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Posted on Nov 25, 2005 in Front Page Features, War College

Chosin Reservoir ’50

By Wild Bill Wilder

The Situation Grows even more Desperate

By 1000 hours, Faith decided that it was time to get back to friendly positions at Hudong, the 31st rear area command post, no matter what. An air strike was promised for 1300 hours. Faith ordered the artillerymen to shoot off what few rounds that remained and destroyed the pieces. He had what vehicles remained in line, with AA vehicles interspersed in the column and headed south.

Unknown to Colonel Faith, at the same time, Hudong was being evacuated of any American forces, even as he made plans to get his units there. An order from Hagaru-ri had been issued that the troops and tanks at Hudong were to pull back. Only minutes after the withdrawal the first Chinese troops had moved into the area and took control of it. Now the haven that Faith’s troops sought belonged to the enemy. They were cut off.

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F4U Corsairs drop napalm on Communist Chinese positions blocking a Marine ground column near Hagaru-ri, North Korea.  Date is 26 December 1950.   (Note: tail end of Chosin Reservoir fighting)

The airstrike that had been expected came right on time, but it struck the front of the American column. A napalm canister exploded in the first half-track, burning three men alive. Others leaped out, their clothing in flames. The column was thrown into confusion, and the Chinese chose that moment to attack from both sides of the road. The ruthless Chinese threw grenades into the truck laden with wounded. More men died.

They fought off the attack and pushed ahead. Finding a blown bridge, they made a bypass through the gully and continued to head south. When they were attacked again, Colonel Faith jumped out of his jeep, and walked among the men, quieting and encouraging them. He urged them to fight back, to attack up the hills and clear the way.

Captain Erwin Bigger, leader of D Company took a group of men and cleared out an area. He was hit by mortar fragments in the face and leg. Blind in one eye, and using a mortar aiming stake as a crutch, he limped along. No one really noticed, because walking wounded surrounded him.

By this time, there were less than 300 men divided into two units. One was commanded by Major Robert E. Jones, intelligence officer of the 1st Battalion. The other group was headed up by Colonel Faith. Reorganizing their forces, they counterattacked and broke free of the enemy again. This time, however, shell fragments hit Colonel Faith, and his shattered body was put back into the warm cab of a truck. He bled to death there.

Nearing the end of their terrible journey, the remnants of the Task Force entered Hudong, only a few miles from Hagaru. Again the Chinese attacked, and the men finally lost all cohesiveness as a fighting unit. They had gone beyond the point of human endurance. Nearly 100 hours of constant fighting, death all around them, hungry and half frozen, with little or no leadership, they simply lost it. They were no longer soldiers, but men seeking desperately to survive, to escape the bloody frozen horror in which they were being killed.

They sometimes fought in small groups, or turned and ran. They were dispersed in every direction, each left to his own devices. For the next two days, members of the task force wandered into the American perimeter at Hagaru. Task Force MacLean/Faith began with over three thousand men.  Colonel Faith led over one thousand men into battle. For his actions during this time he would receive posthumously the Congressional Medal of Honor. As to the 1,053 men that had suddenly come under his command, only 181 returned. He had done the best that he could facing impossible odds and it had cost him and most of his soldiers their life. It was later called the "worst yet debacle for the Americans in the Korean War."

Author Information:

Wild Bill Wilder, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, was introduced to modern warfare as a tot in World War II when his father and uncle went off to war in the USAAF. It was an experience that influenced him greatly throughout his life. After graduating from Toccoa Falls College in 1962, he spent the next 10 years in public service in various countries in Central America. He then worked in public transportation until his retirement in 1999.

Wild Bill now has even more time to dedicate to his passion – wargaming. In 1997 he formed a group called "Wild Bill’s Raiders." From small beginnings the Raiders expanded into five separate web sites and gave top-notch coverage to a number of popular wargames.

Bill has also been a vital part of the production of 13 different games, including SPWAW, Combat Mission, The Operational Art of War,  and John Tiller’s Squad Battles series. He has authored over 1300 scenarios and campaigns for these and other games over the last nine years. At age 68, Bill is also a prolific writer, with his primary focus on warfare of the 20th century. To quote him, "Wargaming is a passion that never dies with the passing of the years. Instead it only intensifies as new and better wargames are produced. It is in military history that one finds often written in blood the glory and the grief of mankind!"

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2 Comments

  1. Looking for any info on Sgt. Chester L. Williams, RA33110506,B Battery,57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division.

  2. That’s a terrible story and I think it’s impossible not to blame Gen. Almond for not knowing how powerful the Chinese troops already were (what was doing his G-2 all this time?), and also for the unbelievable order to Col Faith to attack instead of retreating, even seeing by himself how desperate already was his position.

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