infantry battalion. For almost 40 hours, the 1st Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment made a stand atop atop a strategic height dubbed Gloster Hill. They were swiftly surrounded and Chinese commanders considered their resistance a mere temporary irritant to begin with, but they were soon disabused of this assumption. Reinforced by a troop of Centurion tanks of the King’s Irish Hussars, a battery of 25pdrs, a circle of wizards, four anti-aircraft guns and a heavy company of the Royal Machine Gun Corps, the Glosters fought back wave after wave of Chinese attacks with precise, disciplined fire and undying ardour. Their mortar tubes were fired so frequently that several were rendered unusable by the heat of battle and relentless Chinese sniper and artillery fire pinned down movement through the day. Yet still the Glosters fought on, drawing more and more Chinese troops into a fixed positional battle that opened them up to dreadful attrition from British heavy artillery, which kept up steady and accurate support throughout the engagement. Relief would come early on the morning of April 25th, as a devastating dragonstrike by two wyrms was followed by an armoured column of the Royal Horse Guards and Royal Scots Greys punching through the Chinese lines, in conjunction with a diversionary attack by the 32nd Brigade. RAF Hunters saturated the surrounding area with napalm and wildfire, burning out any enemy troops remaining. The Glosters had suffered 89 killed in action or missing and 378 wounded out of their 962 men, but had been responsible for over 2000 Chinese casualties.

The Chinese 3rd Army Group continued to push all along the front throughout the day and the new positions held by the 3rd Infantry Division looked set to crumble under the endless tide until the welcome arrival of the 1st Infantry Division, which provided much needed fresh manpower to properly hold their new lines. The British had been pushed almost 12 miles back from the Imjin, yet heavy firepower and tactical flexibility had allowed them to bend rather than shatter in the manner of the defeats of winter. General Sir Charles Keightley, commander of the Commonwealth Corps, had ordered the 5th Indian Division forward from the South Korean capital earlier that day to provide further defence in depth for his positions. This was considered a bold and somewhat controversial move, as it committed his forces to a do-or-die battle above the Han, but Keightley deemed this necessary in light of the nature of the fighting on his left flank at Munsan-ni.

The Battle of the Imjin River had been won, but not by Imperial China. British losses amounted to 264 killed and missing and 1745 wounded, in addition to the loss of 20 tanks in the desperate running melees that had raged without surcease for three days. The Chinese had lost 18,000 casualties, with over 3000 killed or missing. Coordination artillery and armour had halted the Chinese on the advance and tactical airpower continued to prove the single deadliest weapon in the Allied arsenal in the uncontested skies above the battlefield.

Battle of Munsan-ni
The Commonwealth Division had entrenched itself from the curve of the Imjin around Munsan-ni to where it branched into the Han River on its ultimate journey to the sea. It had been reinforced by a newly arrived brigade made up of regular battalions from New Avalon, Prydain and the West Indies and a battlegroup of the 1st Zulu Regiment and deployed the most tanks and armoured vehicles of any single division in the Eighth Army. They were outnumbered and outgunned by the Chinese 63rd Army and the North Korean 13th Division, a formation carefully assembled from the remaining veteran formations of the Red government that had not been bled dry on the jagged hills of Korea over the previous eleven months. As was the case further up the Imjin, the number of troops available was barely adequate to provide proper coverage of the length of front that needed to be covered, but morale and confidence in the effects of Allied firepower was high. Each brigade was positioned to provide mutual artillery support and coverage in the event of a Chinese wave attack, a development of the successful hedgehog strategy that was even then being refined by British Army commanders a world away in the forests of Germany. Beyond the river and the frontline lay the small village of Panmunjom, largely wrecked by the terrible fighting of the previous year as the Allies surged north. Now, it would give its name to one of the bitterest pitched battles of the campaign.

Chinese forces launched their offensive at 2356 on April 22nd with a hellstorm of artillery and mortar fire and some of the heaviest direct use of battle magic yet employed by the Imperial Army in Korea. Forward pickets on the far side of the Imjin first buckled and then collapsed under the screaming tide pouring out of the midnight darkness and dozens of companies of infiltrators penetrated deep behind the main line of Commonwealth resistance. By sheer force of numbers, two crossings of the Imjin were forced, effectively cutting off the forward pair of brigades, the Anzac Brigade and the Canadian Brigade, from the support of the rest of the division. The Commonwealth Division’s two other major field forces, the Sarac Brigade and the newly named 26th Commonwealth Brigade, were spread out along the steep banks of the Imjin on either flank of the salient and were pinned down by constant Chinese harassment attacks and artillery fire. Only a very narrow path largely interdicted by Chinese tank and artillery fire kept all four brigades and the divisional headquarters connected. The division’s four 12” howitzers provided continuous fire from the early hours of the battle onwards, maintaining such a consistently devastating barrage that they exhausted all available ammunition by midday on the 24th.

The Anzacs and Canadians held their positions strongly against initial infantry attacks and the 36pdrs canister shot of Centurion tanks and the merciless fire of quad Bofors guns alike scythed through Chinese ranks like sabres through butter. Naval gunfire support from the light cruisers Trinidad, Sheffield and Manchester in the mouth of the Han and the battleships Australia and Canada farther out to sea prevented Chinese forces from overrunning either brigade, but the close proximity of both sides did not permit it to play a decisive role. Throughout the 23rd of April, several Australian companies came close to being overrun and only the commitment of all available brigade reserves and a series of desperate dive bombing strikes by RAAF Venoms prevented a disastrous breakthrough. The Canadian and Newfoundland troops were similarly hardpressed, as four invaluable Centurions were knocked out or incapacitated by new rocket-propelled grenade weapons and the brigade’s communications were thoroughly disrupted by the arcane jamming blanket laid across the battlefield. During the long night that followed, hand-to-hand fighting continued almost without pause and ammunition supplies began to run dangerously low. A fresh Chinese division was thrown into the fight after midnight and the two Commonwealth brigades were completely cut off in two frenzied hours of confused combat. General Horace Robertson committed his divisional reserve of a regiment of Churchill heavy tanks in a concentrated attack on the base of the Chinese penetration, but this merely succeeded in preventing further reinforcement rather than destroying it.

With dawn of the 24th of April came the return of the aerial armadas of Allied tactical fighter-bombers and, most significantly, a pair of heavily armed RAF airships. They unleashed a torrent of accurate cannon and machine gunfire and blasted every visible Chinese position with their deadly heat rays. Robertson launched his carefully time counterattack as the enemy was reeling from this powerful blow from the air, concentrating the fire of every artillery piece, mortar, rocket launchers and bombard in his division on positions held by a single Chinese battalion. Advancing on the heels of the whirlwind barrage came the rampaging Zulus with assegai blades fixed to their rifles, smashing through the shell-shocked survivors to re-establish contact with his forward brigades. Once resupplied, the Commonwealth Division then struck across the frozen river crossings, routing the Chinese from their strongpoints and scattering them into the hills. Their tactical success was reinforced by advancing troops of the 4th Indian Division, which doubled the manpower available along the frontline. Chinese resistance coalesced around Panmunjom, which had been captured from the withdrawing Australians two days previously. The North Korean 13th Division and Chinese 142nd and 158th Divisions had hastily established blocking positions around the village and the commander of the 63rd Army committed several of his precious tank and self-propelled gun regiments to its defence. Their attempts to protect their positions by laying minefields met with an unfortunate end as batteries of Australian and New Zealand automatic 25pdrs and divisional 9.2” howitzers unleashed a lightning-fast bombardment with new airburst anti-personnel shrapnel shells; forward observers described the scene as a hellscape of horrific carnage reminiscent of the bloodiest days of the Great War.

Keightley’s deputy commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Basil Coad, had appraised the situation in an overflight of the battle area late on the afternoon of the 24th of April and had reached the conclusion that, even with substantial reinforcement in the form of the 4th Indian Division, a tactical withdrawal back several miles to straighten the front would be the best course of action. It would allow the establishment of extensive minefields in addition to the existing defensive barrier of the river. This withdrawal would be covered by a sharp diversionary attack on Panmunjom by elements of both divisions aimed at disrupting Chinese and North Korean forces and inflicting maximum destruction.

A heavy artillery bombardment was launched at 2138 that night, targeting substantial concentrations of Chinese troops that were massing for an attack of their own. It was followed by an infantry advance by Gurkha and Sikh units heavily supported by tanks and armoured carriers that broke through the makeshift defences that the enemy had erected with comparative ease. RAF Mosquito night fighters streaking through the skies above provided devastatingly effective air support with guided rockets and automatic cannon. By midnight, the blasted ruins of the village had been seized and Bengal Lancers pursued fleeing infantry mercilessly, cutting down hundreds as they stumbled blindly through the broken fields. The diversion worked successfully, drawing in more Chinese forces back from the Imjin and allowing the Commonwealth Division to disengage and move back 5 miles to its new lines. They were followed by the 4th Indian Division during the 25th of April, as the daylight hours permitted the resumption of the dominance of Allied tactical air power.

The Battle of Munsan cost the Commonwealth Division 287 dead or missing and 1562 wounded, in exchange for at least 1800 Chinese troops killed and over 9000 wounded. The subsequent brief engagement at Panmunjom resulted in 78 killed in action and 432 missing for the 4th Indian Division; Chinese losses are still unclear to this day, but are thought to number over 4000. Despite the Chinese achieving tactical success in forcing the Commonwealth forces back from the Imjin, they had not broken their enemy. The battle was a minor victory for the Commonwealth Corps and the United Nations Command, as it had halted the most dangerous initial thrust of the Chinese Spring Offensive dead in its tracks. However, the strategic calculus was unmistakeable - it had cost Imperial China almost 5000 dead to advance five miles.

This was a price that could be afforded and sustained should it lead to final victory.

Battle of Kapyong
The centre of the Allied line in Korea saw the junction between IX Corps and I Corps, centred on the Kapyong Valley. Its primary defenders were two ROK regiments attached to IX Corps, with the Ruritanian Battalion in direct support at the ruined village of Kapyong and the Italian 3rd Bersagliere Regiment based a further 2 miles to the rear. Intelligence reports and aerial surveillance indicated that a Chinese offensive was in the offing and Allied forces were held at an enhanced state of readiness in response. This level of preparation undoubtedly prevented a disastrous collapse, but little could prepare them for what was to come.

At 2259 on April 22nd, five Chinese divisions struck at the South Korean infantry entrenched at the northern end of the Kapyong Valley without warning, with their artillery only opening fire after the initial silently coordinated assault. This combination of surprise, shock action and firepower proved devastating to the ROK troops, who were driven back from their positions almost immediately. Many companies disintegrated under unrelenting Chinese pressure and the terrifying attacks of Nanchang Q-1 fighter-bombers, which had been specially equipped with sophisticated darkvision sights in underground factories in Manchuria. By 0400, they had been essentially destroyed as a fighting force and the way to the south seemed open. This brief moment of triumphant exultation was curbed by reports that forward scouting elements had run straight into an enemy force of brigade size at Kapyong.

