A quick refresher for those who don't immediately recall the start of the war in Korea:
1. The Korean peninsula was once home to one Korean nation established in the 6th Century. However, due to wars between Japan and Russia and Japan and China, the Japanese ended up occupying Korea at the start of World War II. At the end of the second world war, the Soviet Union occupied Korea down to the 38th parallel and the Allies occupied the area south of the 38th parallel. Korea was now a divided country. Thereafter followed a period of restructuring which ultimate led to a communist dictatorship in the north and an anti-communist dictatorship in the south. Both of these governments wanted to unite the whole of Korea under its own banner. On June 25, 1950, the North Korean army invaded South Korea to force unification of the country. The South Korean, or Republic of Korea (ROK) forces resisted but the invasion. The U.S. had a substantial force in the area, especially in occupied Japan and elements of that force were thrust into action.
2. After its initial success, the North Korean (Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK) forces dominated all but a small area of the southeastern portion of South Korea, an arc generally around the South Korean port of Pusan. This toe hold, hastily established was able to hold off the DPRK forces as they hit logistics problems much of it caused by U.S. air power bombing roads and bridges that would have been used for resupply. Inside the Pusan Perimeter, a rapid mobilization brought fresh troops, heavy armor and artillery. Soon the force swelled to outnumber the DPRK troops and counter-offensive operations started to expand the perimeter.
3. General MacArthur, recognizing the DPRK had serious logistics issues, developed a plan to sever DPRK main supply routes by a thrust "behind enemy lines" at the ROK port of Inchon. In September 1950, the Inchon invasion, one of the great military feats succeeded and the main body of the DPRK army in the south was effectively cut off from supplies. UN forces spread out from the Pusan perimeter, killing and capturing a substantial number of North Korean soldiers, though abut 30,000 managed to escape into North Korea.
4. The UN forces did not stop at the 38th parallel. In October 1950, UN forces pursued parallel pushes up the east and west coast of North Korea, pushing the remnants of the DPRK army before them. The Chinese, concerned that this thrust northward might not end at the Yalu River (the dividing line between Korea and China) but lacking direct communications with Washington, sent a message through the Indian government that the Chinese would intervene if the UN forces crossed the 38th parallel. To some extent the attacks up the coasts became a "race to the Yalu" by UN commanders (U.S. generals Walker (8th Army, west) and Almond (X Corps, east) to see who could reach that goal first. In the face of light resistance, some measures to secure flanks and prepare defenses seem to have been skipped.
5. At the time of this threat the Chinese army was not a sophisticated military but consisted of large numbers of men using rudimentary command and control practices (flares and whistles to direct movement of troops). While crude, these techniques had (and have) advantages - it is difficult to intercept radio signals when none are being given. Essentially the Chinese army moved in a total radio silence status because it had little choice. Large movements of troops to the Korean border were either missed by intelligence or misread by those interpreting what they saw. In addition, these Chinese troops traveled very light - they wore their uniforms (some of which were snow camouflaged), carried a few rounds of ammo and enough food (rice, mostly) for a week or so- so there were no long supply trains following them. See here. And, as noted here:
A word should be said about the CCF march discipline and capabilities, which in large part accounted for the secrecy with which the Chinese Communists entered and deployed in North Korea. This march capability and performance equaled the best examples of antiquity. In Xenophon's account of the retreat of the 10,000 Greeks, a day's march on the average came to a little less than 24 miles. The Roman military pace was set to cover 20 miles in 5 hours, the usual day's march for a Roman legion. In normal training exercises the Roman legions had to make three such marches every month. On occasion the legions were required to march 24 miles in 5 hours. When Caesar besieged Gergovia in Gaul, he marched 50 miles in 24 hours. 6. The UN forces on the march:
In a well-documented instance, a CCF army of three divisions marched on foot from An-tung in Manchuria, on the north side of the Yalu River, 286 miles to its assembly area in North Korea, in the combat zone, in a period ranging from 16 to 19 days. One division of this army, marching at night over circuitous mountain roads, averaged 18 miles a day for 18 days. The day's march began after dark at 1900 and ended at 0300 the next morning. Defense measures against aircraft were to be completed before 0530. Every man, animal, and piece of equipment were to be concealed and camouflaged. During daylight only bivouac scouting parties moved ahead to select the next day's bivouac area. When CCF units were compelled for any reason to march by day, they were under standing orders for every man to stop in his tracks and remain motionless if aircraft appeared overhead. Officers were empowered to shoot down immediately any man who violated this order. 
