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By Wes Eubanks
RBC | By mid-1950 after the successful landing at Inchon by the U.S. X Corps and the subsequent destruction of the Korean People’s Army, the Korean War appeared to be all but over. United Nations (U.N.) forces advanced rapidly into North Korea with the intention of reuniting North and South Korea before the end of 1950. North Korea is divided through the center by the impassable Taebaek Mountains, which separated the U.N. forces into two groups. The U.S. Eighth Army advanced north through the western coast of the Korean Peninsula, while the Republic of Korea (ROK) I Corps and the U.S. X Corps advanced north on the eastern coast.
On Nov. 27, 120,000 troops of the Chinese Ninth Army who had been ordered by Mao Zedong to destroy the 30,000 U.N. troops (later nicknamed “The Chosin Few”) encircled and attacked at the Chosin Reservoir area. In the period between Nov. 27 and Dec. 13, 1950, a brutal 17-day battle was fought over some of the roughest terrain during some of the harshest winter weather conditions of the Korean War the temperature plunged to as low as −35 °F. The battle’s main focus was around the 78 mile road that connects the port of Hungnam and Chosin Reservoir, which served as the only retreat route for the U.N. forces. The icy road’s quality was poor, and in some places it was reduced to a one lane gravel trail. Medical supplies froze; morphine syrettes had to be defrosted in a medic’s mouth before they could be injected; frozen blood plasma was useless on the battlefield. Even cutting off clothing to deal with a wound risked gangrene and frostbite. Weapons malfunctioned, lubrication in the guns gelled and rendered them useless in battle. Batteries used for the radios and vehicles did not function properly and quickly ran down. The U.N. forces were nonetheless able to make a fighting withdrawal and broke out of the encirclement while inflicting crippling losses on the Chinese. The evacuation of the X Corps from the port of Hungnam marked the complete withdrawal of U.N. troops from North Korea.
The Chinese Ninth Army was beaten so badly that it was March 1951, before they returned to normal strength and become combat effective. With the absence of nearly 40 percent of the Chinese forces in Korea in early 1951, the heavy Chinese losses at Chosin ultimately enabled the U.N. forces to maintain a foothold in Korea.
U.S. X Corps and the ROK I Corps later reported a total of 10,495 battle casualties, of which 4,385 were from the U.S. Marines, 3,163 were from the U.S. Army, 2,812 were from South Koreans attached to American formations and 78 were from the British Royal Marines. Outside of the combat losses, the 1st Marine Division also reported 7,338 non-battle casualties due to the cold weather.
Fourteen Marines, two soldiers and one Navy pilot received the Medal of Honor.