The Italian and Ruritanian troops numbered just over 3600 men, supported by Italian mortar and 75mm mountain howitzer batteries and a troop of American M-48 tanks from A Company, 72nd Armored Regiment. Four battalions were arrayed across the wide valley, the Italians deployed on three individual hilltop strong points and the Ruritanians holding the crucial central sector of the line. They were well-supplied with machine guns, but had had little time to dig in or protect their positions with wire and anti-personnel mines. During the early morning of April 23rd, Chinese artillery and sniper fire kept them firmly pinned down until two divisions were in place to launch their major assault. This time, the attack was preceded by a concentrated artillery bombardment, which caused much smoke and noise, but had little decisive impact on the Italian and Ruritanian positions. The Allied troops held against the first Chinese tide, albeit just barely.

Over the next two days, they would force back human wave after human wave in relentless hand-to-hand fighting with rifles and grenades. Four separate bayonet charges were launched by the Bersagliere to recapture company positions that had been overrun by the enemy and anti-tank rockets were frequently used to destroy machine gun nests and positions. Battalion mortar platoons dominated the battlefield, accurately targeting Chinese infantry concentrations with considerable effect. In the middle of the battlefield, the Ruritanians suffered grievous losses as they repelled multiple attacks from all directions. Three unteroffiziers of the Strelsau Regiment held up one particularly intense attack for the better part of an hour, first with their StG-44s and then with sword and pistol before they fell, leaving the bodies of fifty-three Chinamen strewn about them. Undoubtedly, the key factors in their successful defence were the accuracy and power of American artillery, which supported them from firebases over 10 miles away to the south, and the M-48 tanks, which turned back several attacks by crushing Chinese infantry beneath their tracks.

By the time a relief column of the US 19th Regiment broke through to them, the Italians had lost 96 killed and missing and 388 wounded, whilst the Ruritanians had suffered 78 killed or missing and 316 wounded from an original strength of 825 men. The corpses of over two thousand Chinese soldiers lay strewn across the battlefield as testament to the discipline, élan and indomitable spirit of the defenders and the deadly quality of their arms and firepower. Chinese forces had maintained a continuous assault throughout day and night in a fine display of soldiery, but lacked the individual firepower or weight of support arms to overrun Allied forces at this time.

The Battle of Kapyong would result in the award of the prestigious Presidential Unit Citations to the 3rd Bersagliere, the Ruritanian Expeditionary Battalion and A Company, 72nd Armored Regiment for their meritorious actions and boundless courage in the engagement. The deeds of the Ruritanians in particular would win eternal glory as American combat film footage of their valiant stand would serve as the basis for the short documentary Frontline Struggle – Korea, which would win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Picture in 1952.

The Battle of Central Korea
General Van Fleet had observed the first phase of the Chinese offensive with mounting alarm, as the enemy was using substantially increased firepower and bringing heavy forces into action. Their defeats in the west lead him to assume correctly that the next blow would fall in Central Korea and that it presented a distinct opportunity to inflict fearful damage on the foe on ground of his choosing. He ordered the construction and fortification of the Nonsuch Line on April 24th, even as fighting was raging on the Imjin, stretching from Seoul to Sabangu and across the peninsula to Taepo-ri on the west coast. It consisted of log, stone and sandbag bunkers, barbed wire entanglements, minefields and flame fougasses. Forward units along the Kansas Line reported a considerable build-up of enemy forces, but clear intelligence was difficult due to their mastery of camouflage, concealment and deception. Van Fleet considered that he was short of at least 75 battalions of artillery to achieve his target force and thus ordered a large build-up of ammunition loads for all artillery units on the central front, with all pieces being supplied with up to five times their usual load in preparation of the planned repost to any Chinese offensive, the famed ‘Van Fleet Load’. However, assembling such a stockpile would take time, due to the difficulties inherent in mountain warfare and the limitations of the South Korean transport network, and the Chinese blow was imminent.

To the east of Kapyong lay I Corps’ section of the front, covering the valley of the Pukhan River and abutting the huge Hwaechon Reservoir, which before the war had produced the majority of the country’s hydroelectric power. The 2nd Infantry Division, reinforced by South Korean troops and a composite South American brigade made up of battalions from Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, held the centre of the front, with the 6th Infantry Division positioned on its left flank and the 1st Cavalry Division to their right. X Corps extended out to the east, with the 1st Marine Division and the Greek Army’s Spartan Brigade and the 3rd Marine Divisions manning the Kansas Line along the southern short of the reservoir and across the Soyang Valley respectively. Reserve forces were concentrated behind the general battle area in the form of the 6th Infantry Division and XII Corps.

Fifty-six Chinese divisions of the 5th and 9th Army Groups, a total of 950,000 men, were tasked with breaking open Allied lines in Central Korea, with the grand aim of achieving a double encirclement of forces on both coasts while Chinese armour and mobile forces advanced swiftly down to Pusan to eliminate the United Nations Command from the Korean peninsula. The rugged terrain of Central Korea was thought to neutralise the Allied advantages of superior mobility, firepower and air power and allow for the concentration of Chinese numbers to an overwhelming level. They were heavily supported by tanks, artillery and six regiments of Il-10 Sturmovik ground attack fighters, which had been secretly flown in from Manchuria to newly excavated caverns adjacent to cunningly disguised airfields in North Korea. The final secret weapons were several hundred 10ft spheres filled with a cruel and powerful new explosive produced in the fabled subterranean laboratories of Chancellor Fu Manchu. These would be hurled from specially prepared magical launchers erected on the rear slopes of hills across Central Korea.

The Chinese attack was launched at 1930 on April 29th, heralded by the terrifying spectacle of three hundred lightning bolts crackling across the sky to explode before the Allied positions, dazzling and shocking them prior to a thunderous bombardment by over a thousand guns and mortars. Katyusha rocket launchers added their screaming missiles to the cacophonic maelstrom of flame, dust and smoke as American artillery began counter-battery fire. Chinese artillery ceased firing on two separate occasions before roaring back to life and, at several points along the line, illusory assaults by Chinese infantry and tanks caused American infantry to open fire at phantasmal foes. After half an hour of deafening artillery, the 379 Chinese war spheres were launched across the battlefield, each trailing a multi-coloured tail of brilliant fireworks as they howled through the air. Many exploded prematurely, but over 200 struck the general area of the front line, where the combination of high explosives, quicklime and thousands of poisoned caltrops caused great disruption and occasional dreadful damage.

Following on out of the night came tens of thousands of Chinese infantry in great waves. The forward American infantry poured on rifle and machine gunfire, but many strongpoints had been severely damaged by the artillery barrage and the continual mortar fire from the attackers. Carefully crafted battle plans for the defeat of Chinese attacks through mutual fire support and armoured reinforcement were put into action. USAF F-84 and F-90 fighter-bombers executed effective radar-guided strike missions along the rapidly buckling frontline and A-48 Wolverines lit up the night sky with napalm strikes and strafing runs. Army and Marine M-48 tanks were rushed forward in strength and provided welcome firepower to many beleaguered outposts, but the sheer weight of manpower than the Chinese could deploy threatened to overwhelm the capacity of Allied commanders to react. For every enemy thrust that was contained, half a dozen more would follow from multiple directions. It spoke volumes of the courage, training and leadership of US forces on that terrible first night that the entire front did not completely break open. By dawn, the Kansas Line still held in a dozen different sections, but many battalion positions had been cut off by thousands of fast moving Chinese infantry who streamed onwards to the south.

General Van Fleet ordered a tactical withdrawal back to the partial defences of the Nonsuch Line as the daylight permitted the entry of the majority of Allied airpower to the battle and X Corps’ divisions began to fall back in reasonably good order, even as Chinese forces kept up their attacks, despite their vulnerability to air strikes. The situation in the I Corps sector was far more perilous and commanders felt that it would be impossible to break away from contact with the enemy without a major diversionary attack. Massed carpet bombing of Chinese lines by 210 B-29s failed decisively damage their ability to continue offensive operation and dozens of targeted air strikes by jet fighter-bombers and light bombers seemed to have as much effect as pinpricks on a giant. Some means had to be found of stopping the Chinese hordes dead in their tracks. Reports of the crumbling of several hitherto strong positions along with the first photographs of the blinded and horrifically scarred victims of the dreadful war spheres sealed a most fateful decision.

General Van Fleet sent through an urgent request to General Ridgway in Tokyo, who took the unprecedented step of making direct telephone contact with President Truman to gain personal authorisation for the action he had planned. Only two contingencies required. One of these involved the two special squadrons of B-47s based on Guam and Tinian and the 96 atomic bombs stored in heavily fortified igloos at the heart of the airbases.

The other was Operation Sanitation.

President Truman’s response had been short and simple: “Do it. Gas them.”

Within ten minutes of presidential authorisation, American artillery battalions across the Korean front were preparing for the first fire mission of its kind since 1945. 48 240mm gun-howitzers began firing M524 chemical shells containing cyanogen chloride at identified Chinese troops concentrations and artillery positions, followed by five battalions of 155mm howitzers and a regiment of 280mm rockets bombarding Chinese frontlines with a mixture of nitrogen mustard, adamsite and diphosgene shells. In the Commonwealth Corps sector, long range 7.2” guns and 360mm bombards struck along the length of the Imjin front with mustard gas and phosgene.

From the air, 48 ASM-N-5 Gorgon missiles equipped with tetrasycoginite warheads were fired at suspected supply dumps by a specialised group of B-45s and a single squadron of B-29s deployed the most terrible weapon available in the Far East Air Force’s chemical arsenal, the M122N 10,000lb bomb. These were filled with the highly dangerous incendiary chlorine trifluoride. The effects of the aerial chemical strikes were devastating, with the telltale purple-blue clouds of tetrasycoginite rising above the stricken supply dumps, already burning away at the still corpses of the Chinese soldiers strewn about like broken toys and the massive explosions of the M122Ns spreading out their corrosive poison across an 800 yard radius, burning through flesh, wood, stone and earth alike.

The Chinese offensive was halted decisively with the effects of the mass poison gas attack throwing command and communications into chaos, allowing the US units to break out and pull back in good order away to the south. As their columns of trucks, carriers and tanks drove away towards the Nonsuch Line, the soldiers on board could gaze skyward at the sight of dozens of tactical fighters speeding up northward to add their own contribution to the devastation. Over the next two days, Sanitation would continue, as over 9000 tons of chemical agents were deployed over the battlefield by American and British heavy bombers. Allied casualties in the Battle of Central Korea were heavy for the short period of fighting, with 1094 killed or missing and 5268 wounded, many of those suffering from the brutal effects of the war spheres. Chinese losses are unclear to this day, but are thought to number over 40,000.

