When Gaming Meets History #13: The Battle for East Hill

By Scott Parrino 18 Dec 2004 0

The Battle for East Hill: Hagaru, North Korea; November 28th - December 5th, 1950

It was winter in Korea. The weather was abominable. The bitter cold was more intense than most American servicemen had ever encountered. Frostbite was rampant. Vehicles and weapons were almost useless in such inclement conditions.

In spite of that fact, in the high mountains of Northeast Korea, even though stretched out for miles, the US Marine First Division prepared themselves for what was claimed to be the last great offensive of the war. According to Macarthur propaganda, this last big push to the Yalu River would end with the United Nations forces triumphant over the North Korean communists. 

It was not to be.

On the same day that the Allied forces began moving north, nearly one-fifth of the entire Chinese Army, unseen in the ravines and crevices of the mountains, launched a fierce counterattack. 120,000 of them took on the Marines, parts of the US Army 7th Division and of the Xth Corps forces around the Chosin (also known by the lesser known name, ?Changjin?) Reservoir area.

As the Allies fell back while under continual attack from the Chinese, there were various strongpoints along the route south to the port of Hungnam. One of these ?islands? in the wintry desert was the town of Hagaru-Ri. General O. P. Smith, commander of the 1st Marine Division, had insisted upon setting up a strong defensive position there before making the final thrust north towards the Yalu and the Eighth Army. Smith was not about to leave his rear too vulnerable. The narrow winding road from the port of Hungnam could be too easily cut and his men trapped to the north.

There was not a great force in the small town. It consisted of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marine Regiment, and two battalions of the 11th Marine artillery regiment, plus various other units, including a platoon of M-46 Patton tanks, an engineer company, and motor transport units. The headquarters of the division was also located there.

On November 27th, division intelligence officers questioned frightened Korean civilians headed south as they moved through the town. They were told that there were thousands of Chinese all over the countryside. Counter-intelligence agents attached to the division mingled with people and discovered that the Chinese plan included completely occupying Hagaru by the night of the 28th. Late that same day, word came in that Koto-ri, Yudam-ni, and Fox Hill were now surrounded and cut off. Reconnaissance patrols reported contact with Chinese troops less than five miles from Hagaru.

General Smith arrived at Hagaru by air early on the 28th, where he met with General Almond. The commander of X Corps told of the debacle with Eighth Army and the impending danger to the Marines. He was on his way to confer with a stunned and disbelieving General MacArthur in Tokyo. 

Smith, however, was hardly surprised. He had expected something along these lines and now began to put a contingent plan into effect. At 1500 hours, the Chinese announced their presence with a single 76mm shell that landed in the center of town, hitting the battalion headquarters and killing Captain Paul Storaasli, the battalion supply officer. He was the first casualty in Hagaru.

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