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Thread: "The Big Bugout", us army on the run during the Korean war (history channel docco) | Forums

  1. #1
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    i liked mig alley the old korean war sim, watched several docco's about the war, and have read a fair amount of first hand pilot accounts about their experiences in that war, but the history channel docco i viewed last night put a different slant on the korean war which i hadnt seen/heard earlier. if anybody interested in that conflict and hasnt seen it, its well worth a look (History Chanel: The Korean War, Retreat from Hell)

    in short, their viewpoint was that the american supply lines were severely stretched when they initially pushed north (a tactical mistake that shouldnt have occurred), and that the local us commanders weren't very competent for engagements in a theater like that (mainly trained and practiced in full frontal mechanized attacks at great speed, but not prepared for probing flanking replies, or dealing with infiltrations by large numbers of poorly armed enemy insurgents). once the #$%@! hit the fan, it seems many of the unit or local commanders wernt up to the task of leadership either, significantly contributing to the problem (exceptions existed, not all were that bad, but lack of competency was a major issue)

    another point they made was that the chinese wave that came over the border wasnt that significantly outnumbering the americans (i had always heard the ratio weas 10:1 or even greater). what made the chinese so problematic for the americans is that they never (sic) attacked head on, they probed around the edges and tried to get at them from the sides (or behind the lines), and favoured attacking the weaker south korean units that fought on their own, break through, and then get at the yankees from the sides. if i heard correct, there was even a turkish division (never heard this before), which crumbled quickly like the south korean units, all easy holes to punch through for communist red devils. the chinese units also didnt have/need a hierarchical command structure, and each of their units could and did operate without needing/keeping communications with their central command, basically they acted as poorly armed autonomous groups of soldiers acting on their own (but following the grand plan their were told from the start)

    then the most surprising part was how these initial problems then led to a rapid collapse of the american lines in general, and how the whole campaign turned into a major fiasco with incompetent commanders, demoralized troops, and major logistical problems. in what basically turned into a running retreat all the way down into the south again, past the 38th parallel (in many cases wounded fellow soldiers being left behind), the great mcarthur was not just incompetent but seemed mentally incapable to deal with the problems at all (other then keep wanting to nuke the chinese mainland). only when a new general commander was put in place (Ridgeway)did things stabilize, and after he addressed some major structural issues and improved moral, did the tide turn again and the americans pushed north again and settled at the 38th parallel.

    one aspect of this whole debacle is that this type of total collapse and major routing hadnt occurred to the us army for about 200 yrs (since the civil war maybe ?), but some elements of their units were the exception. iirc some experienced units (?from ww2) were able to hold their positions while other units in the same sectors completely collapsed, a major evac point was setup for the wounded where several 1000 wounded were evacuated by courageous pilots flying in on frozen strips of dirt, and other units fought against overwhelming odds to keep roads open and break through encirclements or to get to isolated troop under siege.heroism and bravery in abundance there, those memories should not be tainted by what i summarized earlier from the docco (and many of those great acts are mentioned in it to).

    another great positive was the very close support provided by air power, which covered the american retreat and without these aviators no retreat would even have been possible at all. chinese units often cut the retreat roads, occupied the high ground overlooking the retreat roads, and without the air support (and some american units fighting from ridge to ridge to keep dislodging the chines), it would have been an even bigger disaster.from what i had read/seen earlier, i would have expected the american retreat to have been under pressure, with high casualties against an overwhelming enemy of 10:1, but in an organized and well planned fashion, this docco puts a completely different light on it. the chinese offensive only ceased to be effective once their own supply lines couldnt keep getting food and weapons to their troops (the part of the war we are all familiar with, american aircraft keeping their supply lines cut extremely effectively), but at that point the chinese were almost back in seoul all the way down south !

    for those that havnt watched it, well worth a look. all by all, a sobering account of historical events, and a very different view from the constant one sided glorification we are so commonly exposed to. i noticed there is another 7 part series on korea which details that phase of the war ( based on "newsreels and U.S. Government footage"), so i'll have a further look and see if they give a similar account of some of these major problems

    anybody know some other good historical docco's on that period ?
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    The recent documentaries made in the USA on Korea and shown on the usual military channels certainly are not "one sided glorification". They are uniformly glum, except for the "Top Goon" vainglory of "Dogfights" and some of the other docs done on the F-86s vs the MiG-15s. None are very complete. They cover 1950 very well and slide through the succeeding years in a few minutes. There isn't one which I'd recommend.