These practices, especially the march and bivouac discipline, explain why United Nations aerial observation never discovered the CCF deployment into Korea. The Chinese Communist Forces moved 300,000 men into position in October and November and none of them was ever discovered by the U.N. Command prior to actual contact. While the planes were overhead searching for possible Chinese movement into Korea, the Chinese, perfectly camouflaged, lay hidden below. The aerial observers did not see them nor did the aerial photographs reveal their presence.
By November 24, from left to right on line, Eighth Army consisted of: I Corps, with the 24th Division, the British 27th Brigade, and the ROK 1st Division; IX Corps, with the 2nd and 25th Divisions and the Turkish Brigade; and ROK II Corps, with their 6th, 7th and 8th Divisions. 1st Cav was in reserve. In all, about 135,000 troops.
In the east, X Corps had about 100,000 men: the 1st Marine Division (22,000), and the Army's 7th Division, with the under-strength 3d Infantry Division in reserve at Wonsan; and the ROK I Corps, consisting of the 3rd and Capital Divisions, operating along the east coast.
Rough terrain characterized the area in northeast Korea assigned to the X Corps... Even the coastal plain hardly deserved that name; the only level or semi-level land there consisted of isolated pockets extending inland generally for a distance of from three to five miles. These were separated from each other by hill spurs that came down to the sea. The Wonsan-Hamhung pocket is by far the largest of these northeast coast semi-level areas. *** At the ports of Wonsan and Hungnam ice is unusual, and when it occurs it is so thin as to be unimportant.7. Although their presence was reported on several occasions due to captured Chinese soldiers (see here), the presence of Chinese forces in great numbers seems to have been discounted at the higher levels of command. However, in defiance of the low estimates of Chinese strength, in late November 1950, the Chinese sprang to the attack.
Back of the coastal strip lies the northern Taebaek Range with its steep slopes and narrow, twisting valleys. The peaks in the highest parts of the range reach an altitude of 6,000 feet or more. In the interior part of the northern Taebaeks the winter temperatures often reach 20° to 30° below zero. Snow in October and November is normally infrequent, and in December not usually heavy enough to form deep, permanent drifts. But rivers in the Taebaek Range usually freeze over by mid-December. Beginning forty air miles northward from Hamhung and extending another forty miles north in the heart of the Taebaek Range lies the Changjin Reservoir. Fifteen air miles east of it lies the smaller Pujon (Fusen)  Reservoir.
The principal road north from the Wonsan-Hamhung plain climbs the Taebaek Range to the Kot'o-ri plateau and then continues on to Hagaru-ri at the southern end of the Changjin Reservoir. From the Hamhung area a second important road, the east coast road, curves northeast toward the border of the Soviet Union. Inland from this coastal road the communication routes were poor-in places scarcely more than mountain trails. (source)
So begins the saga of the "Chosin Few":
On the night of November 25-26, the CCF (Communist Chinese Forces) struck.In the west, the 22,000 Marines and about 3000 soldiers from the Army's 7th Division, 31st Regimental Combat Team were working their way around a large reservoir - known as the Chosin Reservoir in Japanese and Changjin in Korean. They were supported along a narrow mountain road leading up through a narrow river valley. This Main Supply Route (MSR) was about one lane wide. Chosin Reservoir is located about 30 miles inland,surrounded by steep mountains. As the soldiers and Marines headed up the valley to the reservoir, cold weather swept in from the north, temperatures plummeted to -40 degress F (- 38C) at night. The 31st RCT took up a position on the eastern side of the reservoir, the Marines set up on to the west with about 7000 men located at a small town near the reservoir:
Following their evaluations of the initial fighting, they struck the ROK II Corps. By morning, they had torn an 80-mile penetration of our lines, exposing the entire Eighth Army right flank, in particular the 2nd Division. The Turkish Brigade was virtually thrown in the gap, and destroyed. By evening, November 27, the reserves of the 1st Cav and the British Brigade were thrown in as well ... not to press on to the Yalu, but to assist in the withdrawal of all Eighth Army forces.
