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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Thursday 24 August 2023

High Tide in the Korean War

 This book by Leo Barron tells the story of the US 23rd Infantry Regiment at the Battle of Chipyong-ni in the Korean War. I have been dabbling in the Korean War and spotted this in my local library. Although the Turkish contingent was not directly involved in this battle, it is an excellent study of a unit level action in this conflict.

Allowing for the author's hype, it is a remarkable story of how a single US regiment, with an attached French battalion, fought off several Chinese divisions near the Han River in February 1951. This was just after Matthew Ridgeway took over command of the US Eighth Army with his more aggressive strategy.

The 23rd Infantry regiment was undermanned and underequipped like most of the US Army at the start of the Korean War. Post-WW2 cuts affected all the armed services, and this regiment was no exception, calling on volunteers from other units to make up the numbers. The US Army had decided that anti-tank guns had failed in WW2 and were replaced with Sherman tanks. I hadn't appreciated this fact, and frankly surprised, but any excuse to get armour on the table. The Chinese Air Force was not a significant threat to ground troops, so the quad AAs on the M16s were used in the ground support role. They also had a battery of 155mm howitzers, a combat engineer company and a Ranger company. The flexibility of the US Army structure was evident in this operation.

The regiment was sent on a probing operation to find the Chinese army, exposing it to mountainous terrain with only one road to their target. They dug in on a couple of hills, and the Chinese sent waves of troops against them. They were aiming for a critical road junction behind the position. 

Much of the book covers very similar actions, which can get a bit repetitive once you have read a couple. The Chinese attacked at night, and the emplaced American and French troops gunned them down, causing horrendous casualties. Brave does not begin to describe these mostly frontal attacks. When US aircraft could fly ground attack missions, they also caused heavy casualties with napalm, breaking the back of several assaults.

You can pick out some operational details that will interest wargamers. For example, Chinese mortars were very accurate. As one rifleman said, 'Those bastards could drop a 60mm mortar on a dime and get change.' My mortars rarely hit anything on the tabletop! Close air support was deadly, and after reading some of the descriptions, I won't be complaining about their effectiveness again. Grenades were also favoured over rifles, partially because, at night, rifle fire was easy to spot. The Thompson sub-machine was unpopular because it was too easy to spot. The Chinese also used satchel charges on the end of poles, which were dropped into foxholes.

It may be a cliche, but the 23rd was relieved by the cavalry. In this case, the 5th Cavalry fought its way up the road and over the surrounding hills. In Korea, the best commanders learned that you always took the high ground. Although the cavalry, organisationally, was an infantry regiment with armoured support. However, the infantry rode on the tanks in all but the forward echelons. After this battle, the initiative shifted back to the UN forces, although the war quickly ground to a halt before an armistice was eventually agreed.

If you want to understand how units deployed and fought in the Korean War, this book is for you. Lots of detail, and you can skip over the repetitive bits. Many thanks, as usual, to my local library. Long may they continue!

One of my recent Korean War games

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