Task Force Drysdale

In researching for an article I am writing I was reminded of the incredible exploits by then-LtCol Drysdale RM during the Korean War that also made him an icon in USMC battle history.

For those not familiar with this officer and his incredible courage and leadership under absolutely impossible conditions I offer you this for your reading pleasure:

http://www.historynet.com/korean-war-death-of-task-force-drysdale.htm
 
Thanks--I admit to being a Luddite on such matters.
 
Cheers for that, I was just about to go to bed. Now I'll have to make another cup of tea and search about for a snack to munch while I read...

Can't you two give some consideration for the time zone here?
 
OK, armchair general time...

If I read that right, it was a Bridge Too Far style fiasco but on a larger scale, doomed from the beginning. Rather than secure the road to the first enclave, consolidate in the enclave, secure the road to the next enclave and so on, some clot decided to put all the troops and transport on the unsecured road. Then, when the going got bad, half the commanders ordered their troops to turn round without consulting the other commanders on the single track road, many of whom were still advancing. That created numerous enclaves of non-combat troops and stationary vehicles that were easy meat for the Chinese. As well as depriving supplies to the blokes further forward.

Add in that there seems to have been little thought as to the order of march. The report mentions tanks in the wrong position and little support for the vanguard. Granted, that could have been the result of attrition of the convoy but there seems to have been no consideration that this would happen - something that could have been overcome if packets had been sent out as required instead of in a jumbled mess. A packet of vehicles speeding along a "secured" road offers less of a target than a stationary mass of vehicles.

There may well have been some courageous actions (though the account doesn't really detail them) but there seems to have been rather more confusion and panic. I'm not a subscriber to stories of blokes diving on grenades to save his mates either. It's a scenario that goes well with "He was shot in the temple, he died instantly, didn't feel a thing, looked as though he had just fallen asleep..."

Had that account been published in fiction paperback, it would have been condemned as unrealistic. It certainly doesn't show the commanders in a good light. How many of the surviving senior officers were subsequently court martialled?
 
OK, armchair general time...

If I read that right, it was a Bridge Too Far style fiasco but on a larger scale, doomed from the beginning. Rather than secure the road to the first enclave, consolidate in the enclave, secure the road to the next enclave and so on, some clot decided to put all the troops and transport on the unsecured road. Then, when the going got bad, half the commanders ordered their troops to turn round without consulting the other commanders on the single track road, many of whom were still advancing. That created numerous enclaves of non-combat troops and stationary vehicles that were easy meat for the Chinese. As well as depriving supplies to the blokes further forward.

Add in that there seems to have been little thought as to the order of march. The report mentions tanks in the wrong position and little support for the vanguard. Granted, that could have been the result of attrition of the convoy but there seems to have been no consideration that this would happen - something that could have been overcome if packets had been sent out as required instead of in a jumbled mess. A packet of vehicles speeding along a "secured" road offers less of a target than a stationary mass of vehicles.

There may well have been some courageous actions (though the account doesn't really detail them) but there seems to have been rather more confusion and panic. I'm not a subscriber to stories of blokes diving on grenades to save his mates either. It's a scenario that goes well with "He was shot in the temple, he died instantly, didn't feel a thing, looked as though he had just fallen asleep..."

Had that account been published in fiction paperback, it would have been condemned as unrealistic. It certainly doesn't show the commanders in a good light. How many of the surviving senior officers were subsequently court martialled?
 

HarryBosch

War Hero
OK, armchair general time...

If I read that right, it was a Bridge Too Far style fiasco but on a larger scale, doomed from the beginning.
The responses below the article question the assumption and implied conclusion behind the title i.e. the Death of Task Force Drysdale.

Sources cited for the Wiki entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Chosin_Reservoir argue
"Despite suffering 159 wounded and 162 dead and missing, the task force managed to bring in 300 badly needed infantrymen for the defense at Hagaru-ri".

So, at high cost the Task Force mission was in fact accomplished.
 