For Eighth Army, the results had been catastrophic. On November 29, Walker ordered a general withdrawal, starting the longest retreat in U.S. Army history. Within 6 weeks, Eighth Army fell back 275 miles, abandoning huge amounts of material and suffering almost 10,000 casualties. Retreating across the Chongchon River, then below the 38th parallel, pausing momentarily at the frozen Imjin, then abandoning Seoul. The Chinese advance finally ran out of logistical steam 45 miles south of Seoul at Pyontaek, and UN forces formed a fairly stable defense base.
Yudam-ni was a small town sitting in a long, narrow north-south valley bisected by the Main Supply Road (MSR). The valley of Yudam-ni gives off into 5 smaller valleys, each separated from the next by a high, hilly ridge complex. North-northeast lies the Reservoir, and to the south is Toktong pass, a bottleneck reached by a steep, narrow section of the one-lane MSR.The 31st RCT was not completely wiped out:
On November 27, there were nearly 4 Marine rifle battalions and the bulk of 3 artillery battalions positioned at Yudam-ni, about 7,000 men. While staging for their assault over the next 40 miles to reach Eighth Army, fate had brought most of the 5th and 7th Marine regiments together, instead of isolating them on different sides of the Reservoir. Moreover, strong elements of Divisional headquarters were in Hagaru-ri, 14 miles back. Through prudent and skeptical organization, all main fighting elements of the entire 1st Marine Division were in mutually supportive positions within 35 miles of each other along the lonely, single track MSR, instead of isolated beads on a string, as X Corps orders might well have made them.
Moreover OP Smith, 1st Marine Division Commanding General, had initiated the construction of an airfield at Hagaru-ri, and ammunition and supply dumps within supporting range of all Division units. General Smith was not cautious, he was careful. His foresight saved the Division, or rather made it possible for the Division to save itself. General Almond's over-confident aggression almost lost the division anyway, and did cost X Corps the 32nd Infantry.
Uninformed of the CCF attack which was smashing Eighth Army, the 5th and 7th Marines' orders were to secure the surrounding ridges of Yu Dam Ni, and attack NW toward Kanggye in the heart of north central Korea. Tactically, they were to move over the 40 miles of Taebaek mountains to secure Eighth Army's right flank, the ROK II Corps.
Also unknown to the two forward Marine Regiments, they were at that time almost surrounded by 3 CCF divisions, about 30,000 men, about the same number that earlier drove the whole Eighth Army back to the Chongchon River. Plus, 7 CCF divisions were moving behind them. The entire CCF 9th Army Group was moving to cut the MSR in sections, to divide and then crush our famed 1st Marine Division.
Carefully, methodically, knowing that whatever High Command said they had already met and defeated one CCF division and were certain there were more around, the Marines began their assault. By the next day, the entire 25 miles of MSR between Yudam-ni, Hagaru-ri and Koto-ri was enfiladed by the Chinese, and the Marines at those isolated towns were under vicious and unrelenting attack by almost overwhelming numbers of veteran CCF infantry.
On the Reservoir's east coast, a full Chinese division, expecting to find an isolated 5th Marine Regiment, found instead less than 3000 men of the 7th division's 31st RCT, and were crucifying them. With no reinforcement possible from the embattled Marine battalion at Hagaru-ri, Lt. Col Don Carlos Faith (Task Force Faith) and the 1053 officers and men of 1st Battalion 32 Infantry fought bravely against overwhelming odds, but died with the rest of 31RCT. Today, the remains of the unknown men who fell there still lie unmarked in that barren wasteland.
