Part 2, by Savvas D. Vlassis
CRASHING IN THE FIRST BATTLE
Arriving in Korea the Turkish Brigade was attached to the US 25th Infantry Division of the IX Army Corps of the Eight Army. Its entering in battle was performed by stages, as it was provided for a newly arrived unit to the battlefield. By the end of November 1950, the Turks were based near the town of Kounou-ri, acting as reserve of the IX Army Corps. On 25 November, while the Allies had launched an attack that seemed to progress well, the enemy launches an unexpected general counterattack. Around 250,000 Chinese are poured out towards the South, having as a result to break the defense of the South Korean II Army Corps. In this way the right flank of the Eight Army was in serious danger and threatened by getting surrounded. The Allied forces had to retreat.
Among the actions that the leadership decided to perform, was the assignment of the operational zone of the South Korean II Army Corps to the US IX Army Corps in order to ensure the integrity of the right flank of the Eight Army and decelerate the enemy’s charge. At this point the Turkish Brigade was ordered to attack to the east towards the town of Tokcon.
Brigadier Yazici ordered one of his battalions to move towards the town, but while it was on the way, there were information according to which large enemy forces were moving towards Tokcon. The IX Army Corps CO Lieutenant General John Coulter ordered the Turkish battalion to stop at a road near the village of Wawon, to prepare defense positions and stay with them. Believing that Coulter had ordered the battalion to return where it came from, Brigadier Yazici gave the order having as a result to leave the right flank of the Eight Army completely exposed. But the Turkish mistakes continued. Returning to Wawon, they attacked hundreds of soldiers that where moving south and captured 125 prisoners. They would later find out that the poor guys they slaughtered were… furious South Korean soldiers of the II Army Corps that were retreating.
Even so, this first miserable Turkish action was promoted and positively commented worldwide. Robert Leckie clarifies in a straight manner the purpose for which that Turkish “victory” was treated with so much publicity: “The Turks moved out, and then, after reaching the village of Wawon about seven miles east, were brought to the battle which American newsmen, eager for a victory to report (especially, it seems, if it could be about those “Terrible Turks” of whom Americans knew so little), proclaimed around the globe. No small fight ever won more impressive headlines around the world. The word was flashed that the Turks, meeting the Chinese for the first time, had dealt them a bloody repulse at bayonet point; it was the first stirring bit of news from the November battle. But what precisely happened in the first few hours at Wawon is still an open question. The brigade also boasted the capture of several hundred enemy prisoners from among these first “Chinese” waves. The word gave a lift to the neighbors. Lt. Sukio Oji, a Nisei interpreter, was sent by the 2nd Division to interview the prisoners. Instead of Chinese, he found 200 forlorn ROKs who had blundered into the Turkish column while beating their way back from the fight at Tokcon”.(7)
In the official Hellenic Army General Staff History “The Hellenic Expeditionary Force in Korea 1950-55” it is mentioned for the incidents of those days: “On the 27th of November 1950 the Turkish Brigade acting as a reserve was involved for the first time in the fighting in the area of Wawon – Kounou-Ri, Southeast of the town of Tokcon. After attacking against the retreating South Korean allies, it faced the Chinese Communists and was scattered with heavy casualties and only fighting groups of Turks managed to escape”.(8)
Raymond Cartier is more caustic, describing the facts with an undisguised ironical manner: “For the Turks it is their first appearance they make in Korea. It was preceded by a bright reputation for their bravery, and even for their fierceness. The first news from their battles are shaking the press offices of the American newspapers. The Turks assaulted using the bayonets they created a massacre and arrested hundreds of prisoners… Their only mistake is that they picked up the wrong enemy: They considered as Chinese the South Koreans that were retreating. When they meet the real Chinese is their turn to get slaughtered. The remaining of the brigade took refuge at the positions of the 38th Infantry Regiment”.(9)
The first contact of the Turkish Brigade with the face of war proved to be disastrous. Those first incidents with the Turks, revealed that further on the cooperation with them would prove to be extremely difficult and for this reason a stronger contact and a stricter control had to be established. Nevertheless this did not take place right away, due to the fact that the myth had already been created and would follow the Turks ever since. No one seemed to take seriously into account these first signs of incompetence. Clay Blair notes with clarity: “Like the war correspondents, Coulter apparently was mesmerized by the Turks and continued to regard them as superhuman fighters rather than the poorly led green troops that they were. Coulter’s misplaced confidence in the Turks led to disastrous consequences”.(10)
The Allied forces had to retreat fighting hard. The Turkish Brigade had taken defense positions at Wawon closing the gap between sections of the 2nd Infantry Brigade and other formations. This gap was of vital importance, because if the enemy burst the defense at that point, the 2nd Brigade would be cut-off at Kounou-ri. Soon enough the Turks underwent a fierce attack and the unit commanders ordered their men to fix bayonets and counterattack. This determined reaction, maybe was based on the effort to find a way to rinse the shame that the Turks probably felt, from the so far bad presence in the battlefield. But even this action did not prove to be effective. Essentially the famous Turkish Brigade dissolved once more.