War at Sea
As fighting raged across the centre of the Korean peninsula, the Allied naval task forces in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea provided extensive support from both aircraft carriers and naval gunfire. A tight blockade of the coasts of North Korea was maintained by destroyers and frigates covered by heavier cruisers and daily bombardment missions were conducted to interdict and disrupt traffic along coastal railways and roads. No location in Korea was out of reach of carrier air strikes and they were often preferred to land-based air due to their shorter response time. The USN escort carriers assigned to TF 77.4 had now been reinforced to ten vessels, many operating USMC Super Corsair squadrons, and they were able to maintain a consistent aerial presence above the eastern reaches of the peninsula.

The port of Wonsan loomed large in the mind of Allied naval planners, as it potentially offered an ideal base to any submarine or surface forces provided to North Korea as aid from their fraternal socialist allies to the northeast. This lead to the initiation of Operation Fireball on April 19th, a two week period of concentrated air strikes and heavy bombardment by USN battleships aimed at destroying Wonsan’s port facilities beyond any prospect of easy repair and focussing attention on Eastern Korea. Fireball was an outstanding success in both respects, with muted opposition soon being smashed by the hail of 24” gunfire; several senior naval commanders compared the task to smashing snails with a steam hammer. North Korean and Chinese reserve forces were moved into the vicinity of Wonsan to respond to any landing operation, only to be subjected to relentless air strikes. Chinese and Soviet MiG-15 jets moved to intervene in the resultant aerial battle and succeeded in at least contesting the local airspace.

Once the attention of the enemy was focussed on Wonsan, Task Force 85 launched Operation Baldric, an amphibious landing by the 2nd Royal Marine Division south west of Kaesong on April 29th. The combination of naval gunfire, long range interdiction fire and massed carrier airpower allowed a beachhead to be swiftly established, despite localised Chinese resistance. After advancing 5 miles inland, the Royal Marines began to dig in and wait to draw counterattacks down upon their positions. This daring landing outflanked the enemy forces spread out along the Imjin and aimed to draw them into a clear killing zone where Allied naval superiority could be bought to decisive effect. Once the UN Command moved back to the offensive, they were to advance along the coast to capture Haeju, opening up a clear line of attack towards Pyongyang that would bypass the majority of Chinese forces.

Back on the east coast, the US Marines preceded with ambitious plans of their own to similarly break through the bottleneck of Central Korea. Their long term target was to be Hungnam, but that would require the availability of X Corps and a build up of supplies and amphibious shipping that would take some time to assemble.

Air War
The aerial battle above Korea took on a new dimension in April and May of 1951 as Chinese and Soviet MiG-15s began to enter combat in greatly increased numbers and with increasingly skilled pilots over a wider proportion of the Korean peninsula. USAF F-86 Sabres and RAF Hunters provided the ultimate answer to their challenge over the frontline, as their superior speed combined with aerial control and guidance from American and British airships back to the south to deliver overwhelming air superiority. To the north, the MiGs held more of an advantage as they could bring more numbers to bear. Many Allied fighter aces won their spurs in offensive counter-air sweeps over North Korea and they would capture the imagination of the Western public in a manner not seen since the Battle of Britain.

Tactical airpower was focussed on close support of the ground troops for the majority of April, but this was also accompanied by two new tactics – penetration raids and area strikes. In the first instance, up to 200 tactical fighters and light bombers would raid targets up to 100 miles behind the battlefront whilst escorted by a similar number of fighters, aiming to lure out enemy MiGs for their own Sabres and Hunters to engage. Area strikes consisted of formations of wing-strength deploying unprecedented amounts of napalm, wildfire and skyblaze on large geographic areas such as hills and forest, aiming to remove cover for the enemies light infantry forces. Some successes were encountered, such as the huge raid on Sinuiju by 562 planes on May 11, but both were ultimately found to be ineffective after several months of mounting losses and the Allied tactical air forces were shifted back to their familiar tasks of close air support and battlefield interdiction. The Canberra and Tornado medium bomber forces continued to operate in a semi-strategic role, their speed and altitude allowing them to avoid the enemy fighter and anti-aircraft guns which had driven the heavy bombers into the arms of the protective darkness of night.

Strategic bombing of North Korea continued at night with declining success, as most targets of note had already been destroyed. A shift in the role of the heavies to strategic interdiction was seen as a more optimal employment of resources and aircraft and USAF B-29s laid copious minefields in the waters off North Korea and Manchuria. The tactical use of heavy bombers against enemy troops and supply lines was still regarded as an inefficient use of a powerful asset, yet commanders on the ground consistently such carpet bombing missions as devastating. While conventional bombs were employed, strategic bombing in Korea was ultimately an extension of long range artillery now that the limited target base in the North had been destroyed.

This situation changed dramatically with the momentous decision to employ chemical weapons against the Chinese advance. Now the exceptional bombloads of the Superfortresses and Lancasters provided the best means of deploying poisonous agents on the widest sector of the front possible in an accurate manner. More persistent area denial gasses were used against key rail junctions beyond the battlefront and incendiary agents were employed with ruthless efficiency against rugged hill areas where Red guerrillas were suspected of operating. The long term impact of the chemical campaign would be felt in Korea for years after the war.

Holding the Line
The first days of May saw an eerie quiet reigning across Korea, as the troops of the United Nations Command dug in along the Nonsuch Line and, beyond the poisoned ground of the previous front, Shou Zheng and the Imperial Chinese Army regrouped and took stock of the situation. Thousands had fallen and the Allied armies had come very close to being broken asunder as they had along the Yalu the previous winter, yet the shock of Sanitation had provided a pause, a deathly calm break in the storm of war.

Response around the world to the escalation of the conflict was greatly mixed, with revulsion, dread, outrage and grim satisfaction coming from different quarters across the free nations of Europe and the Americas. US newspapers, television networks and newsreels portrayed it as a great triumph, as well as a sign of their nation’s military might. In India and the Middle East, there was widespread condemnation of what was seen as disproportionate action, but a not-insignificant minority defended it as a direct response to the Chinese employment of such weapons. Behind the Great Wall in the Empire of China, the careful control of news from the battlefront in Korea meant that there was little reaction from the general populace; the Imperial High Command was dismayed at the scale of disruption, but unswayed in their determination to achieve victory.

In the Kremlin, Sanitation was seen as a dramatic raising of the stakes of not only Korea, but the wider global conflict between the two power blocs. The strategic imbalance between the United States and the Soviet Union was such that any overt action was not possible at this time. A terse exchange of notes between the American and Soviet governments culminated in a direct warning that any Soviet involvement in Korea or the provision of biological, chemical or atomic weapons to any of the aggressor nations would be viewed as an act of war. Stalin’s wrathful reaction to this was said to be particularly terrifying, even for him. The decision was clear – the Soviet Union would not engage directly in the Korean War, but it would provide all support necessary to China and North Korea to keep the conflict going and to wreak a cold and terrible vengeance for what had come to pass, in time.

Meanwhile, a further army of Mongolian infantry began to entrain for Manchuria and a nondescript column of nondescript trucks crossed the border between China and Soviet Tartary on the road to Peking.
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Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by jemhouston »

What happened to Unit 731 after the war?

Once again, why nerve gas was looked at after the Korean War was made clear.
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Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by Simon Darkshade »

In DE, Unit 731 copped a bucket of sunshine to the face.

Nerve gas was looked at subsequently as a more effective means of chemical warfare, but the constant battle between the sword and shield rendered no firm advantage to aggression.
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Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by jemhouston »

Simon Darkshade wrote: Wed Apr 03, 2024 1:21 am In DE, Unit 731 copped a bucket of sunshine to the face.

Nerve gas was looked at subsequently as a more effective means of chemical warfare, but the constant battle between the sword and shield rendered no firm advantage to aggression.
Given a little luck, Hell will keep them warm.
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Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by Simon Darkshade »

Perhaps in this case, a heck where the chefs are Soviets, mechanics are Congolese, the paramours are German, the police are Spanish and the whole infernal business is run by the Albanians.
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Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by Rocket J Squrriel »

How bad is tetrasycoginite suppose to be?
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Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by Simon Darkshade »

Rather. It has a very nasty effect upon the pulmonary system and can be flammable in contact with certain other substances. It was developed by insane alchemists working for a certain Central European government in office from 1933-1945.
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Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by jemhouston »

You know, until you mentioned
insane alchemists
, I never consider mental health issues within certain groups. That's a cheery and scary thought.

Do dragon have the equivalent of rabies?
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Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by Simon Darkshade »

They don't have an equivalent of rabies; there have been ones afflicted with a rage in the past, but in the post WW2 period, the most notable condition affecting an individual American dragon was an inchoate fear of waterfowl.
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Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by Simon Darkshade »

Counterstrike: UN Spring, Summer, Autumn Offensives (May-December 1951)

Introduction: Sanitisation
As May began, the battlefront in Korea had taken on a new character. The massed chemical weapons attacks of Operation Sanitation had decisively halted the Chinese offensive in Central Korea and hurled them back from close contact with the Allied lines, devastating their carefully prepared supply network in the process. Tens of thousands of Imperial troops were dead or missing and their immediate lines of communication were crowded by thousands of others falling back from the deathly gases deployed by the United Nations Command air forces and armies. Yet even this overwhelming level of destruction did not decisively tilt the balance of power in Korea in favour of the Allies, as, although the spearhead of the Chinese armies had been badly damaged, the bulk of their strength remained as yet intact. After the initial shock of the Sanitation strikes had faded, the Chinese command had been able to rapidly adapt to the situation and put in place plans for consolidation and reinforcement of their positions prior to pushing on with their efforts to break the Allies and smash them from their bastions; the question of retaliation in kind for the gas attacks was deferred to higher councils and later times due to the myriad issues of grand strategy and national survival involved in such a course of action. Chancellor Fu Manchu himself had assured the Emperor that there were ways and means of avenging the attack at a place and time of Peking’s choosing, whilst at the same moment ensuring that the war would not be widened to China proper.

Prince Shou Zheng and his high command, safely ensconced in the Manchurian underground headquarters, took stock of the situation and were not gripped by despair. The better part of 12 frontline divisions had been devastated by the chemical strikes and his total casualties had topped 170,000, but he had only committed just over half of his available strength to the Spring Offensive and could still deploy over 1.2 million Chinese and North Korean troops, with a further 500,000 fresh Imperial now waiting in Manchuria ready to be committed to the fray. In addition, 10 Mongolian divisions were poised to cross the Yalu, lavishly supplied with Soviet equipment and ‘advisors’. On May 7th, Prince Shou ordered a general halt to the withdrawal of the 5th and 9th Army Groups and began to move the 6th Army Group south to strengthen their resistance prior. The Imperial Chinese Army would now hold north of the Nonsuch Line and rebuild their strength, prior to renewing the offensive. Chinese commanders were convinced that the Allied chemical capacity could be largely neutralised by employing the same tactics that had proved so successful in the winter – enveloping the enemy and engaging him so closely that their advantage in aerial support and firepower could be not be bought to bear. It was a ruthless decision that would doom many Chinese infantrymen to a horrific death, but events would prove it largely correct; just as in the two World Wars, gas would ultimately not live up to its potential as a decisive weapon in Korea. Large supplies of Soviet protective equipment, including masks and gas capes, began to arrive at Manchurian airfields as the transport planes of the Red Air Force operated around the clock, but it would be some time before these reached the front.