Out of 3,000 men, 900 of the 31st RCT were evacuated from Hagaru-ri from a make shift airstrip. These 900 men had battlefield casualties and frostbite injuries. ***You should have the picture now - 25,000 Marines and soldiers were stuck out on what would look like a lollipop - 10,000 troops at the "sweet" end and 15,000 forming the handle down the MSR to the ports. The lollipop and its handle are surrounded by 180,000 to 200,000 Chinese. As the Chinese attacks begin it is not just at the sweet end but all along the handle. As the dangerous position of the Marines and remaining 31st RCT becomes apparent, the need to withdraw back down the MSR is apparent. Here comes one of the finest periods in Marine history, aided by Air Force, Marine and Navy pilots who strafe and bomb Chinese positions along the route, the Marines withdraw, retreating and attacking as they move south to safety, sustained by air dropped supplies and taking their dead with them as they move. In the annals of warfare, there have been few, if any examples of a successful withdrawal in the face of such opposition as the Chinese threw up. That the Chinese lacked heavy artillery and even sufficient supply to sustain their operation shows their courage in a difficult environment and in meeting a foe who was technologically superior although badly outnumbered. From here:
An additional 385 men were able bodied men. Able, meaning that they could walk and hold a weapon. The 385 men from the 31st RCT then fought with the 7th Marines as both the Army and Marines participated in the breakout from Hagaru-ri to the coast at Hungham. The 31st RCT then lost more men as the casualties increased during the breakout.
On November 26, 1950, the order was given to make a fighting withdrawal to the south, towards the seaside city of Hungnam. Ten Chinese divisions, along with North Korean soldiers, formed a gauntlet that the retreating men would knowingly have to cope with. An American unit from the Seventh Infantry was isolated on the eastern side of the Chosin reservoir and eventually all but wiped out by a Chinese division. Major General O. P. Smith, commanding the First Marines, was ordered to lead the breakout to the south to escape the trap. The incredible cold, including temperatures as low as 48 degrees below zero, made the march and fighting unbearable. Smith was quoted thusly when asked if he was retreating. "Retreat, Hell! We're attacking in a different direction."An interview with General O.P. Smith, whose foresight in not rushing up but deliberately setting up his defenses saved many lives of the "Chosin Few" can be found here:
As they withdrew, the Marines were indeed attacking, or under attack by the swarming Chinese. The UN forces enjoyed air supremacy; their bombers flew hundreds of missions a day against the Chinese. Over 4,000 wounded were evacuated out of the Chosin Reservoir when the weather cleared sufficiently, with some 500 reinforcements flown in. The intense cold would take its toll on both sides as the conflict wore on. As they escaped, the Marines and soldiers obliterated a full seven divisions of Chinese warriors as they tried to stop them.
Survivors of this action recalled how the Chinese would attack. They came in waves, with the first wave coming down upon the Marines the only one that actually had guns. When they were killed, the second wave would advance and grab up the weapons and fight on. The third wave came and took the guns from the dying second wave to battle with. Some soldiers swore that a fourth wave of Chinese would remain behind and machine gun any of their own troops that thought of retreating.
The weather made it almost impossible for the UN army to be re-supplied, until it cleared in early December. Ammunition and rations were dropped from the air, but the fight was far from over. The Marines and soldiers still had to fight through to the port of Hungnam to evacuate by ship. The Marines took their dead with them, sometimes having to lash them to the tops and fenders of their vehicles. The bodies were frozen solid; the grisly decision often was made to literally break off dead soldiers' arms so they would fit on or in transporting vehicles. Wounded men, because of the frigid temperatures, actually saw their blood freeze where they were hit. Many Marines froze to death, while several thousands of men suffered frostbite.