For one more time, even this new disaster was surrounded with a heroically overcoat, the so beloved for the American reporters, up to the point to be known as an example to follow! According to the new fairytale, the Turks were reported to have killed up to 200 enemy soldiers! Even so truth can’t be hidden in history. Clay Blair reports: “But the truth was that these overrated, poorly led green troops broke and bugged out, again leaving the entire right flank of Eight Army exposed”.(11)
For the same battle incidents, Paul Freeman was later commenting, in a clearly sarcastic way, that the Turks “look at the situation, and they had no stomach for it, and they were running in all directions”.(12)
The chaotic situation at the right flank of the Eight Army, caused a new retreat, while the 24th Brigade was ordered to hurry in order to reinforce the 2nd Brigade. The sensitive maneuvers required were performed in a cool and effective way and the Eight Army continued its retreat. The Turkish Brigade along with the South Korean 3rd Regiment and the US 2nd and 25th Infantry Divisions initiated their retreat through Kounou-ri towards Sountchon. Nevertheless Kounou-ri, as the strong point of the retrograde maneuver, was of vital importance and the 2nd Division was ordered to hold on until the rest of the forces move towards south. As the next step, the 2nd Brigade would withdraw towards Sountchon choosing a route. A straight path towards Sountchon was finally selected, using a road among hills going through a deep ditch leading to the valley of Tsentong river. Using this path would anyway allow the support of the 27th British Brigade and the Turkish Brigade which nevertheless had already disestablished.
The 9th and 23rd Regiments of the US 2nd Infantry Division, were prepared on the left, the South Korean 3rd Regiment at the center and the Turks on the right. While on the left the 25th Division was retreating in a sense of panic in the night of 29 November the 2nd Division would try to hold on to their positions. Unfortunately the whole effort was degenerated, due to the breakdown and the rout (once more) of the Turkish Brigade, in combination with the heavy casualties that the rest of the units suffered. The only unit that could be considered capable of fighting, was the 23rd Regiment, while until late in the evening, the strength of the 9th and 38th Regiments had dropped to 600 exhausted men. The Chinese 133rd Division had breached the Turkish lines and without being noticed, two of its regiments started to prepare on the side of the road towards Sountchon, from where the 2nd Division would initiate its retreat, covering it with heavy weapons, machine guns and mortars.