Last edited:
You deserve a star, ...erm red tabs as it were for your thoughtful assessment. Before being too hasty to condemn ALL the leaders however, I suggest you broaden your perspective a bit (assuming you haven't already and are not some don, expert in military history at Kings College Department of War Studies! ;-) ) and envisage the larger strategic picture that left the units actually involved in the fight.also, be all that as it may, the fact that they got out as they did even with their dead lashed frozen to the vehicles, in those abominable conditions (weather, terrain and enemy situation) borders on the miraculous.

There are numerous accounts of the larger flawed operation that led to the debacle (in fairness of course the entry of the Chicoms was a surprise, albeit a not wholly unpredictable one. that forced these few troops to fight their way out and of the fight(a) itself to make it out of a trap closed by myriad Chicom divisions far outnumbering the beleaguered allied force.

As to your critique of the non-textbook order of March, the larger situation (for example the reasons for the mix of units, weapons and equipment involved in the breakout and the fact that the terrain and the veritable mountain goat track they had as a "road" played a huge part. Knowing of many of the commanders beyond this particular fight, I am quite confident they knew what the standard order of march, pace, intervals for stopping for rest and rejuvenate and the like are for a standard route March but this was anything but a normal situation, albeit as you correctly observe somewhat of the allies' (at higher headquarters) making.

A great place to start is http://www.chosinreservoir.com/Reading.htm

Asa a n aside, I had the honor to sit next to a. Survivor of the "Frozen Chosin" at a formal mess night some years ago (it is somewhat of a tradition in some USMC mess nights to come to attention to recognize anyone present who was in that retrograde miracle.

His account literally made those of us within earshot feel some of the bigger cold they endured and was quite poignant as the riflemen as each night would fall would says their goodbyes to each other as they were confident it would be their last.

As you will note the hour of this reply you will see I probably got as much sleep as did you although I can't attribute mine to the need to read the account I posted, that was , as I should have cautioned when posting that it is not a comprehensive exegesis of the entire battle much less the larger strategic picture to which I refer here but rather was the focus on the intrepid joy of LtCol Drysdale's motley crew of true warriors.

While there were no doubt individual cases of panic, a fuller account will put that in its proper and miniscule context, insofar as the breakout force is concerned. As far as the reactions of some units and individuals in the initial attacks that led to the need for the withdrawal that is quite another matter but I will not speak ill of another service from which most of this type of unseemly reaction to the initial attacks came.

I realize it is a cultural phenomenon to a large extent in terms of your giving short shrift to those jumping on grenades to save their mates. Indeed I (as a mere septic of course) think it borders on misplaced callousness but regardless of that, and certainly to your humble servant, such final acts of selflessness deserve their rightful place in Valhalla's pantheon of heroes.

Indeed the latest recipient of our Medal of Honor was (and is as he survived when in times past would have surely died but for the advances in military medicine) one such man who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his mates and that ranks pretty high on my respect scale, especially as a combat veteran myself who knows what it feels like to have to control your desire to survive (actually to not be killed like those literally around you) and maintain your mission focus as well as uphold your duty to your mates.

Thanks again for taking time to read the account I posted and for your insightful observations and legitimate opinions even if not shared in toto by me both based on my study of the overall situation and my personal reluctance to be an armchair general beyond debating grand strategy and the like as contrasted to trying to dissect the decisions of actual commanders in the fight and the acts of the other ranks as to their fighting since I so clearly recall and appreciate just how difficult such things are for any human being, and most especially here where the condition in which the fighting occurred were so appallingly bad.
 
Last edited:
The responses below the article question the assumption or implied conclusion behind the title i.e. Death of Task Force Drysdale.

Sources cited for the Wiki entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Chosin_Reservoir argue
"Despite suffering 159 wounded and 162 dead and missing, the task force managed to bring in 300 badly needed infantrymen for the defense at Hagaru-ri".

So, at high cost the Task Force mission was in fact accomplished.
I concur a (the perhaps) point well taken. The title of the piece of course is intended IMHO to convey the fact most contemporary observers (here in the states--and perhaps the UK as well and not merely at higher headquarters) had already given the task force and rest of the breakout force as lost and without hope of survival.
 