Q. Was there any knowledge on the part of the Corps Commander of your predicament-Of course, it helps overcome obstacles if you have a few stubborn subordinates. At one point the Marines were confronted with a need for a bridge to get over a gap in the road:
Smith: Every four hours we sent in a report of what was going on, but apparently they were stunned; they just couldn't make up their minds that the Chinese had attacked in force, you see. They just had to re-orient their thinking. It took them two days before we actually were told to withdraw to Hagaru-ri and advance to the coast - that took them two days to figure out.
The 5th and 7th fought their way into Hagaru-ri. Our plan for getting out of there was to have the 5th completely capture all the high ground just east of Hagaru-ri - we called it the East Ridge. the Chinese were looking right down at us, and we had never had enough troops to chase them off of there. We held on to one end of the ridge, that's all. So the plan was to have the 5th go up and capture that ridge, because until it was captured the people on the ridge could fire down on the road going to Koto-ri, and we had to have the whole ridge before we could move a large outfit down the road to Koto-ri. Once Murray captured the ridge, then Litzenberg was to start moving down the road. We had divided up the column into two components - one under Litzenberg and one under Murray - the vehicles and everything else. We had Train No. 1 and Train No. 2; we had a very complete operation order. There was no word of withdrawal in there at all. That was an attack order because we were attacking, and we gave them objectives to capture enroute to Koto-ri, and had an appendix on what to do about destruction. And we destroyed very little. We had to destroy a few rations, and we stripped a few deadlined trucks of their spare parts. The rest of the stuff came out all right.
Q: Knowing of you, your reputation and your career and what you've done during the war, this business of writing an attack order - was that a grandstand play - was this the logical move at this time?
Smith: Sure, you couldn't withdraw when you're surrounded. I've tried to explain that a "retreat hell" business to people. You can't retreat or withdraw when you are surrounded. The only thing you can do is break out, and when you break out, that's an attack. And the only fellow who understood that was S. L. A. Marshall - he understood it thoroughly. He wrote up a top secret report on the 1st Division breakout. A very fine document.
We knew that the bridge over the penstocks just below Koto-ri had been blown when we were still at Hagaru-ri, and Partridge was planning on what to do about it. He flew in a light plane down opposite the bridge - he flew back and forth and he darn near froze to death trying to take some notes, trying to make an estimate of what he needed to replace the blown bridge. The bridge had been blown a couple of times, and the final blowing of it left a gap of about 30 feet, but there was absolutely no way to bypass that bridge, there was this steep slope and these four tremendous pipes - penstocks - that came down the mountainside, and they had this one way concrete bridge across the penstocks. There was no place you could build a bypass. It was just like that. So we knew we had to replace the bridge. He went down and then he talked to me about it.Gap photo caption:
Smith: Oh no, this was LtCol. Patridge of the Marine Corps. He commanded the Engineer Battalion. he was kind of a grouchy guy. He came up to me and told me about this plan. He'd talked to the Air force, we had communication with Hungnam by two-way radio telephone links. He said what he want to do was to drop Treadway bridge sections from the air at Koto-ri and put in a Treadway bridge over this gap. He admitted that the Air Force had never dropped Treadway bridge sections. Each section weighed 2,500 pounds. But the Air Force was willing to make some test drops and see what they could do. I asked him a few questions. I said, "Now look, do you know if it'll work? Have you tried it out?" He said he'd made arrangements for a test drop. I said, "suppose some of the sections are damaged in dropping? Have you got any provisions for that?" Yes, he said he'd ordered double the number required. I said, "If all the Treadway bridge stuff fails, are you prepared to put in a trestle bridge?" (We would have lost our tanks of course.) He said, yes, he knew where he could get the timber. I could see that he was mad by that time by my questioning.