The Turkish Brigade undertook the night task to move to the north, which was performed in a sense of uncertainty and without having knowledge for what was happening around. Parts of the Turkish Brigade were engaged in fights and were soon disorganized and in the North Korean and Chinese lines a rumor was spread talking about the captivity of prisoners that did not speak English. Around 07.35, in the morning of 30 November, Turkish forces coming from Sountchon, were ambushed 30 miles away from Kounou-ri. The ambush was set up by the Chinese 2nd Regiment, under the command of Colonel Yang Sixian, that had marched for 40kms, reaching a point, 3kms away from the mountain road to Kounou-ri. Around midnight, the Chinese had moved following a path and took positions on a number of hills controlling the road. The convoy of 40 trucks with American drivers was placed under heavy fire. The Turks were escaping surprised, firing in every direction or jumping into ditches. Some brave tried to counterattack towards the hills, but did not reach far. Half of the trucks were halted in the road, while the rest were placed off, heading towards Kounou-ri, to be attacked by other Chinese units. Within a short period the Turkish force had been decimated. The Chinese medical orderly assisted the lightly injured carrying them to lee locations, while on the other hand abandoned the heavily injured for which they could not help. Cold would kill them soon. After they collected selected armament, food and ammunition, the Chinese left the scene of massacre. Major Ma, a Harbin Muslim and executive officer of the 2nd Battalion, heard a wounded spelling the word “dousman” before he died. “These soldiers are Turks” he said to his commander. “Dousman means enemy”.
Lacking a translator, the Turks that survived could not provide a clear picture of the size of the Chinese threat. Teams of the US Military Police sent to check it out, never returned back. Later on a reconnaissance tank company of M4 Shermans passed by the position of the destroyed convoy, without receiving fire, but not lost time to check for Turkish survivors. Nevertheless the description given by Russell Spurr for this disaster, could not avoid the heroic tone: “The Turkish Brigade fought magnificently. Officers threw their caps on the ground and swore to stand or die. But the Turks were engulfed by the advancing Chinese. Their brigade ceased to exist as a fighting force. A few units managed to back their way out and escape across the hills”.(13) Official history accounts report the assignments given to each unit, in an effort to clear the road to Sountchon. The Turkish Brigade did not show up at all which means that during the dramatic night of 29/30 November the core of its manpower had been dismantled.
While the 9th Regiment using its 2nd and 3rd Battalions would lead the attack to the blocks set up by the Chinese on the road, only two Turkish companies were provided to the 3rd Battalion as a reinforcement. In the beginning the South Korean 3rd Regiment undertook the mopping up of the hills overlooking the road, in order to unblock the retreating route of the 2nd Division. The 9th Regiment’s CO underestimated the Chinese resistance and having the 2nd Regiment leading (the two Turkish companies were following along with the 3rd Battalion followed by the 1st Battalion) moved on the road, using every available weapon to return the Chinese fire. At the location of the destroyed Turkish convoy, the Sherman’s stopped in order to clear the road from the burnt vehicles. A wounded whispered: “Me Turk! Me Turk!” and then the Americans understood that the Chinese held these positions for at least a day and that they were trapped! Scared soldiers fired with their weapons towards every direction, tanks were firing the stopped vehicles in order to clear the road, dead and wounded were accumulating at the side ditches. Facing heavy casualties and an unforgettable experience from the hell they lived, the 2nd Division cleared the way.
Until 2 December, the retreat of the Eight Army had been completed. The 2nd Division does not exist anymore and the Turkish Brigade lies completely disorganized, having lost 1/5 of its manpower, approximately 1,000 men, of whom more than 400 KIAs! After facing reorganization, the Brigade was attached to the 25th Division, which along with three other Brigades undertook the defense of Line B, in the area of Imjin river.
The enemy had limited its activity since the middle of December, when the Eight Army had withdrawn south of the 38th Parallel. Nevertheless it is outraging the fact that despite the totally negative performance of the Turks, not only the war correspondents but also the military chain of command, continued to have the impression that these Asians were just bad in defense but good in attack! Having been tested in both cases, everyone should have understood that the Turks were not good in any kind of fighting. This did not stop the US command to set up verbal orders for using the “foreign” Allied forces according to their talent. Therefore for example the British that had verified that were hesitant in attack but capable in defense, were ordered to be used defensively, while the Turkish Brigade… offensively.