Last edited:
So, at high cost the Task Force mission was in fact accomplished.
From what I read, the Corps/Marine Division intent was to secure the MSR. However, the Marine Regiment Commander translated this into reinforcing Hagaru-ri.

It strikes me as odd that the convoy comprised so many supply trucks and headquarters personnel given that Hagaru-ri was a major supply dump with an airfield. If the intent had been to bolster Hagaru-ri, wouldn't it have been easier to fly troops in?

Given that the overall plan seemed to be to withdraw all the troops in the area - Yudam-ni further up the MSR had already been abandoned, (accounts suggest that the Chosin troops were to be sacrificed to allow more major formations to withdraw, with the Chosin troops distracting large elements of the PLA), bolstering Hagaru-ri while leaving the MSR undefended merely created a larger number of troops to be subsequently withdrawn through enemy lines.

So, while the Task Force mission may be considered as accomplished, it doesn't seem that the intent was fulfilled.
 
From what I read, the Corps/Marine Division intent was to secure the MSR. However, the Marine Regiment Commander translated this into reinforcing Hagaru-ri.

It strikes me as odd that the convoy comprised so many supply trucks and headquarters personnel given that Hagaru-ri was a major supply dump with an airfield. If the intent had been to bolster Hagaru-ri, wouldn't it have been easier to fly troops in?

Given that the overall plan seemed to be to withdraw all the troops in the area - Yudam-ni further up the MSR had already been abandoned, (accounts suggest that the Chosin troops were to be sacrificed to allow more major formations to withdraw, with the Chosin troops distracting large elements of the PLA), bolstering Hagaru-ri while leaving the MSR undefended merely created a larger number of troops to be subsequently withdrawn through enemy lines.

So, while the Task Force mission may be considered as accomplished, it doesn't seem that the intent was fulfilled.
As I said there is a larger context and there were Army remnants and some equipment of larger formations that had been decimated at the reservoir but I do agree the Marine division was considered sacrificial after things went south--pardon the pun.
 
You deserve a star, ...erm red tabs as it were for your thoughtful assessment. Before being too hasty to condemn ALL the leaders however, I suggest you broaden your perspective a bit (assuming you haven't already and are not some don, expert in military history at Kings College Department of War Studies! ;-) ) and envisage the larger strategic picture that left the units actually involved in the fight.also, be all that as it may, the fact that they got out as they did even with their dead lashed frozen to the vehicles, in those abominable conditions (weather, terrain and enemy situation) borders on the miraculous.
If anything, I'm condemning the account rather than the actions. The account focuses on confusion and poor leadership. There's not a great deal mentioned about the vanguard which made the mission "successful" and who achieved this without the direct support of 2/3 of the convoy. For practical purposes, the rear 2/3 of the convoy appears to have been there to draw fire and little more.

Since reading this, I've glanced at other snippets of the action which are rather more favourable in their descriptions of the combat force and explain the overall picture better.

There's something that I really can't comprehend. Gen Smith and Col Puller conduct a balls up (and this is essentially how other sources describe it) and aren't admonished. Puller even gets a Navy Star out of it. Does a gung-ho attitude really outweigh military competence?
 
If anything, I'm condemning the account rather than the actions. The account focuses on confusion and poor leadership. There's not a great deal mentioned about the vanguard which made the mission "successful" and who achieved this without the direct support of 2/3 of the convoy. For practical purposes, the rear 2/3 of the convoy appears to have been there to draw fire and little more.

Since reading this, I've glanced at other snippets of the action which are rather more favourable in their descriptions of the combat force and explain the overall picture better.

There's something that I really can't comprehend. Gen Smith and Col Puller conduct a balls up (and this is essentially how other sources describe it) and aren't admonished. Puller even gets a Navy Star out of it. Does a gung-ho attitude really outweigh military competence?
Ah, a quite nuanced view that I am unaccustomed to nowadays and after I return from my weekly dinner date with my 90 y/o mother (to get her out of the care home for a bit) I will try to digest your post the way it deserves.
 

Latest Threads

Top