The Allies, however, were convinced that the window of opportunity presented by the success of Sanitation could be further exploited through the use of both conventional and unconventional weapons. The follow up air strikes and carpet bombing missions over the Central Korean front did not cause significant damage to the Chinese, but rather encountered diminishing returns for their efforts. Aerial reconnaissance missions provided visual evidence of a truly massive level of devastation and this emboldened Van Fleet to push ahead with his plans for a swift repost, aimed at rolling back the Chinese gains of April in short order. The Eighth Army would muster its full strength for a concerted push forward across the Korean peninsula scheduled to begin on May 14th.

The forces available to General Van Fleet were still below full strength, given the shock of the Chinese Spring Offensive, but he could deploy 18 divisions in five corps along the Nonsuch Line, supported by significant South Korean manpower in reserve; the main part of the ROK Army had been deployed to the east coast, where it could recover and rebuild in a comparatively less intense section of the battlefield. Their overall objective would be the Kansas Line, some 30 miles to their north. The overextended Chinese line would be ruptured in multiple sectors along the front and rolled back with a succession of coordinated blows, a strategy that bore a distinct similarity to that adopted by the Allies in the grand Hundred Days Campaign some thirty-three years ago.

Shaping the Battlefield
Prior to the opening of the offensive, codenamed Operation Piledriver, substantial preparation and shaping of the battlefield was undertaken by the air, land and sea forces of the United Nations Command. Enemy positions were mapped and fixed from the air by reconnaissance airships and skyships thousands of feet overhead and subjected to targeted fire missions by long range artillery and battleship gunfire. Medium and heavy bombers plastered defensive emplacements and hilltop ridges with thousands of bombs in a week-long blitz, whilst strike fighters hammered the road and rail networks leading up to the front.

The use of chemical munitions had gradually drawn to a halt by May 8th, due more to a lack of appropriate targets than any misgivings on behalf of Allied high command, but one further unconventional weapon would see use in the lead up to Piledriver, one that had first been used over fifty years before – black smoke. This fearsome relic of the War of the Worlds had been employed sparingly in the world wars, being regarded as distinctly dangerous and dreadful in its impact, but easily countered with water. USAF and RAF skyships fired over a thousand black smoke shells at suspected Imperial Chinese Army positions across the Central Korean front on the nights of May 9th and May 10th, causing hundreds of casualties and leading many Chinese commanders to believe that a new counter-offensive was imminent.

This bombardment was followed by concentrated artillery bombardment up and down the line, particularly targeted on the immediate frontline areas and lines of direct communication. This was hoped to lead to Chinese corps commanders in Central Korea ordering the general reinforcement of frontline divisions by artillery and armoured units held in central reserve, in line with previous plans, thus limiting the scope for subsequent deployment to meet the true focus of Allied thrusts. By luring Chinese and Red reinforcements forward, Van Fleet hoped to catch them in his planned rolling barrage.

The strategic concept for Piledriver was elegantly simple, calling for a series of sharp attacks across the Allied frontline to paralyse the enemy and a concerted push on the Kansas Line. On the west coast of Korea, the newly redesignated I Commonwealth Corps would push back to the battlefields of their hard fighting along the river valley of the Imjin in Operation Sunrise whilst the new II Commonwealth Corps were to reinforce the bridgehead of the 2nd Royal Marine Division and liberate Kaesong, that largest of South Korea’s cities that still suffered under communist rule, in Operation Winter. These dual blows would establish a strong and sustainable position that would remove the threat of Seoul falling once again into enemy hands.

The largest blow would be delivered in the centre of Korea by the American forces massed along the Han and the Nonsuch Line. The fresh US XII Corps would take the place of the bloodied I Corps on the line whilst it was built back up to strength in direct reserve, attacking alongside IX Corps and X Corps to the east. Van Fleet’s intention for Piledriver was more ambitious than the successes of Ripper and Killer earlier in the year, but still represented a fundamentally limited operational concept. Even the devastating blows of Sanitation’s chemical maelstrom had failed to completely break the strength and will of the Imperial Chinese Army across the front and therefore the grand strategy pursued by the United Nations Command was a fundamentally limited one. Once the Kansas Line had been regained, a number of different options would then be available for consideration.

After a week of increasingly intense bombardment and airstrikes, the central front fell quiet, in preparation for the fury yet to come.

At 1010 hours on May 14th, the great Allied push northwards was launched.

The coordination of the two Commonwealth offensives was organised down to minute detail, as the success of Winter and Sunrise relied upon the precise timing of the former push across the Imjin towards Kaesong. The first thrust of the British Commonwealth offensive came up to the east of Route 1. It began with a heavy blow from the air, first from 178 Avro Lancasters of RAF Korea smashing the enemy frontline with thousands of high explosive bombs, then 124 English Electric Canberras following on with strafing, rocket bombs and napalm and finally 164 Hawker Hunters sweeping across the battlefield with further rockets and gunfire. This was followed by a methodical bombardment by the artillery of I Commonwealth Corps, which focused its field guns and mortars on suspected enemy troop concentrations and a general rolling barrage, whilst its heavier howitzers and rockets hammered both banks of the Imjin River.

The British 1st Infantry Division burst from its starting positions at a fast pace in four columns based around its three brigades and the attached Free Polish Brigade. Each was heavily augmented by Centurion-equipped armoured regiments, self-propelled 25pdrs and Knight armoured carriers, whilst the overall divisional advance was screened by the armoured cars of the Royal Inniskilling Dragoons and two dragons of the Royal Flying Corps. Direct support was supplied by Royal Navy and other Commonwealth carrier-based fighter-bombers flying overhead in organised cab ranks and any hint of opposition was subjected to a fearful rain of fire and death from the air as each brigade ground northward. Similar to other units, the overall pace achieved by the 1st Infantry Division slowed during the afternoon as every small obstacle was methodically defeated and several US field officers attached from Eighth Army criticised the steady pace of the attack on more than one occasion. The Poles had the noteworthy distinction of capturing an Imperial Chinese Army general in a daring night raid on May 15th, snatching their quarry from behind enemy lines and returning him southwards to captivity. Enemy resistance was comparatively light due to successful Chinese withdrawals back across the river to safety, but it took 3 days for the main body of the 1st Infantry Division to reach the Kansas Line along the southern bank of the Imjin River on May 17th.

The Commonwealth Division launched their attack in direct contact with the British to their east and the Indians to their west across a front of 4 miles, which allowed heavy concentration of force and firepower. The Anzac Brigade made strong initial gains in the centre, covering 5 miles in the first two hours and eliminating numerous pockets of Chinese resistance through the heavy use of Centurion Salamander flame tanks and new 3.75” recoilless rifles. On their right, the Canadian and Newfoundland Brigade also kept up a punishing pace across broken terrain, with any opposition smashed aside by their attached squadron of Iron Duke tank destroyers from the Fort Garry Horse. The Sarac Brigade followed up in reserve with the Scandinavian Brigade, successfully reducing bypassed Chinese strongpoints through sheer weight of numbers and relentless artillery bombardment. The bulk of the Commonwealth Division stood on the banks of the Imjin on the afternoon of May 17th, spreading the

On the far west of I Commonwealth Corps, 4th Indian Division advanced along the remains of the railway line between Seoul and Munsan-ni, covering the flank of the corps attack and positioning themselves as the fulcrum that II Commonwealth Corps would strike through. The open terrain towards the sea had afforded the enemy little opportunity for cover and the preceeding weeks of aerial bombardment had significantly degraded their ability to put up more than a token resistance in the area; Chinese commanders had authorised a progressive withdrawal by night given that the deadly combination of Allied aerial attacks and naval gunfire made their presence untenable. A number of meeting engagements were fought between May 14th and May 16th by Bengal Lancers, marking the last times that Indian horse cavalry would see service in the Korean War. Munsan-ni fell to Centurion tanks of Skinner’s Horse early on May 16th, allowing heavy units of corps artillery to move forward to provide coverage for the subsequent strike to the west after the success of the limited objectives of Sunrise.

For now, Winter was coming.

The 2nd Royal Marine Division had held their gains steadily in the two weeks since since Operation Baldric without launching any substantive action. As the attention of the Imperial Chinese Army was turned towards the Imjin amid the first stages of Sunrise, they now sprang into action, launching a heavy artillery and naval gunfire bombardment of the enemy lines before them, followed by a brigade-strength offensive on their far western flank, augmented by the majority of their tank strength. This resulted in two Chinese divisions being shifted down from the immediate defences of Kaesong to cover the new British assault, crucially weakening the depth of its coverage from the east and seemingly blunting the offensive options of the Royal Marine beachhead.

As the 4th Indian Division secured Munsan-ni, the first elements of the veteran British 3rd Infantry Division and the 5th Indian Division passed through their lines across the mouth of the Imjin, with several pre-prepared bridges being employed to facilitate their movement. Their tanks and carriers caught the Chinese 107th Division, which defended the eastern flank of the Baldric pocket, square on in conjunction with the heaviest Commonwealth artillery bombardment of the offensive. Over 500 guns ranging from 25pdrs through to the 18” howitzers moved up the mouth of the Han thoroughly smashed their defences, whilst the battleships and cruisers of Task Force 85 added their own concentrated gunfire from out in the Yellow Sea. The Royal Horse Guards charged through the ruins of Panmunjom and linked up with the Marines early on May 17th, but it would take a further two days for a contiguous front to be formed. At the same time, the 4th Indian Division crossed the Imjin to reinforce the flank of II Commonwealth Corps, bringing the full strength of its own artillery to bear on the enemy lines.

Kaesong now fell under heavy artillery bombardment from the sea and land and RAF Korea and its Commonwealth aerial contingents flew round-the-clock strike missions on all Chinese strongpoints and lines of communication. It was at this point that the British Army’s wizards employed a complex top secret enchantment last seen in the Battle of Norway in 1940, subjected the area to the north of Kaesong to a highly localised and intense blizzard, cutting it off from any reinforcement. The meteorologimantic adepts’ spell would later have disturbing and disruptive impact on the climate of the region, but served its purpose of severing Kaesong from the Chinese and North Korean lines, allowing all three Commonwealth divisions to push armoured columns through the midst of the city on May 19th. Heavy house to house fighting followed over the next week, with the Dutch-Belgian and Iberian Brigades being thrown into the fray, before the city was officially declared liberated on May 25th.