On the New Year’s day of 1951, the Chinese performed their third large scale attack, trying to pass the 38th Parallel. At the west sector of the Allied defense line, the enemy did not attack heavily, since the defense there was strong. But generally in the central sector, the South Korean resistance was overcame and the Allies were forced to a general withdrawal towards the beachhead of Seoul.
On the left flank of the west sector, the Turkish Brigade along with the 25th Division headed to Seoul, at whose perimeter were established until the morning of 2 January 1951. In order to prevent the Eight Army from being destroyed in an effort to defend this beachhead, its post quitting was decided the day after together with the withdrawal southern on Line C. To secure Line C, the Turkish Brigade withdrew at Kimpoyia airport to hang on to the left flank, while other units were placed properly. The enemy nevertheless managed to break the defense and on 4January seized Seoul.
In order to push the enemy to the north and make him suffer as much casualties as possible, the Eight Army undertook by the end of January a counterattack codenamed THUNDERBOLT. On the left, the I Army Corps would march towards the south bank of Han river opposite Seoul in order to recapture Kimpo airport and Inchon, while on the right the IX Army Corps would follow. The I Army Corps attack would start with the 25th Division. The division’s CO decided to attack from the left flank of his formation with the 35th Regiment, but he could not choose the second regiment that would cover the right flank. He hesitated because the 27th Regiment had recently performed an operation and was placed in reserve, while the 24th Regiment was proved to be of low battle-worthiness. Facing this situation, the Divisional CO chose to replace the 24th Regiment with the Turkish Brigade.
The attack was launched on 25 January showing slow progress, not because of enemy resistance since the main volume of the enemy forces had withdrawn, but due to the method with which the attacking forces were moving. The Turkish Brigade attacked in two columns, towards Kumyangjang and for the first time managed to stand in the battlefield. After extensive use of direct support artillery in which the Turkish Artillery Battalion participated, the Turks captured a hill north of Sougouon. Using fixed bayonets, they moved and captured the enemy positions.
This limited in scale, but in any way first, Turkish success, immediately received extraordinary dimensions. Everyone showed that have found the heroes they were looking for in order to raise the moral. Rumors said that the Turks killed 400 soldiers, most of them using bayonet! Right afterwards an investigation showed that on the hill there were only 154 bodies, the big majority of which were slaughtered by the artillery fire, that preceded.
This case, shows once more the extraordinary dimensions that the Americans tended to give every success of the Allied forces and especially to those caused by the action of “foreign” units. Let us not forget that many of the Allies had not fought for decades (like the Turks) while for others the not so flattering actions during World War II (French, Belgians, Dutch) were still recent. Despite all these, the influence from the rumors created for this heroic attack and the “slaughtering” of the enemy by the Turkish bayonet, was such that shows that if the rumors intended to psychologically influence the soldiers morale, then it proved absolutely successful. This was due to the fact that the new Eight Army CO General Matthew B. Ridgway, got full knowledge for the real facts and the excessive publicity that the Turkish attack underwent, he was smart enough to get impressed by the big impact that the created rumors caused. He decided to get full advantage of this, in order to strengthen the moral of his men. So he issued an order according to which all men in the Eight Army should fight onwards on fixed bayonets. According to a historian, “The command greatly needed something to symbolize the birth of a new spirit. Restoration of the bayonet, and a dramatizing of the action, was at one with the simple message given to the troops: “The job is to kill Chinese”. Once men could be persuaded that those in others units were deliberately seeking the hand-to-hand contest with the enemy, they would begin to feel themselves equal to the overall task. There can be no question about the efficacy of this magic in the particular situation: IT WORKED!”(14)
Therefore the truth could be totally hidden and everyone could be misled, by a short paragraph like the one of Harry Summers, concerning exactly that incident: “The brigade’s bayonet charge against Chinese positions in January 1951 led then EUSA Commander General Matthew B. Ridgway to order all infantry units on the line to fix bayonets on their rifles”.(15)
In the mean time, while the Allied attack was progressing slowly, the enemy concentrated stronger forces, showing increasing resistance and performing periodically stronger counterattacks. The Eight Army was ordered to continue the attack.