He told me, "I got you across the Han River. I got you the airfield. And I'll get you a bridge. (Laughs) I said, "Okay, we'll take that." It took one flying box car to fly one section, and we needed four sections to make the bridge, so we dropped eight sections, and in order not to kill a lot of people we tried to drop them on the perimeter of Koto-ri, not the middle. One section was dropped into Chinese hands, but we still had seven sections, and we didn't kill anybody. And, fortunately for us, Gen. Almond had had an idea that at Hagaru-ri he wanted to set up an advance Corps CP in his optimistic mood. And he had sent a young lieutenant up there with some Treadway trucks with tents and stuff for his advance CP. The Treadway trucks had a winch to handle these sections. We could have done it with a bulldozer, but these trucks were good and this lieutenant had had some experience with the construction of Treadway bridges so he came in very handy. (Air Force description of bridge drop here)
The next thing was to get the bridge site which was held by the Chinese. Murrary had no difficulty getting to the high ground up above it, but in the snow Litzenberg had pretty slow going trying to get the high ground on either side of the road just south of Koto-ri. He finally got moving going to his second objective down the road. And we started out this bridge train behind him, because we wanted to get that stuff to the bridge site as soon as possible. There were two trucks, I think. They followed close behind Litzenberg's CP, and then mortar fire began to come down and Litzenberg got worried that the mortar fire would hit these darn trucks, so he told Partidge to go on back up the road out of range of the mortar fire and he sent for him later. So Partridge went backup the hill. It was getting dark and he saw what looked like a flat field off to the side of the road and there were some Marine tanks around there, so he figure that was a good place to stop. It wasn't Koto-ri, but those tanks would give him protection. He backed on to this flat place - it was ice, and his trucks crashed. He got one truck out with no difficulty. The other truck was damaged. They stayed there until Litzenberg captured the bridge site. Then they went on down, and it only took Partridge 3 - 1/2 hours to install that bridge.
A Treadway bridge is nothing but two metal treads, but you have to have abutments to tie into, and he had some difficulty building up some abutments there. This bridge would take 50-ton tanks - we had 50-ton tanks - and we needed that bridge to get our tanks out.
But he got the bridge completed. Before he got it completed we started the convoy. By that time we had 1,400 vehicles in that convoy - artillery, tanks, everything - and we'd started out from Hagaru-ri with 1,000 vehicles. We picked up 400 vehicles at Koto-ri. So by the time he got the bridge completed the head of the convoy was at the bridge. Night had come by then, and Partridge had stationed engineers with flashlights to guide these people across the bridge. . .
This sixteen-foot hole was blown by Chinese soldiers in the single road from Changjin (Chosin) reservoir to the sea. Bridge sections dropped by air permitted this gap to be spanned and men and equipment to get out. (U.S. Marine Corps photo.)How successful was the withdrawal? About 17,000 vehicles, 100,000 troops and 100,000 refugees were sealifted from Hungnam:
Along the way, the division and supporting aircraft from the lst Marine Aircraft Wing and carriers of the Navy's Task Force 77 would inflict an estimated 37,500 enemy casualties (including 25,000 dead), leaving the 9th Army Group unable to fight again until the following spring, after it received an estimated 60,000 replacements.More on the evacuation,"an amphibious operation in reverse" here (photo caption and credit: Hungnam Evacuation, December 1950. Some of the 14,000 Korean refugees crowded on board the SS Meredith Victory in December 1950, as she transported them from Hungnam to South Korea. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland.U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.) After the evacuation was complete, the port was destroyed.
Throughout the lst Marine Division's fighting withdrawal, Marine aircraft and the Air Force's Combat Cargo Command conducted a critical aerial resupply and medical evacuation. Over 4,000 wounded Marines and Soldiers were evacuated by Air Force aircraft from the besieged airstrip at Hagaru-ri, near the southern tip of the reservoir.
At Hungnam, while the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division secured the perimeter, the Navy's Task Force 90 -- including attached merchant ships of the Military Sea Transportation Service (now the Military Sealift Command) -- conducted one of the largest and most orderly amphibious withdrawals in history, redeploying 105,000 Allied troops and evacuating close to 100,000 North Korean refugees who voted with their feet against communism.