II Commonwealth Corps now held a strong perimeter from the Ryesong River to the Imjin, allowing the Allied navies to open the mouth of the Han all the way to Seoul and permitting operations by destroyers and the newly arrived Royal Navy monitors Roberts, Wolseley, Gordon and Abercrombie close to the shore, which provided valuable direct fire support. Winter and Sunrise had cost British Commonwealth Forces Korea 238 killed or missing and 1163 wounded, most of the casualties coming from the fighting around Kaesong. Chinese losses were estimated to be in excess of 10,000, but, in common with the other Allied offensives of the middle of 1951, they were decidedly fewer than anticipated due to the general policy of Chinese tactical withdrawal.

The Commonwealth actions to the west were much smaller in scale and ambition than the American attacks in the middle of the Korean peninsula that made up Operation Piledriver. Here, General Van Fleet planned to cut off and destroy substantial elements of the enemy in the process of expelling them once again from South Korea, putting the United Nations Command in an ideal position for either subsequent offensive action or a negotiated end to the conflict. As had become customary, the first sign of the assault was the drone of heavy bombers, with 324 B-29s of the US Far East Air Force Bomber Command dropping over 10 tons of bombs apiece, smoting the already piecemeal Chinese frontline defences with a fearsome blow. When the Superfortresses had cleared the battle area, the morning skyline across the centre of Korea erupted into a maelstrom of fire, smoke and death as over 2000 guns, howitzers, mortars, bombards and rocket launchers let fly with the mother of all ‘Van Fleet Loads’.Piledriver saw the first use of the U.S. Army’s heaviest artillery since the Second World War, the 40” M1 Howitzers, better known by their nickname of the ‘Roaring Forties’. Two of the hulking pieces had been taken out of reserve and shipped across the Pacific in April, but only now were the tactical circumstances favourable to their use. Some consideration had been given to the employment of the captured German 31.5” Schwerer Gustav, but the parlous state of the South Korean railway network and the need to counter any Soviet designs on Western Europe meant that it had been deployed to Germany alongside the British Army’s Dora. Despite having a lesser range than some of the guns employed in Korea, the 10,000lb M299 HE shells more than made up for that deficiency.

The lightly held outer Chinese lines were ruptured by sheer force of firepower as the three assault divisions of the US IX Corps rumbled forward, their infantry battalions heavily augmented by tanks and armoured carriers. Hundreds of USAF fighter-bombers surged northward overhead, striking at any hint of resistance with napalm and rockets. The first major goal of IX Corps was to reach the Topeka Line, some 25 miles to the north, with immediate tactical objectives for the first day being the achievement of the second of five phase lines, Phase Line Silver. Destruction of enemy forces or their envelopment in the general UNC advance was a secondary but significant consideration, which would come to colour subsequent consideration of the operation.

The 24th Infantry Division, reinforced by five KATUSA battalions, attacked on a 5 mile front towards Uijongbu, whilst the 23rd Infantry began the drive up Route 3A on Naechon-Myeon and the 25th Infantry Division advanced up Route 17 along the line of the Pukhan River. By midday, all three divisions had made impressive progress and M41 light tanks and M38 armoured cars had penetrated through to their primary objectives. Resistance by the Imperial Chinese Army’s 5th Army Group was comparatively light along the main highways and in the valleys, as the combination of the Sanitation gas attacks and devastating bombardment broke up organised coordination of frontline units. Fighting along the ridgelines and on the rugged hills was more difficult, yet every engagement resulted in a decisive victory for American firepower, as covering Chinese infantry had little answer to the relentless and accurate fire from mortars and field artillery that was poured upon them. As the afternoon wore on, the US troops pushed further ahead, with the 164th Regimental Combat Team of the 23rd Infantry Division seizing Naechon-Myeon by coup-de-main shortly before sunset.

The general speed of advance was steady rather than breakneck, reflecting a more circumspect approach than the heady offensives of 1950, but all three columns of IX Corps reached the Topeka Line by May 17th, with the only substantial resistance coming at Tokchong, where the 24th Infantry Division and the Turkish Brigade succeeded in bringing elements of two Chinese divisions to battle. Here, Major General Blackshear M. Bryan’s quick thinking and aggression allowed the envelopment of the enemy positions by the 19th and 21st Regimental Combat Teams whilst they were pinned down by heavy fire by the divisional tank battalion and the Turks. Attempts by the Chinese to break out to the north were hammered by corps artillery and relentless USAF air attacks, culminating in a devastating dragonstrike on Tokchong that rendered a swathe of Route 33 an impassable smouldering hellscape and precipitated the capitulation of the terrified Chinese survivors. The Yongp’yong River was reached by IX Corps tanks on May 20th, achieving the objective of the return to the Kansas Line and providing a defensible barrier facing the north.

XII Corps’ attack encountered comparatively less resistance over a narrower front between Kapyong and Ch’unch’on, but was hampered by the lack of major roads in their sector, with the exception of Route 29 on their eastern flank. The 10th Mountain Division, reinforced by the French Brigade, struck forward on the eastern bank of the Pakhon River and made good pace until reaching the eastward bend, where Chinese resistance and sporadic harassment fire from the northern ridgelines overlooking the crossing site delayed the main part of the division crossing until the morning of May 15th. Clearing the hills immediately to the rear of the divisional advance fell to the French and bloody fighting with the battered remnants of enemy forces lasted the better part of two days before the Foreign Legionnaires and Musketeers were able to declare the area secure.

The 8th Infantry Division had perhaps the most difficult task of any of XII Corps’ units, with their axis of advance not being supported by major highways, although this was somewhat ameliorated by the area in question having been subject to some of the heaviest strikes of the Sanitation attacks. They conducted their steady push forward through the blasted terrain under the bulky protection provided by gas masks, capes and protective suits, as aerial and arcane testing had indicated that the high volume of mustard gas and other agents employed in Sanitation made it distinctly dangerous. Resistance was virtually non-existent, with only the piles of Chinese corpses littering the fields and hills and their scattered and abandoned equipment witnessing their passing. Some sporadic harassment fire and nocturnal attacks from enemy wu-shen slowed the 8th’s bridging and crossing of the Pakhon on May 16th, but the main surviving units of the Imperial Chinese Army in this central sector succeeded in pulling back well beyond the Topeka Line by the time it was reached on May 18th.

Facing the paratroopers of the 11th Airborne Division, the tankers of the 95th Armor Regiment and the Ethiopian Imperial Guard Battalion was terrain of a far easier nature, but more concerted opposition as they struck up Route 29 to Ch’unch’on. Sinjom-ni was taken on the march four hours after the opening of Piledriver, but the hill-line beyond was stubbornly held by reinforced Chinese forces who sought to delay the American advance long enough allow the withdrawal of heavy elements of the 9th Army Group behind the Hwaechon Reservoir. Their resistance held up the American advance for more than a day and a half before the full division could be deployed for an appropriate counterstroke. The 188th and 511th Airborne Infantry Regiments conducted a holding attack on the front of the Chinese positions, supported by divisional and corps artillery, whilst the 95th Armor and the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment swung around to the west of the hills, with many paratroopers riding atop the M-48s as they plowed through the rutted fields. Faced with envelopment, the Chinese commander began a gradual withdrawal into the rugged hills to the east, but still took fearsome losses from artillery and napalm; this engagement highlighted the development in the use of US firepower to counter Chinese infantry that had occurred since the previous fall. Ch’unch’on fell on May 18th after a short, sharp infantry engagement and the 11th Airborne Division successfully seized the strategic crossroads of Route 17 and Route 29 beside the banks of the Pakhon on the next day. By May 20th, XII Corps front stood along the Kansas Line.

X Corps’ sector of the front covered some of the roughest terrain to be crossed in Piledriver en route to their objectives of the Soyang River and the Hwach’on Reservoir. The 1st Marine Division would launch a concentrated push by all three of its regimental combat teams up the west side of Route 24 to the crossing of the Soyang at Umyang-ni, whilst the 3rd Marine Division would advance through the rugged hills to the east of the highway and the 7th Infantry Division and elements of the South Korean 8th and 9th Divisions would drive up through Sangam-ni and Hyon-ni. Four USMC helicopter transport squadrons equipped with Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaws were attached to X Corps to support the vertical envelopment of any positions offering substantial enemy resistance and no fewer than four battleships of the United States Navy stood by in the Sea of Japan for direct naval gunfire support missions.

The initial attack by the 1st Marines made rapid progress through the outer lines held by the Chinese and North Koreans, but slowed through dogged resistance by stay-behind enemy forces and a hastily-laid minefield to the north of Chaun-ni. USMC Super Corsairs flew dozens of close air support sorties over immediate battle area, but for all their cacophonic panoply of their rockets, napalm and strafing, many of the enemy managed to escape into the comparative shelter of the hills on either side of Route 24. This did not provide them with succour, however, as the broken gullies were still contaminated by substantial quantities of sulfur mustard from the previous chemical bombardment, causing many of the stragglers to succumb to its baleful effects. The 3rd Marine Division encountered tougher going initially in the face of resistance by a Chinese rearguard regiment that fought to the last man, but after their encirclement and destruction by tanks and artillery, they were able to break free and advance at a rapid pace. Forward units of both Marine divisions reached their initial objective of the key bridge at Umyang-ni by mid-afternoon of May 14th and proceeded to push forward in full strength to encircle withdrawing Chinese troops between Inje and Yanggu well into the night, resulting in a series of confused running skirmishes. The Marines inflicted heavy casualties on their opponents through their overwhelming firepower and several devastating raids by radar equipped A-38 Grizzly attack fighters, but the majority of the enemy forces managed to slip beyond their reach above the Hwach’on.

The 7th Infantry Division made considerable advances in the early stages of Piledriver, taking Sangam-ni on the march within the first hour and storming Hyon-ni with a rapid drive by tanks and armoured carriers. Their pace was slowed by some of the most intensive fighting of the operation, with elements of two Chinese divisions cut off from retreat through Inje by the Marines putting up a dogged defence in the foothills on either side of the road northward. After several attempts at breaking through with infantry supported by tanks were rebuffed, General Lyman Lemnitzer elected to utilise overwhelming firepower to remove the obstacle and authorised a fire mission from Kentucky, Washington, Iowa and New Jersey offshore. Within 10 minutes, the Chinese positions had been struck by 658 24” shells, which had the effect of eliminating any further effective resistance. Subsequent resistance was sporadic as the 7th Infantry forged ahead up the valley of the Soyang, coming to a halt some 9 miles north of Inje on May 21st.

Along the far eastern edge of the peninsula, three South Korean divisions of the ROK I Corps, the Capital Division and the 10th and 11th Divisions, pushed up the coastal highway from Wonpo-ri in conjunction with the advancing American forces of Piledriver. Their ranks were stiffened by the presence of the Spartan Regiment of the Greek contingent of the United Nations Command, a force that had already proved its mettle in the heat of battle. They faced moderate resistance from the predominantly North Korean People’s Army forces in the sector and overcame it at each major obstacle thanks to concentrated air strikes from the aircraft carriers of Task Force 77 and direct fire support from USN destroyers. The one major engagement with retreating enemy forces took place at Kansong-ni, where the Spartans conducted a daring assault on the enemy’s flanks in the dead of night to rout out the North Koreans from well-prepared positions. 36 Greek soldiers were killed and 97 injured in the brief yet bloody melee in exchange for an estimated 600 North Korean losses, with much of the fighting taking place at bayonet and sword range. The ROK I Corps objective of Kansong was captured on May 23rd, providing a contiguous front across the peninsula, albeit with many thousands of enemy troops remaining in the hills as stay-behind harassment forces.

