72 years ago today, November 24 1950, the infamous Chinese Second Phase Offensive began. Commonly associated with the Marines and the Chosin Reservoir it was a peninsula wide attack that would start pushing UN forces back towards the 38th parallel.

The high water mark for UN forces in Korea

Where is the First Phase you may already be asking. It took place on October 25th and was sort of a reconnaissance in force, just in a larger than normal size. Why this was dismissed probably has to do with the fact that it was a contact between the PVA and ROKs and the hubris of the time among US leaders. After savaging the ROKs the Chinese general made this appraisal or American/UN forces;

“American artillery and air power were well coordinated and “a great hazard.” The American logistics system was “great” and that American infantry had more firepower and range than did the Chinese. He was not complimentary about the American infantryman. “They depend on their planes, tanks, and artillery…they are afraid of our firepower…they specialize in day fighting. They are not familiar with night fighting or hand to hand combat…They are afraid when their rear is cut off. When transportation comes to a standstill, the infantry loses the will to fight.”

The quote stands out to me as this seems to be a common assessment of US forces throughout the years.

Even with this assessment the ROK’s were even worse off, lacking the firepower and support of the American units. As such as bad as the US troops were his the ROK’s were hit even harder. With PVA forces smashing through the ROK divisions and getting behind the US divisions the “big bugout” was on.

When the Second Phase came crashing down on UN forces of the 8th Army on the 24th it was like a tidal wave. The PVA were moving so fast that many rear area units would find themselves suddenly becoming the front line or encircled.

The Chinese would conduct the following 3rd and 4th phases that would continue much the same process of pushing the US/UN forces back past the 38th parallel.

The Gear
Much of Korea was fought with WWII gear or if not produced during the war then WWII pattern gear. This is especially true of the 1st year in Korea. Most US troops were left lacking cold weather gear as well. the majority are seen just wearing their M1943 field jacket and some layers. (Granted you can get that pretty warm with everything stacked up) Those that could made use of whatever parka or overcoats they could find, even some of the old WWII reversible ski parkas.

Now unfortunately many photos are not labeled or are labeled with multiple different units so it is hard to verify who had what. Also sometimes the distance or angle makes if difficult to tell if it’s a parka or overwhites. From what I can tell though it seems to be most common among the 7th Infantry Division.

The green or khaki side out seems to be a little more common

The web gear were the M1944/45 suspenders and M1945 pack. Although the pack is seldom seen outside of marches. The M1 helmets of the Army in Korea are almost universally bare but they do often sport an elastic helmet band. Likely M1944 ones pulled or cut free from the net. The M1 carbines we issued with 15 round magazines typically with the 30 rounders being reserved for the M2 carbines. While not a hard rule that was the general premise. The allowance seems to be for only 3 magazine as well which seems awfully inadequate. But most photos I see of carbine armed soldiers only have the single pouch. (obviously there are plenty of exception but just in general)

For cold weather the winter pile caps were near ubiquitous. Gloves were wither the black leather M1949 or the large mittens. Footwear looks to be mostly shoepacs (which I should have included), Combat service boots (aka “Double buckles”) or occasionally rubber overshoes.

White side out

Here are some period photos for reference.

7th ID overlooking the Yalu
looking across the Yalu
Major Carroll Cooper, Yalu River area, December 1950 (Hank Walker photog.)
Possibly MAJ GEN David G. Barr, CO of 7th ID, Yalu River area, December 1950 (Hank Walker photog.).
Yalu River area, December 1950 (Hank Walker photog.). Also presumed to be the 7th ID sector.
Yalu River area, December 1950 (Hank Walker photog.). I believe this was taken in the 7th ID sector.
Yalu River area, December 1950 (Hank Walker photog.). Also presumed to be the 7th ID sector.

These last two photos are from January 1951 when the US/UN forces were counter attacking the Chinese but I include them as it shows the web gear used in conjunction with the parka and not just the parka by itself.

“23 January 1951 – A mantle of fresh snow helps obscure parka-clad Allied infantrymen as they approach Wonju in forced march on the battered Korean city”

1 Comment

  1. Tom Stone says:

    My uncle David served with the 1st Marine division from Inchon to the Reservoir and back to Pusan.
    Although he seldom talked about his experiences as a Marine ( Two pacific Campaigns plus Korea) I did get up enough nerve to ask him who the best Marine officer he had served with was.
    Nope, not Chesty Puller, Ray Davis.
    During the retreat from the reservoir Ray Davis led a flanking attack to remove a Chinese blocking force on the only road out.
    He led 600 men six miles cross country, at night, in a blizzard using maps drawn up by the Japanese.
    Those men were half starved, mostly frozen and exhausted.
    And that is rough country, I looked at a topo map and that would be a tough route on a summer day.
    If the attack had failed the 1st Marine Division would have been effectively destroyed.


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