The Korean War: Buying Time With Blood

By Scott Parrino 10 Jul 2003 0

Introduction

At 11:45 PM on June 30th, 1950, Lt. Colonel Charles B. ("Brad") Smith, commander of the 24th Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment was summoned by General William Dean to an urgent meeting. Dean had just been advised to send whatever US forces he could spare immediately to South Korea to stave off the onrushing North Korean army.

Dean was not very pleased with his orders from Washington. As a master of tactics, it seemed to him that committing his forces in a piece-meal fashion seemed to be a sure way to have them suffer disastrous consequences. In this instance, however, there was no time. The communist advances had to be stopped and Brad Smith would lead the first contingent of US forces into battle against the enemy.

Task Force Smith

As was often the case, the formation of various units of a larger outfit into a complete force of its own was called a "task force" (TF). It was a special force called upon to do a special task. It was nearly always named after the commander of the group. Task Force Smith would include eventually in excess of 450 men of his battalion, a two gun 75mm recoilless rifle platoon from M Company, and two 4.2 inch mortars of the regiment's heavy weapons company. Joining the force in Korea would be Battery A, 52nd FAB with commander Lt. Colonel Miller O. Perry.

Within four hours after being advised of their assignment, the force was trundled in deuce and a half trucks from their base at Camp Wood in Kumamoto, Kyushu Island, to the Itazuki air base some 75 miles away. From there they were hurried aboard six C-54 Skymaster transports. They arrived in Pusan, Korea about noon the next day, July 1st, 1950.

A number of the younger GIs were excited about the adventure, feeling a wave of patriotism and looking for a chance to prove their prowess against a supposedly inferior North Korean Army. Some of the veterans of World War II who were still in the outfit were more reserved. War is war, even if it appears to be a simple task. Bullets are bullets and they can still kill you, even if fired from an antiquated bolt-action rifle. No one was quite sure what lay ahead. Mercifully, it was for the best that they did not know.

After arriving, the troops were again shuttled from Pusan airport in trucks into the port city itself. All along the route, South Korean civilians had come out in considerable numbers, cheering and waving tiny US and South Korean flags in tribute to the troops. Soon the force was aboard a dilapidated old steam engine train and chugging north towards Taejon. While not a particularly comfortable ride, it surely beat walking.

It was on July 2nd that the force arrived in Taejon. After seeing to his troops and their bivouac, Colonel Smith met with Generals Dean and Church. They had conceived upon what they felt was a plan to definitely slow down the enemy. They told Smith, "All we need is some men up here who won't run when they see tanks." Those words sent an icy chill over Colonel Smith. Tanks? What did he have to use against tanks? The entire Task Force had only 10 of the older 2.36" bazookas and only a few rounds of ammunition for each. He had no land mines. His two 75mm recoilless rifles were his best chance against armor.

The Plan

The generals then elaborated on their plan and Smith's responsibility. The Colonel would have added to his meager force a battery of 105mm guns. At first it sounded great, but the reality was that in the battery itself there were only six rounds of "heat" or anti-tank ammunition. All the rest of the shells were of the high explosive type. The latter was good against infantry but of little value against the tempered steel of enemy tanks.

Since more troops of the 24th Division would be "in-country" shortly, it was decided to send Smith's force the furthest north. Action was needed at once to form a cohesive line of defense. To do so, the rapidly advancing enemy had to be slowed. Thus Task Force Smith would be the tip of the defensive spear. They were ordered to set up defenses north of Osan on hills overlooking a valley in which was a straight stretch of the main highway. Both generals felt that from that vantage point, Smith could at least slow the enemy down enough to allow more US troops to get into place at Ansong and Pyongtaek.

On July 4th, Independence Day, Smith's force headed north to their assigned positions. Spirits were generally high among the men. Feeling particularly patriotic, one observer described the troops as having an attitude of "overconfidence that bordered on arrogance." The great final Allied victory of World War II, less than five years earlier, had left its mark of self-assurance on these young men. Colonel Brad Smith, knowing a little more than they did, was not quite so confident. Still, he felt he could at least hinder the enemy's advance to give the generals the time they needed to prepare things further to the south. Smith knew that it would be time bought with blood, the blood of his own men. But he had his orders and he was a loyal soldier.

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