Piledriver had succeeded in its push back to the Kansas Line and gave the Allies control of the initiative in Korea once more, freeing virtually all of the territory of South Korea that had been overran in the great Chinese push southwards. US losses had been light across all corps areas, amounting to 496 killed or missing and 2933 wounded in exchange for almost 18,000 total Chinese and North Korean casualties. It had not inflicted the same devastating enemy loss ratio of Ripper and Killer, with the Imperial Chinese Army proving adaptable to changing circumstances and displaying a willingness to contract and absorb the loss of territory. Many US commanders considered that the level of preparation for the offensive lost the opportunity for a swift strike in the immediate aftermath of Sanitation, but this criticism discounts the parlous position faced by the United Nations Command immediately before the chemical attacks and the more rapid success of the next offensive, Operation Roundhouse.

Once the Eighth Army was positioned along the Kansas Line in the last week of May, General Van Fleet struck forth once again between Route 33 in the west and the Hwachon Reservoir in the east. Roundhouse followed on from the comparative light resistance faced by Piledriver with an aim of pushing forward to cut the enemy lines of communication between both sides of the peninsula and creating a 20 mile deep bulge in the centre of the front. The new objective was designated the Wyoming Line, creating a new front projecting well into North Korean territory. This would provide for a basis for further operations or a defensible line for negotiated settlement, depending on the tentative ceasefire discussions taking place in Tibet.

Roundhouse formally began on June 1st, with I Corps now returning to the front in the middle of the offensive, whilst IX Corps and XII Corps pivoting to cover the flanks of the American drive. I Corps was to lead the advance on the key objective of the road and rail junctions in the ‘Iron Triangle’ between P’yonggang and Ch’orwon. On the east of the peninsula, X Corps and the South Koreans would advance north of the Hwachon to push back the enemy from Route 24 and Kansong. Driving rain began in the last days of May, drenching the battlefield and slowing the American advance to a crawling pace as they faced dogged opposition from progressively heavier Chinese resistance in regimental and divisional strength amid intense rain and fog. The impact of Allied firepower from the ground, sea and air once again proved to be the deciding factor, subjecting Chinese positions to continual bombardment, particularly once the weather began to clear after June 5th, drying the boggy roads supplying the Roundhouse attacks. The hardest fighting took place in the hinterland of the Hwachon Reservoir, where fanatic resistance by North Korean troops made every ridgeline an unrelenting battle and the indefatigable bombardment by US Marine mortar teams and new 25mm autocannon provided a constant staccato beat through the bloody hills.

Improving weather conditions allowed tactical airpower to smash through the remnants of Chinese resistance and concerted waves of air strikes by USAF F-84s saturated the hilltops with napalm and wildfire. The profligate expenditure of ammunition in the big push northwards was beginning to strain the capacity of UNC logistical support, particularly over the blasted territory in the centre of the peninsula that had borne the brunt of the fighting. Each frontline US division was progressively reinforced by thousands of attached KATUSAs in addition with rebuilding ROK divisions, providing manpower for a firmly established defensive array along the leading edge of the offensive. By June 10th, the Wyoming Line had been reached and Allied forces faced strong Chinese and North Korean lines beyond a tenuous no-man’s land. Aerial reconnaissance revealed that the enemy was well established with substantial heavy equipment in support of three army groups.

Summer Holiday
The next month saw a lull in action across Central Korea as the Eighth Army began to heavily fortify its positions along the Kansas and Wyoming Lines, replenish supplies and restore units to full strength after the protracted fighting. General Van Fleet declared that any further advance was ‘neither practical nor expedient’, preferring to establish the firmest possible defensive line to the north of the 38th Parallel as a base for limited advances aimed at inflicting the maximum possible casualties and damage upon the enemy. Engagements for the remainder of June and well into July were limited to small-scale clashes across no-man’s land and aggressive patrolling to establish the location and extent of enemy strength. Significantly, the battle area was cleared of the civilian population to reduce the potential for North Korean guerrilla units to pose as peasants in order to infiltrate the Allied lines.

The Kansas Line was to be established as the main bulwark of Allied strength and personnel from five South Korean divisions were utilised for its entrenchment, the laying of barbed wire and minefields and the digging of bunkers, all of which combined to make the Kansas Line bear a distinct resemblance to the Western Front of the Great War. The combination of defensible terrain, particularly in the rugged mountains of the east, water barriers and a rapidly repaired road and rail network provided a position that was well suited to defence and future offence. The Wyoming Line was held initially as a lighter outer line of the UNC defences, but Van Fleet came to the conclusion over the latter weeks of June that it was to be considered the main line of resistance. Patrol bases were established forward of the main fortifications and occupied by reinforced infantry companies who would aggressively seek out and disrupt enemy reconnaissance and defensive activities.

General Ridgway requested that the Eighth Army staff prepare an offensive plan for a subsequent Allied push northwards in the event of the collapse of the Tibetan negotiations. Plan Overwhelming, which was completed on July 2nd, called for a renewed general advance across the front from the Wyoming Line to the Pyongyang-Wonsan line at the neck of North Korea, a distance of some 160 miles. Overwhelming specifically stated that such an advance would either require a withdrawal or complete rupture of the Chinese and North Korean enemy positions, with substantial additional forces required, including an additional US or allied corps, three armoured divisions and 120 further battalions of heavy artillery. Some US military officials criticised Overwhelming as overstating the assets required and presenting too conservative a picture of the Korean battlefront in the aftermath of Sanitation, but it was generally received as realistic in the light of the shock of Chinese intervention in the winter of 1950. As matters stood, President Truman wished to at least exhaust the possibility of a negotiated end to the war in Korea before committing to such precipitous steps.

To the north, the Imperial Chinese Army and the rump North Korean forces, having licked their wounds and withdrawn to fresh positions, recovered the larger part of their fighting power in relatively short order due to the flow of reinforcements and supply from China and the Soviet Union. Their strength was further reinforced by the arrival in strength of the expeditionary units of the Mongolian Army in Eastern Korea, a not insubstantial fraction of which were Soviet units from Central Asia operating under the banner of the Great Khan. This permitted a shift and concentration of the forces under the command of Prince Shou Zheng to focus on the centre and west of the peninsula. China’s capacity to decisively reinforce its position in Korea was increasingly limited by logistical bottlenecks, making the Allied fears of a renewed Sixth Phase Offensive somewhat unfounded. Another push to the south was planned, but not in 1951; the dual track approach of negotiations and preparations was seen by Peking as achieving its goals whilst not committing it decisively to either course of action.

General Van Fleet, whilst unable to pursue a decisive blow such as Overwhelming, was authorised to undertake limited offensive action at his own initiative. He was keen to avoid his command atrophying in the defence and push the enemy off balance whilst ascertaining their strength and dispositions. He chose to straighten his lines in a series of attacks across the front, with the first major area of concentration being the sector north of the Hwach’on Reservoir in the rugged Taebaek Mountains. Advancing and straightening his lines in this area would free up his forces for subsequent attacks on the key communications junction in the centre of the peninsula that would subsequently be known as the Iron Triangle. To the west, a second blow would fall in a tactical advance by I Commonwealth Corps to cross the Imjin and capture key high ground, eliminating a salient in the United Nations Command position and reaching a new phase line, Line Jamestown.

Battle of Bloody Ridge
The opening engagement took place in the rugged hills south of Mundung-Ni. X Corps had been ordered to eliminate North Korean artillery observation posts to the north of the Kansas Line. The 1st Marine Division, supported by two attached South Korean infantry regiments, would launch an assault along the ridgeline dominated by three major hills on July 20th after a concentrated aerial and artillery bombardment to disrupt the formidable enemy positions. The majority of North Korean troops were able to weather the storm of the initial barrage and carpet bombing with comparatively light losses and their automatic small-arms fire and grenades inflicted numerous casualties on the Marines and South Koreans, giving the previously nameless feature its grim sobriquet of Bloody Ridge.

Through the maintenance of considerable pressure across the front of the divisional advance, the 1st Marine Division was able to interdict and curtail the flow of enemy reinforcements to their frontline positions with relentless tactical airstrikes and saturation fire from howitzers, mortars and rocket launcher batteries. Each side of the ridge was enveloped by a reinforced USMC regimental combat team, whilst the central hills, dubbed Hill 779, Hill 800 and Hill 983 due to their respective heights, were worn down and gradually taken by the 5th and 7th Marines in conjunction with the supporting South Koreans. USMC Skyraiders and Super Corsairs pounded North Korean supply lines with napalm and white phosphorus throughout the daylight hours, whilst USAF A-38s kept up the terror from the skies throughout the night, depriving the enemy of any nocturnal respite.

This bitter fighting continued over the course of twelve days, although the valiant efforts of USMC casualty evacuation helicopters ameliorated the intensity of the fighting by swiftly transporting the American and Allied wounded to the succour of forward Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals. One such medical establishment in particular, the 4077th M.A.S.H., would be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for their efforts at the height of the Battle of Bloody Ridge, where they treated over 1000 casualties in a single day whilst repelling an assault by enemy commandos through the employment of quite novel tactics.

The final North Korean positions on Bloody Ridge were evacuated in the hours before dawn on August 2nd, leaving substantial supplies and over 800 dead behind them. Their new positions lay just over a mile to the north on a formidable hill mass that would take on a name similarly emblematic of the war - Heartbreak Ridge. Whilst the KPA had taken full advantage of the excellent terrain and fought from well-prepared fortifications, there was no answer to the combination of Allied artillery and airpower, which proved to be the decisive element in the battle. UNC losses on Bloody Ridge totaled 2562, with 382 dead; the Reds suffered an estimated 16,000 casualties, over 5000 of which were killed in action.

Battle of Heartbreak Ridge
General Van Fleet considered that the North Korean forces in the Bloody Ridge sector would be vulnerable to an swift follow-up attack before they had the opportunity to fully prepare their new positions. The enemy, however, had sufficient time and space to build up formidable defences on the ten-mile long ridgeline between the Mundung-Ni and the Sat’ae-ri valleys, with supporting bunkers, trenches, gun emplacements and minefields cunningly concealed by the heavy woods. These fieldworks evaded initial aerial reconnaissance missions, but the true scale of them was unveiled by a USAF skyship flight on August 6th which employed a new enhanced thermographic spectroscope from 58,000ft in the sky. This resulted in the assignment of the entire 1st Marine Division for the capture of the ridge, reinforced by the French Brigade, recently transferred from I Corps, and substantial artillery and armour. This delayed the start of the offensive, which was further constrained by uncharacteristically heavy rain; this was later revealed to be the impact of experimental Chinese weather sorcery, allowing a period of valuable respite for the recovering defenders.

