Task Force Drysdale

By Scott Parrino 16 Nov 2003 0

Task Force Drysdale - November 29, 1950

It was in late November 1950, when the Chinese unleashed their massive and furious assault against the Marine forces at the Chosin Reservoir. From that point southward some ten miles to Koto-ri, the Chinese went on a rampage. The Marines of the 5th and 7th Regiments faced encirclement and annihilation. It was imperative that the road leading north from Koto-ri, be kept open, otherwise they would be cut off and annihilated.

General Smith, commander of the 1st Marine Division requested troops leave Koto-Ri and head to Hagaru to keep the way open. Colonel Chesty Puller, commanding the 1st Marine Battalion had his hands full keeping the enemy out of Koto-Ri. Even so an attempt was made to keep the highway open. The Chinese had filtered to the south of the Reservoir and proved to be too strong for a smaller breakthrough force.

It was on November 28th that the timely arrival of reinforcements, including elements of the 3rd Battalion, 41st British Commandos (Royal Marines), Company G of the 1st Marine Regiment and Company B of the 31st Infantry Battalion made it possible to form a new task force. The entire force would be sent to relieve the beleaguered Marines at Hagaru. It would be under the command of British Lt. Colonel Douglas Drysdale. The Colonel was one of the most "spit and polish" men that the Marines had ever seen. Even so, he was well known for being both a brave and aggressive commander. With the addition of two dozen Patton tanks and numerous other armored vehicles and personnel carriers, a much stronger combat force headed north toward the Reservoir.

At about 1000 hours the next day the task force moved out, under covering fire of mortars and howitzers from Koto-Ri. Almost immediately the Chinese of the 58th Division began to resist the advance. By noon they had moved forward a little over a mile. By four in the afternoon they had gained another three miles. Colonel Drysdale became impatient with the slow movement of his column. He ordered the tanks to the front. With a shout of "Tally-ho" from his jeep, he headed up the road to the Reservoir.

It was getting dark when the British, US Army and Marine contingent reached about halfway to Hagaru. Before them was a long deep valley. To the right the ground rose sharply into steep mountains. On the left was the frozen Changjin River, with a meandering stream crossing the valley floor. After the fight, the surviving troops of this engagement named the area "Hell Fire Valley." As they traversed the lower ground, enemy artillery fire began to hit the column, forcing the troops to dismount and fight.

During the engagement Chinese mortar rounds hit a number of vehicles and effectively blocked the road. The task force had now been split in two. Drysdale had no choice but to proceed northward with all the tanks and the bulk of infantry. They would eventually arrive at Hagaru. In so doing Drysdale was wounded and passed his command to Army Captain Sitter. Most of this force, however, did arrive intact. It is said that when the ever-composed Colonel Drysdale passed into the Hagaru perimeter, he managed to pull off a snappy return salute to Major Ed Simmons, even though badly wounded in the right arm. The addition of tanks and infantry to the Marine complement proved to be a big help as the two Marine regiments began to fight their way back to Koto-ri.

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