    The films "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" and "Pork Chop Hill" are still excellent ways to get an understanding of the war. Some of the most interesting recent books about the war have concerned the Soviet pilots flying the MiG-15s against the Americans.
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    Not a movie I know, but I can strongly recommend "The Coldest Winter" if you want to hear about the debacle of the early US involvement and how insane MacArthur was (or at least seemed to be).
    The account of the army first advancing nervously and totally unprepared tactically, mentally, and materially to the Yalu River and then being overwhelmed and retreating from the Yalu is very vivid. The author is scathing in his treatment of most of the leaders, the majority of whom were in MacArthur's little clique, if I recall correctly.

    The section that recounts the army, I forget which number, retreating through Hell'S Corridor or something is just horrendous.

    The book only covers the American involvement in the first year of the war and contains a lot of the politics of that time, some of which dragged a little for me, but overall it's a very good read.
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    Might want to try "Black soldier, white army" it is on the web free at center of military history. basic story line involves the 24th infantry regiment (colored) (black troops commanded by white officers) in the still segregated army of 1950.

    This is a no frill professional dissertation of unit inefficiency and racial tensions etc. Lots of good maps and first hand accounts.

    Another good one is "firefight at yechon"
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    Mac was 'removed' from his perch after his rampages after this debacle. Another 'bridge too far'.
    He should have been 'removed' after the fall of the Philipines..but this is neither here nor there...

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    If you want to see a movie about the Korean side of the Korean War you might want to check out this movie.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taegukgi_%28film%29

    Parts of it are corny as hell, especially the beginning, and the last 1/4th is completly ridiculous and unbelievable, but some of the battle scenes are pretty well done and some parts are interesting like how the war affected Korean civilians.
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    thx for the sugestions, still hoping to find some movies/documentaries about that same period that give a historically more correct perspective on the periods events )in particular the events leading up to the bugout, or the unfolding bugout itself)

    i had heard about "pork chop hill". i watched it in the last few days, but it wasnt up to expectations. one previous description i had read was....

    "Lewis Milestone's anti-war masterpiece Pork Chop Hill (1959) starred Gregory Peck as an Army Lieutenant of a platoon (King Company) in a no-win situation - commanded to assault a tactically-unimportant, but well-guarded hill held by the N. Koreans and Chinese Communists in the final days of the war. [Milestone had two previous anti-war films for each of the World Wars, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and A Walk in the Sun (1946))"

    as a dated war movie it wasnt bad, and yes it did portray the incompetence of the higher officers at HQ ordering an assault on an unimportant hill with lack of resources and lack of man power. but the troops doing the fighting where all heroic (even the one cowardly token black man "makes good" later in the movie and rejoins the fray), and it doesnt really give a broader picture of the korean war and its main problems. even the HQ at the end of the movie sends reinforcements just in time and our heroes are saved at the last minute from their alemo like stand.
    note: afaik that movie is based on actual events in one location for a company of soldiers in the final days of the war, but it has a large serving of pro war propaganda stirred into it

    a film made 2 yrs earlier about ww1 (path of glory, directed by stanley kubrik), with burt lancaster as a ww1 french officer in the trenches was much much better in portraying the folly of that war and the competence problem from many of its officers (and HQ and its masters in general). see http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?pid=1168369 for a brief review.

    anybody have some more suggestions for the korean war era ?
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    Originally posted by grifter2u:
    another great positive was the very close support provided by air power, which covered the american retreat and without these aviators no retreat would even have been possible at all.
    well they had the Skyraider in Korea . that thing was a powerhouse for GA , the combined WW2 experience & info rolled up into one prop/piston plane .
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    Originally posted by K_Freddie:
    Mac was 'removed' from his perch after his rampages after this debacle. Another 'bridge too far'.
    He should have been 'removed' after the fall of the Philipines..but this is neither here nor there...
    Most Australian historical stuff about WWII and Korea is very disparaging about Macarthur and in particular his tendency to make decisions based on good press rather than good tactics or even commonsense much of the time.
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    Mac's Inchon was a stroke of genius, though, a classic operational counterstroke which destroyed the N Korean position (they had overrun nearly the entire country). Unfortunately, he ignored the reports of the Chinese armies massing across the Yalu, and the allies were nearly destroyed in turn by the Chinese attack. Only the allies' air superiority saved their bacon at Chosin and all along the line. Then, MacA tried to bully Truman into extending the war into China by unleashing SAC on them---a big mistake. T was determined to fight a limited war, and he sacked MacA.

    The biggest mystery of MacA's career is why he let the Japanese bomb the biggest air force in the Far East on the first day of the Pacific War---when he knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor. All the B-17s were ready for a counterstroke on Japanese Formosa and might have caught the Japanese aircraft on the ground, because they were unable to take off due to fog. Instead, he kept all the AAF airplanes lined up in rows, and the Japanese KOed the entire Philippines AAF establishment at once---this blow doomed the Philippines army. There are even rumors MacA was paid a large sum of money by the Philippine govt to make sure the AAF did not "provoke" Japan.
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