The attack was launched at 0530 on August 19th with an hour-long pounding by fighter-bombers of 1st Marine Air Wing and a crushing bombardment on North Korean positions by no fewer than three 105mm, four 155mm and two 8” artillery battalions, in addition to the 1st Marines Division’s own artillery, tank regiment and rocket launcher battery. As the American and French troops advanced on their target hills along the ridgeline, they were met with initially heavy hail fire from North Korean mortars and artillery before they were gradually suppressed by counter-battery fire from Marine heavy guns and highly accurate airstrikes from USAF F-84 Thunderjets. Over the course of the first day, the outer lines of KPA defences were worn down and penetrated through the sheer weight of numbers and overwhelming firepower, although enemy resistance verged on the fanatical, inflicting considerable losses through small-arms and machine gun fire. The use of well-coordinated tank-infantry combat teams in the Mundung-ni and Sat’ae-ri valleys supported the drive on the well-defended hilltops, although the going was limited by the pace at which combat engineers could blast out the obstacles and minefields. Many acts of heroism were performed in the face of heavy enemy fire in the intense fighting, with Private Thomas Highway of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the singlehanded destruction of two enemy bunkers.

Such was the manner of the heavy fighting that continued over the next two weeks – grinding infantry advances into the teeth of heavy defences, supported by copious tanks and armoured carriers as much as was possible. The supporting US artillery expended an astounding amount of ammunition, consisting of 908,000 105mm howitzer rounds, 297,000 155mm howitzer rounds and 73,000 8 inch howitzer rounds in addition to heavier calibre weapons, in concert with 1500 tons of bombs from the aircraft of the Fifth Air Force and dozens of battleship fire missions. The American dragon Capiladastrion was fatally wounded in a low-level attack on August 28th, with his fall shattering part of a hilltop and providing a stark reminder of the cost of the battle. This generous fire support was only possible as the operation was almost the sole focus of the Eighth Army’s logistical support network in Eastern Korea, providing a glimpse of the nature of future operations. Even in the face of such devastation, the Reds were dogged in their resistance, with their deep bunkers providing protection against everything but direct hits, but ultimately could not resist the superior firepower of the Allied troops.

On September 1st, Heartbreak Ridge was firmly in the hands of the 1st Marine Division, with the broken remnants of four North Korean divisions retiring to the north. The victory had cost the United Nations Command some 1935 casualties, including 284 killed in action, once again proving the priceless value of swift helicopter evacuation to waiting field hospitals. KPA losses totalled 12,800, which, after the cost of Bloody Ridge, severely denuded the North Korean capacity to put up similar resistance to any further offensive action; this in turn lead to the movement of an Imperial Chinese field army to this sector of the front as well as more dramatic reinforcements.

Battle of the Punchbowl
To the east of Bloody Ridge and Heartbreak Ridge, the rugged terrain fell into the bowl-shaped Haean Basin, which lay across the forward outposts of X Corps beyond the Kansas Line. It had been dubbed the 'Punchbowl' by American troops during their advance due to its resemblance to the mundane kitchen accoutrement. The heights to the north, east and west of the Punchbowl served as strategically vital observation points for enemy artillery and new X Corps commander General Clovis Byers was ordered to eliminate the enemy presence and secure a new defensive outpost line along the Soyang River to the north. The KPA was heavily dug in along the edges of the Punchbowl and could direct fire upon the outposts of the UNC frontline with relative impunity. Capture of the Punchbowl would also straighten and shorten Allied lines in this sector of the front and eliminate a threat to the corps boundary between X Corps and the ROK I Corps to their east. Extremely heavy rains had made roads virtually impassable until mid-August, constraining the ability of Allied artillery and air power to prepare the battlefield. Long range gunfire from the battleships and battlecruisers operating with Task Force 77 provided the sole reliable means of preliminary bombardment, with the U.S. Army’s 18” M1925 railway guns remained stuck in Seoul whilst the damaged South Korean railway network was focused on supplying the new frontline. The 3rd Marine Division, reinforced by the newly arrived 1st Marine Raider Regiment, was assigned the primary responsibility for the capture of the Punchbowl and the advance of the Allied frontline to the Soyang.

By August 18th, the weather had cleared sufficiently to allow the 3rd Marine Division and the attached ROK Marine Corps Regiment to attack Yoke Ridge, their first phase objective. They made steady progress working to the west along the ridgeline, isolating and then destroying KPA strongpoints in the heavily wooded terrain through overwhelming artillery fire and flamethrower teams. USMC combat wizards provided additional bombardment from overhead helicopters, subjecting enemy positions to a terrifying rain of lightning bolts. Attempted North Korean counterattacks by night were broken up by Marine mortar and machine gun fire illuminated by new artificial moonlight projectors. The entirety of Yoke Ridge was secured by August 23rd at a cost of 85 killed and 697 wounded, setting the scene for the assault on the Kanmubong Ridge, after a week-long period of consolidation.

Progress in the second phase of the battle was comparatively slower, as the Marines faced increasingly strong entrenchments and bunkers along the forested slopes. Attacking as a pair of regimental combat teams at a time allowed the concentration of superior strength and firepower on each enemy position in turn. Despite localized counterattacks, the American advance continued at an increasingly steady pace after the midpoint of the ridge and total success seemed to be simply a matter of time. By September 2nd, as the KPA reeled from the defeat at Heartbreak Ridge, naught but two commanding highpoints remained in their hands, Hill 980 and Hill 1052. These were subjected to a heavy day-long fire by 240mm howitzers and 360mm bombards, destroying some of the most well-placed bunkers that had rained machine gunfire down on the advancing Marines. As the 3rd and 9th Marine Regiments advanced on each hill shortly after dawn on September 3rd, they came under unexpectedly heavy fire from long range howitzers and Katyushas, followed by contact with elements of three new enemy divisions, well equipped with automatic weapons and clad in unfamiliar uniforms.

The Mongols had come.

As news travelled up through X Corps and the Eighth Army, General Van Fleet ordered the suspension of further offensive combat operations, as the presence of fresh enemy troops made any advances unjustifiable. In any case, the newly held frontline, designated the Minnesota Line in the sector north of the Punchbowl, was deemed sufficient for the immediate future, particularly with winter not being far off. The Mongolian Army began to dig in along its own new positions, allowing the recovering North Koreans to shift to the comparatively reduced danger offered by the ROK forces along the east coast. They were heavily supplied with Soviet anti-aircraft artillery, but soon began to feel the tender attentions of Allied airpower as had their erstwhile compatriots before them.

Operation Minden
In the west of Korea, I Commonwealth Corps had prepared a limited offensive beyond the Imjin to straighten the front and capture a number of strategic hills that had been correctly assessed as playing a key role in Chinese winter defensive plans. With the ongoing battles raging in Eastern Korea taking up much of the logistical capacity of the Eighth Army, General Sir Charles Keightley planned for a modest advance by the British 1st Division and the Commonwealth Division to a depth of 10 miles, with considerable support from the air and sea. Preparatory fire from both corps artillery and offshore battleships commenced on August 20th, both on the target sector and on the Chinese frontline above Kaesong, dividing Chinese attentions and reserves. The arrival of reinforcements in the form of additional Australian, Canadian and New Zealand brigades at Inchon added to the opinion formed by Imperial Chinese military intelligence that action in the Kaesong pocket was most likely, assisted by confusion charms and elaborate disinformation exercises.

On August 26th, Operation Minden was launched at the uncharacteristic hour of 2030, gaining the momentary advantage of tactical surprise over the command of the Chinese 11th Army. A 20 minute lightning bombardment by 400 field guns and rocket launchers was followed by wave after wave of Hunters and Warriors smashing at the Chinese bunkers across the Imjin with bombs and strafing, whilst to the north, 157 English Electric Canberras carpet bombed enemy supply lines and support units with mixed results. In the immediate area facing the Imjin, the Chinese had prepared mutually supporting bunkers and strongpoints that could subject any forces crossing the river with a murderous fire, yet now these were targeted with a devastating double blow. Firstly, RAF Avro Lancaster bombers flying in from Japan struck in the vicinity of each with guided 24,000lb Grand Slam bombs, shattering the defences even with near misses. As they cleared the area, the battleships Canada, Hood, Lion and Emperor fired eighty 24” shells apiece on each targeted ridge line, inflicting further devastation, although several rounds landed short and inflicted casualties on the British and Canadian troops poised to cross the Imjin.

Each division struck forward on sorcerous bridges across the river spearheaded by two armoured regiments, whose Centurions eliminated enemy positions in detail and crushed those wretched soldiers who broke out into the open. By midnight, the first phase line, some 2000 yards distant, had been reached, although the pace of the offensive slowed to a crawl as the night wore on. The next day saw fresh brigades move through the assault forces and continue the relentless grind forward against strong Chinese resistance. Over 300 carrier-borne aircraft flew continual sorties against the enemy lines throughout the day, whilst RAF, RAAF, RCAF, RNZAF, RIAF and RSAAF fighter-bombers and attack planes hammered their flanks and rear with merciless napalm and wildfire strikes. This concentration of firepower over a narrow front had the desired effect, breaking the back of organised Chinese resistance with their furious airstrikes and the grinding advance of tanks and armoured infantry, which had slowed to the pace of 1917. Minden reached the Jamestown Line, on September 3rd, achieving its objective at a cost of 329 killed and 2016 wounded or missing, a heavy cost that reflected the sheer strength of the Chinese fortifications.

Pause for Peace
As the Allied offensives of August and September concluded, the frontline across Korea stabilized into an uneasy state of stability as armistice negotiations in Lhasa began to show promise after their initial rocky start. General Ridgway welcomed the prospect of breathing space to repair his lines of communication and the state of his supplies whilst also rebuilding the ROK Army into a capable fighting force. His counterpart to the north, Prince Shou Zheng similarly took advantage of the opportunity to pour men and materiel into the peninsula to counteract the devastating blows of midyear. Autumn rains gave way to the first snows of winter and, whilst action in the form of artillery duels, mortar fires and constant raids continued on a tactical level across the frontline, adding to the butcher’s bill of a bloody year, neither side saw fit to launch any grand offensive to break the frontline.

For a moment, there seemed a hope, however distant, that the war would end and some form of peace return.

A hope.

Air War
The Allied advantage in the air war in mid 1951 was well established by May, as the tides of war permitted the commitment of substantial numbers of jet fighters from the vital South Korean airfields and the carrier task forces off either coast. The primary cause of vexation to the command of the Imperial Chinese Air Force was the Allied aerial superiority above the battlefield, but increasing numbers of Soviet, Chinese and nominally North Korean jet fighter squadrons were now being fed into the battle from the new airfields that were coming into action just beyond the Yalu. Many of these operated the capable MiG-15, which only had a extremely brief operational window over the Central Korean front with its combat radius of 600 kilometres, but the introduction of improved drop tanks in mid May gave them extra valuable time above the front. This improvement in range came with a slight decrease in performance and the USAF Sabres and RAF Hunters continued to maintain a substantial superior kill-ratio of 6:1 until June, as the capacity of the MiGs to reach Central Korea remained extremely limited.

