Chosin Reservoir: 60 Years Later, Veterans Cannot Forget

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Andy_S, Dec 19, 2010.

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  1. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Though widely (and correctly) seen as a USMC achievement, there was a small UK contingent at Chosin that won tremendous plaudits for its operational excellence; it lost 98 out of 211 men during 12 days of battle.

    A little bit about 41 Commando's nightmare in "Hellfire Valley" is here.

    (Yonhap Feature) "Chosin Few" unable to forget winter battle of 1950
  2. Do you think the British Commando will get a passing mention in the film?
  3. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

  4. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer


    Brian and Anton, who made the docco (which is outstanding) did not interview 41 Cdo members though they were aware of them. I suspect this was for budgetary reasons. I imagine the Cdo will, indeed, get a mention, if not a role, in the film. Every US Marine vet I have met has been extremely generous in praise of the Royal Marines, and 41 Cdo is mentioned in all the American lit on the campaign.

    FYI, see below the intro (I have removed footnotes for readability) to the "Hellfire Valley" battle. This is from "Scorched Earth, Black Snow" which is in edit now and which I am hoping will see the light of publication around April. AFAIK, this will be the most detailed treament of 41 Cdo's experience at Chosin ever published, though I'd recommend you look up Hayhurt's "Green Berets in Korea" and Brady's "One of the Chosin Few," and Russ' "Breakout" which were three of the key secondary sources.

    To set the scene:
    The Chinese have struck. Forward elements of 1st USMC Division are now beseiged by eight Chinese divisions at Yudam-ni and Hagaru-ri, and are fighting for their lives. Eleven miles to their south, at the USMC combat base at Koto-ri, a taskforce, led by Col Douglas Drysdale's 41 Commando, RM, is assembled to fight through and reinforce Hagaru. The temperature is colder than the Crimea, the mountains higher than Cassino.

    It is 29 Nov, 1950.

    Taskforce officers departed to brief their own men. In the frosty morning, Drysdale held a parade inspection of 41 Commando, checking that each man was shaved, his weapon cleaned. This was not spit-and-polish discipline, it was a calculated move: the colonel wanted his men feeling fresh. Michael O’Brien, the 19-year old commando, was impressed with his stickler of a CO. “He was a harsh man, a kind man, a leader,” he said. “I would have followed him to hell.” Watching US marines – mostly unshaven due to the cold - were astounded to see a unit parading before jumping off into combat.

    The convoy assembled. Drivers gunned freezing engines; men’s steaming breath mingled with exhaust smoke. The line of march was sorted out, sub-units assembled, troops assigned to transport. Vehicles were loaded with equipment and ammunition, mortars and machine guns prepared for rapid deployment. Individuals checked and rechecked personal weapons. Gloved fingers pressed shining cartridges onto the springs of magazines, pouches were stuffed, hand grenades primed. 41 Commando’s RSM, “Sticky” Baines – who one US marine considered, “the roughest, toughest, most lethal-looking son-of-a-bitch I ever faced in my life” – stalked past his commandos. “Good luck, lads!” he said with an encouraging wink.

    It was an unusually kindly gesture from that baleful man, but an appropriate one. The sudden, drastic change in situation had scratched 41’s original mission – recce over the mountains - for good. Even with the flimsy information available, it was obvious to every commando that this breakthrough operation was a desperate one. Men steeled themselves.

    “We knew we were going to get into the thick of it and we were going to have a job to get through,” said Marine Gordon Payne. “Word had got round that the Chinese were up there in their thousands, waiting for us. I suspected we were going to be hammered, but strangely enough you had no fear, you think, ‘It’s not me who’s going to get hit, it’s him; I’m alright, it won’t be me...’” Two days earlier, Brady had been utterly convinced of UNC superiority: “Here we were, part of a magnificently equipped, huge, international group of armies, armed to the teeth with the latest weaponry…we were on a collision course with an enemy we could piss all over!” Now, about to cross the start line, the jocular corporal faced reality: “We were deeply in the shit!” His commander was less vulgar, equally laconic. Drysdale told taskforce officers, “This won’t be a walk in the sun.”