More on the fate of the 31st RCT here. It is safe to say that some in the Army hold a different view of their soldiers than dis General Smith. However, there is this:
1st Marine Division C.O. General O.P. Smith and his battle-hardened Regimental Commanders had deliberately slowed their advance into the Taebecks in spite of demands for haste from X Corps commander Army General Almond. In their view, any advance must always be based on adequate preparation and support. This procedure subsequently allowed the 1st Marine Division to coordinate its infantry, artillery, armor and air units during the fight-out, even preparing a crude air-field at Hagaru-ri for logistical support. Among other activities, this airfield enabled evacuation of over 4,000 wounded and frost-bitten Marines and Soldiers during Dec 2-5. This included more than 1500 7th Division troops, with all 31st RCT survivors unfit for duty. Without the stubborn professional approach of the experienced Marine command staff and its veteran leadership at all fighting levels, the tragedy east of Chosin would have been a much more general disaster too terrible to contemplate.UPDATE: An Army look at the 31st RCT:
As one veteran said, "Thank God for the Marines."
In honor of the "Chosin Few" the U.S. Navy has named a guided missile cruiser in their honor, USS Chosin (CG-65):CG 65 is the first U.S. NAVY warship named in commemoration of the First Marine Division’s breakout from a Chinese Communist encirclement at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War in the bitter winter of 1950. Historians term the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir as the most savage battle of modern warfare. It is compared to Tarawa, the bloodiest battle of World War II.Photo of Marines firing at Chosin from here. Caption:
Chosin Reservoir Campaign, November-December 1950
"Weapons Company, in line with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, trying to contact the temporarily cut off Fox Company in a glancing engagement to permit the 5th and 7th Marines to withdraw from the Yudam-ni area. Nov. 27, 1950."Quoted from original picture caption, released by Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, on 22 December 1950.Yudam-ni, at the western extremity of the Chosin Reservoir, was the scene of early combat in the campaign, as Chinese forces attacked the two Marine regiments there. The Marines subsequently had to fight their way back to Hagaru along roads surrounded by the enemy.
Official U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, from the "All Hands" collection at the Naval Historical Center.
During the day on 28 November, General Almond and his aide, 1st Lt. Alexander Haig, helicoptered into the perimeter of TF MacLean. Despite all the evidence of massive Chinese intervention, Almond exhorted the soldiers to begin the offensive. "We’re still attacking," he told the soldiers, "and we’re going all the way to the Yalu." The corps commander then flew back to Hagaru-ri, convinced that TF MacLean was strong enough to begin its attack and deal with whatever "remnants" of CCF forces were in their way.
That evening the Chinese remnants struck again. The CCF 80th Division hit the dispersed U.S. units with waves of infantry. Despite the reassuring presence of tracked antiaircraft weapons (40-mm. killing machines), the sub-zero cold and the constant Chinese attacks began to take their toll. The fighting was often hand to hand. Convinced now that launching any kind of attack on the twenty-ninth was futile, Colonel MacLean abruptly ordered a pullback to form a more consolidated defense. That accomplished, he proposed waiting for the arrival of his missing third battalion before resuming any offensive operations. However, during the withdrawal operations his troops came under renewed enemy attack, and in the confusion MacLean was captured by the Chinese. With no hope of rescuing his commander, Colonel Faith took command of the task force. Colonel MacLean in fact died of wounds four days after his capture.