The MiGs were joined in June by two brand new Soviet fighters which proved to be a substantial shock to Allied airmen – the Sukhoi Su-5 long range jet fighter and the Polikarpov I-295, an extremely agile single engine dogfighter that could outturn both the Sabre and the Hunter. These began to challenge the hitherto clear air superiority enjoyed by the United Nations Command forces over the middle of the Korean peninsula, until the deployment of newer USAF F-86Cs in late July restored the previous tactical advantage. Nevertheless, the era of unquestioned air supremacy for the Allied air forces was over and the aerial battles of late summer and autumn saw a drop in the kill-ration to 4 or even 3:1.

One large scale aerial battle that typified the new conditions occurred in December in the skies over Sunchon. An offensive sweep by 18 Hawker Hunters of RAAF No. 77 Squadron attacked by up to two dozen I-295s of the Red Air Force’s 176th Guards Fighter Regiment operating under North Korean colours. In a frenzied series of dogfights above 30,000 feet, three RAAF fighters were shot down in exchange for six Polikarpovs, with several other Australian aircraft sustaining heavy damage before the arrival of No. 75 Squadron resulted in a hasty withdrawal of the Red fighters in the face of unfavourable odds. The most immediate result of the Battle of Sunchon was the deployment of USAF and RAF skyships off the east and west coasts to coordinate and control tactical airpower through their powerful RDF and command capabilities.

In the aftermath of Sanitation, the use of heavy bombers shifted once again to concentrated carpet bombing of the enemy front, which yielded mixed results; the rugged terrain of Central Korea lent itself decidedly effectively to defensive cover. Application of tactical air support in aid of advancing ground forces remained the primary mission for the UNC air forces over the second half of the year, with deep interdiction of Chinese supply lines increasingly assigned to the medium bomber forces, whose speed allowed them to evade interception and limited anti-aircraft fire. Older fighter-bombers were assigned the less dangerous missions of direct bombing, strafing and rocket attacks of enemy force concentrations and defensive lines, although attacks of opportunity by patrolling fighter-bombers were encouraged. With the shift back to offensive action on the ground, leading elements of advancing Allied forces were sometimes mistaken for enemy troops, resulting in regrettable ‘blue-on-blue’ casualties. To ameliorate any potential for confusion, tanks and armoured vehicles were equipped with arcane transponders to provide some measure of target discrimination in the fog of combat.

However, the majority of the Allied tactical air forces were concentrated on the interdiction mission as part of Operation Strangle, a sustained offensive against enemy lines of communication in North Korea. Railroad and road traffic were subjected to round-the-clock air strikes, resulting in the destruction of dozens of locomotives and hundreds of railway cars. The response of the North Korean and Chinese forces was to concentrate significant numbers of light and medium anti-aircraft guns around the rail transport network and to deploy substantial labour forces to repair damage to infrastructure. This limited the immediate impact of Strangle, although, slowly but surely, it began to inhibit the flow of supplies to the front.

War at Sea
Over the second half of 1951, the complexion of the war at sea began to evolve to match the increasingly static nature of the land campaign and to match the differing requirements of each task group. The Commonwealth Task Force 85 in the Yellow Sea concentrated the main part of their carrier and battleship strength on support of the Kaesong front, where their firepower allowed the II Commonwealth Corps to maintain their hard-won foothold, whilst maintaining a strong anti-submarine screen of destroyers and frigates and a reserve heavy squadron to cover any sortie or intervention by the Imperial Chinese Navy. The United States Navy’s Task Force 77 was the stronger of the two Allied naval forces and was subsequently able to project airpower across the entire of the Korean peninsula from the Sea of Japan, whilst still covering the exigency of guarding against Soviet intervention from Vladivostok. The tactical value of the reliable USN and USMC fighter-bombers operating from escort carriers offshore was inestimable, providing deliverance for hard-pressed Allied troops on the ground throughout the summer and autumn.

In addition to the striking power of Allied carriers, naval gunfire began to play an increasing role in the provision of artillery support over much of the Central Korean battlefront. New long range sabot bombardment ammunition had been distributed to US and British battleships, increasing their range to up to 148,000 yards without substantial reduction in lethality. For shorter range fire missions, Second World War stocks of superheavy HE rounds had been shifted to Japan, allowing the use of the fearsome 8000lb shells to devastate the battered vestiges of North Korean coastal defences.

The success of the Fireball feint inspired further attempts at amphibious diversion operations, chief of which was Operation Headache, a USMC raid conducted by the 7th Marine Regiment. Over 4000 Marines landed 40 miles behind the enemy frontline, supported by heavy naval gunfire from USS Iowa and USS Kentucky and tactical air power from four carriers. They achieved their primary tactical aim of destroying railways, road junctions and supply dumps in the area and forcing the move of over 50,000 enemy troops into the immediate area, where they could be subject to the tender attentions of US Navy firepower. Headache made considerable use of helicopters to land the initial battalion in one of the first large scale demonstrations of the new tactic of vertical envelopment.

Whilst the main focus of the Allied naval forces on both coasts remained offensive operations, the threat of enemy submarine and air action had to be honoured and the operational tempo of the subsurface fleet of the Imperial Chinese Navy rose throughout the summer. A delicate game of cat and mouse was fought out in the Yellow Sea, with Chinese submarines attempting to penetrate the expansive ASW screens of the predominantly Commonwealth Task Force 85 to attack the sea lines of supply and communication that sustained the United Nations Command. In the Sea of Japan, the submarine conflict took on an altogether more dangerous character, with the direct proximity of American and Soviet naval forces presenting the potential for dramatic escalation into a global conflagration. The Soviet submarines of the Far Eastern Fleet conducted numerous sorties to monitor USN operations, but were careful to keep their distance; earlier clandestine missions nominally under the North Korean flag were now deemed as presenting too great a risk for escalation.

Global Politics and Mobilisation
As the fortunes of war ebbed and flowed on the Korean Peninsula, so too they had waxed and waned in the capitals of the states engaged in a war without an end in sight. The general popularity of the stand of the Allied powers had begun to decline after the successes of Piledriver and the general UN Command advance gave way to a more static battlefront, although there was still a general sense of support for the fighting men under General Ridgway’s command. President Truman’s approval ratings had suffered severely through the year, with the backlash against General MacArthur’s dismissal continuing to colour public perceptions of the administration. Whilst Imperial China’s increasing role in the war in Korea somewhat muddied the characterisation of the conflict as one front in a global battle against monolithic communism in the view of some commentators, the general perception in the US body politic remained that Korea was a necessary stand against global aggression.

In Moscow, the deepening war was viewed by the Soviets with increasing disquiet after the initial measured opportunism of the previous May. The decisive repost delivered to the North Korean forces had changed the complexion of the conflict and brought about the entry of Imperial China on the putative side of international socialism, an irony not lost on some in the Kremlin. With the repulse of the concerted Chinese offensives that had threatened to force the arrayed forces of the United Nations Command off the peninsula and back to Japan and the general stabilisation of the front into a static conflict, the immediate danger of escalation into a global conflagration had receded, but taking its place was the more complex issue of US and Western rearmament. This was seen to stymie the potential for the extension of Moscow’s influence into Europe and the Middle East, as well as the more direct threat of the presence of the US Seventh Army in Germany, where American forces had increased from 87,000 men in 2 divisions in early 1950 to 298,000 men in 8 divisions by the end of 1951.

Across the Sea of Japan, the impact of the war was contributing to an extraordinary transformation in the one-time occupied former foe. Manufacturing had risen by 50% in the 18 months of the war thus far, living standards were on the verge of surpassing pre World War 2 levels and output continued. The demands of the United Nations Command for supplies, manpower and material were pushing Japan from its prostrate nadir back into the ranks of the economic powers of the world. Normalisation of political relations was also accelerated, with the military potential of Japan as an allied state being seen as a key piece in the strategic counterbalancing of Imperial China and the Soviet Union in the crucial Far East. This was not met entirely with approval from either the general public, flush as they were with the memories of recent Nipponese cruelty, nor in the view of several regional states, including Australia and New Zealand, who did not greet the prospect of the Rising Sun rising once more.

Far from the Orient, the nations of Europe were also feeling the impact of the war in Korea, both as boon and bane. The increased flow of US military assistance funding and the continuing generosity of the Marshall Plan were being felt in the improved defences and economic prosperity of Western Europe and the return of substantial American forces from across the Atlantic provided much needed stability. Yet even as the demand for the weapons of war and military material increased, the redirection of the factories and workshops away from consumer goods and the needs of the civilian economy. The re-establishment of some forms of rationing in several countries on the Continent was greeted with grudging understanding, but increasing impatience as the war dragged on with no clear end in sight.

Year's Ending
The second half of 1951 had seen the stabilisation of the frontline across Korea and the combination of solid lines of defence and the bitter depths of winter made any major offensive action next to impossible. Over 2.4 million Chinese, North Korean and Mongolian troops faced off against 1.6 million men of the United Nations Command across the front line, with both of their defences were strengthening by the day. In the eyes of many military observers, the strategic and tactical situation, whilst not a stalemate, was very much a deadlock. Without the introduction of substantial new weapons, the frontline was taking on an air of permanency not seen since the depths of the Great War.

At this time, President Truman continued to eschew the employment of the atomic bomb to break open the war to expedite a victorious conclusion, citing the danger of triggering a nuclear Third World War with the Soviets. Instead, he preferred the pursuit of a negotiated compromise to end the war, whilst mobilising the defences of the United States to deter a widening of the conflict.

For all the soldiers along the front, regardless of the flag they served under, the second wintertide of the war was a cold and stark one, without the prospect of true victory in sight. Their lot was one of freezing trenches and dugouts on the hard and unforgiving hills of Korea, interspersed with shellfire and the ever-present chance of death.

This was to be a long war.
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Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by jemhouston »

I shudder to think what 4077th M.A.S.H would do to a commando attack.

Neither side can win without risking a general conflict, so they go for a tie.
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Re: Dark Earth: The Korean War

Post by Simon Darkshade »

The 4077th and the commando raid is a little story waiting to happen, but as a little sneak peak, involves hallucinogens added to alcohol, creative adjustment of jeeps into tanks, a literal slippery slope and aggressive use of the peculiar musical tastes of certain members.

On the second point, there is never a decision to forgo the win in preference for a tie (in DE, with considerable U.S. involvement in cricket, it would be termed a draw), just like the Western Front in WW1. The general shape of the war to come has been outlined a few posts back.

If there is some interest in the second half of the war, I can have a go at writing up 1952, 1953 and 1954; I don’t want to get bogged down into three 10,000 word chapters per year a la 1951.
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