    Eleven miles is no great distance, and the road connecting Koto to Hagaru was not nearly as dramatic as that through Funchilin; it was a track wending through reasonably level ground, albeit commanded on both sides by hills. Herein lay the problem. Fighting up a ridge-dominated route is a devilish business. Given the necessity for speed, and the taskforce’s lack of numbers, a broad-front sweep to clear terrain and secure the road was not feasible. Instead, it would be a narrow-front, motorized thrust – a mission more suited to panzer grenadiers than commandos and marines. The tactical imperative was to seize commanding heights, securing the convoy so it could pass safely below. Drysdale’s plan was for 41 Commando to take the first ridge, then for George Company to leapfrog and seize the next. Meanwhile, the US Army’s Baker Company would advance along the track, dismantling roadblocks

    Yet this was no mailed fist striking north. With air and artillery support, the column packed a formidable punch, but its forearm – the soft-skinned trucks and jeeps conveying the troops – was unprotected. Eleven miles is no great distance, but air reconnaissance had reported nine roadblocks, and several patrols on the road the previous day had simply vanished into thin air.

    Song had assessed the importance of Smith’s lifeline, and deployed accordingly. Awaiting the battalion-sized relief column in the hills were three Chinese regiments of the 58th and 60th Divisions. Taskforce Drysdale was driving into odds of nine-to-one against.

    Under a low, leaden sky, the snowscape beyond the perimeter was bathed in dense, yellowish light. Ahead of the drab, olive-green vehicles lining up inside the base, the grey road twisted through white lowlands and snow-covered hills. The only signs of civilization in this melancholic wilderness were the telegraph poles lining the road and the parallel rail track. At 09:30, 29 November, Taskforce Drysdale’s lead elements rolled out of Koto.

    Eleven miles to Hagaru-ri.
  5. Andy_s

    The links provided in answer to my 'will the Brits get a mention' either failed (the 1st one) or showed how the USMC fought the battle (the YouTube ones.) Let's hope it's not another U-571, Saving Private Ryan, D-Day, etc and the allies get a mention too. That's only fair, right?
  6. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

    No , the RM are mentioned in the Film and if you watch the clip there is a beret wearing wounded RM walking along the road, do keep up
  7. So that's the entire 'recognition' of the RM's contribution? A B&W 'green' beret with a 'silver' badge on it? That is not appropriate and I am not satisfied personally.
  8. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer


    Although 41 Cdo were only 211 men among a 15,000-man division, as noted, 41 Cdo are mentioned at some length in all the classic American lit on the campaign (Russ' "Breakout", Wilson's 'Retreat Hell' and Hammell's "Chosin" - all highly recommended, BTW) They also make an appearance in the only (but not very good) film on the battle mentioned above. Also, the USMC official painting of the Chosin breakout includes a 41 Cdo marine marching with the US marines.

    The recent "Chosin" docco was shot on a budget, so I can't blame the filmmakers for not flying to the UK. As for the film: The exec producer is well aware of 41 Cdo's action, so I suspect they will get a mention, if not a role.

    If, OTOH, the film makers decide to make the Brits the villains of the piece, I will be very disappointed and I think the USMC would be too: It was the US Marines who lobbied the White House for 41 Cdo to be granted the US Presidential Unit Citation.

    In summary, the Americans who took part in the campaign have been extremely generous in their praise of the little RM unit in their midst. So let's wait and see. The film is only in pre-production. If it manages to do justice to this extraordinary campaign, it will be one of the great war films of all time.
  9. I really hope it is a good film too, as this war was and has continually been overlooked and forgotten. My gripe is not with the veterans of course, just Hollywood.
  10. I can't remember in whch book I found this quote:

    "As for the impression that the Royal Marines made on their American colleagues, one U.S. Marine spoke for most, if not all survivors of the "Frozen Chosin": "I walked into Hagaru from Yudam-ni where I learned that the British had supplied us with a fighting force. Before that we laughed at the words `U.N. Forces' because we had not seen the troops of any other nation except the Chinese. I was delighted to meet the British. When they came around you could stop looking for a fight, because they would be right in the middle of it...."

    Apparently when they finally got out the Spams couldn't do enough for the RM, but they did keep trying to 'souvenir' their berets.
  11. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

    Until they do a film of "To The Last Round" by that bloke,em em what's his name
  12. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer


    The producers are talking about filming this in Korea, so I'll volunteer my services as the token limey ("Cor blimey, guv, cold 'ere 'innit?") while infiltrating the script writer's hut and attempting to move the action to Imjin.

    Crafty or what?
  13. I'm sure that I've seen a crowd scene where a US Marine says to another, words to the effect "Who are those guys?" (as RMs pass by) and the other US Marine answers "They're British Royal Marines"----and I think it was in this film.Then again,maybe I'm dreaming again.

    Was taught Target Grid by grizzled veteran of 41 Ind. Cdo--his example of a target description "Wogs in the wadi" still makes me chuckle.
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