The epic struggle of Task Force MacLean—now called Task Force Faith—was drawing to a close. Its separated tank company, augmented by a pickup force of headquarters company soldiers and clerks, attempted twice to relieve the beleaguered force. However, the tanks foundered on the icy roads, and the attacks were further hindered by misdirected air strikes. The tanks withdrew into the safety of Hagaru-ri. Faith, unaware of this attempted rescue because of faulty communications, was running short of ammunition and had over four hundred wounded on his hands. General Smith, commander of the 1st Marine Division, was given operational control of the cut-off Army unit, but apparently had his hands full withdrawing his marines in an orderly fashion into Hagaru-ri. The 7th Division commander, Maj. Gen. David G. Barr, flew into the perimeter of TF Faith on the thirtieth, but had only bad news for Colonel Faith. The Marines could provide little more than air support. Continued Chinese attacks during the night of the thirtieth and into the morning of 1 December left TF Faith in a dangerous situation with no help in sight. Chinese assaults had almost destroyed the perimeter that night, and the number of wounded went up to nearly six hundred, virtually one-fourth of the entire formation. Believing that one more Chinese attack would destroy his force, Faith decided to withdraw and run the Chinese gauntlet down the frozen road along the east side of the reservoir in hopes of reaching the marines at Hagaru-ri.
On the morning of 1 December the exhausted men of TF Faith formed into a column with the wounded piled into about thirty overcrowded trucks. Taking a while to get organized, the column began to pull out in the early afternoon just as their Marine air cover arrived. Tragically, the lead plane dropped its napalm short, and the thick, jellied gasoline exploded near the head of the column, badly burning over a dozen soldiers. Many of the men ran for cover, destroying what little order the column had left. Colonel Faith rallied the men and got them moving again, but near-panic had set in and the men began to gather in leaderless groups. The CCF, noting the withdrawal, began to pour in fire from the high ground to the east of the column. As it advanced, the column encountered a destroyed bridge on the road. Bypassing the bridge was possible, but only one vehicle at a time could be winched up the steep slope on the other side. The CCF clustered along the column, directing fire into the exposed trucks.
Farther south, the column was stopped by a Chinese roadblock near Hill 1221. Some brave soldiers under the command of a few officers stormed up the slopes and, despite severe casualties, managed to take most of the hill, gaining valuable time for the column. It was getting dark, and the lights of Hagaru-ri could be seen in the distance over the ice-covered reservoir. However, the Chinese roadblock stood between the column and safety. Desperately, Colonel Faith gathered a few men and charged the Chinese defenses. Seizing the position, the American soldiers managed to disperse the enemy, but Faith was mortally wounded. Although his men managed to prop him up on the hood of his jeep and the convoy began moving again, the retreating force began to give up hope. Despite the desperate attempts of the few remaining leaders, the convoy began to come apart. Just miles from safety, the column hit another blown bridge. The few unwounded men began moving out over the ice, thick enough for foot travel but not for vehicles, leaving the stranded convoy behind. By dark Task Force Faith thus ceased to exist. As the CCF fire intensified with heavy machine guns and grenades, the remaining able soldiers abandoned their trucks and fled to Hagaru-ri over the ice. Colonel Faith, later awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, remained behind with his men to die in the cold.
All during the night of 1–2 December, shattered remnant of Task Force Faith trickled into the Marine positions at Hagaru-ri. A few were rescued by Marine jeeps racing out over the ice to pick up dazed, frostbitten survivors. Some 319 Americans were rescued in this manner by individual marines. Many of the worst wounded were airlifted to safety. Of the 2,500 men of Task Force Faith, 1,000 were killed, wounded, captured, or left to die of wounds. After the air evacuation, about 500 7th Infantry Division soldiers were left to accompany the 1st Marine Division as it began its withdrawal from Hagaru-ri to the port of Hungnam, fifty miles southeast, and evacuation by sea.
The men of Task Force Faith did not die in vain. They had virtually destroyed an entire Chinese division and prevented any possible attack south by the Chinese for four critical days. If they had not been able to hold out as long as they had, the 80th Division might have hit the 1st Marine Division perimeter at Hagaru-ri in force before the 5th and 7th Marines could have withdrawn. Those units might then have faced dug-in Chinese roadblocks in their rear instead of a safe perimeter and a reasonably open road to the south. The entire fate of X Corps may well have been different, if not for the bravery and stubborn defense of the area east of the Chosin Reservoir by the men of Task Force Faith.