In “The Korean War 1950-53” it is mentioned that in February, exactly at the specific time period, the Turks “fought doggedly near Osan”.(16) The truth is that it was an effort of a few days period, in close coordination with other US forces, to occupy a hill. This is usual in a war and in any case the Turkish performance could not be but overestimated, since a more careful examination of the facts shows that during the final stages, the Turks were exhausted and they were just following the Americans.
The Turkish Brigade was ordered to attack and occupy in coordination with the US 35th Regiment, the vital Hill 431 that was strongly occupied by the enemy. Under heavy artillery fire, the attack begun on 2 February and the troops managed to capture some ground. But the reaction of the enemy was strong and performing counterattacks repeatedly pushed the Turks away from the hill.
On 3 February, Ridgway ordered to stop the direct attack and forced to attack on the flanks. Indeed, the next two days the Turks and the 35th Regiment acted according to the new order, always under heavy artillery support and captured the hill. Having the enemy exhausted from the continuous fight and the losses due to the artillery fire, US units continued the attack, leaving the Turkish Brigade to follow behind. The units were reinforced with tanks, distributed into platoons and moved facing resistance but there are no reports showing that the Turks undertook any noticeable action in these particular battles. The more likely, they had done everything to their power and now the initiative was totally in the hands of the Americans.
Despite the fierce resistance, the Chinese were forced to a general retreat in the mid of March and Seoul was recaptured. Nevertheless since April the Allies had obvious signs for the preparation of the Chinese for their fifth in the row large scale attack. On 22 April, nine Chinese Armies with 250,000 men attacked and the Eight Army started to implement the pre-arranged withdrawal move. It was the largest scale battle in the Korean War.
In the sector of the US I Army Corps, on the line of contact there was the Porto Rican 65th Regiment, reinforced with a Philippines Battalion and on the right, the Turkish Brigade, a total force of 10,000 men, from which more than 5,000 Turks. At that point more than 50,000 Chinese attacked having as a result a chaotic battlefield. The Turks were not late to confirm their real reputation. At the moment when their CO was on leave to Japan, his formation was crashing.
The Chinese attack broke into the night, along the whole Turkish front and until 09.00 am, the Turkish 5th, 7th and 9th Companies had been surrounded. The 1st Company that was in reserve 3,000 yards behind, was fighting in order to avoid its envelopment. At 11.00 am the Turkish commander reported that all his companies were surrounded except two and after permission requested and given, moved his Headquarters south of river Hantan. The Turks managed to escape, together with their Artillery Battalion and gathered south of river Hantan in a safe place.
In order to close the gap that the Turks had left behind, the US 35th Regiment was ordered to harry, while the 24th Regiment on the right of the Turkish positions, was forced to retreat. The CO of the Porto Rican 65th Regiment later on expressed, using obviously disparaging words, his opinion for the Turkish presence in the battle: “On our left flank we had that reliable, unflappable British Brigade and they really caught hell. [On our right] the Turkish Brigade had fallen back some ten or twelve miles. […] As long as the Turks were on the offensive and the Chinese were running, the Turks were pretty good. But when the going was tough, they were hard to find”.(17)
Until the end of the hostilities, the Turkish Brigade did not participated in any major operation, acting only as a reserve force.
Around the end of May 1953, the Chinese initiated a series of attacks forming their last attack which lasted until the signing of the final cease fire agreement. The first attack broke out in the zone of the IX Army Corps, which held its positions causing significant losses to the enemy. The Chinese tried again in the operational zone of the I Army Corps and more specifically in five outposts of the Turkish Brigade, which now lied under the command of the US 25th Division. The fight was hard and the Turks were engaged in hand to hand fighting. Despite that they were instantly faltered and retreated, they counterattacked and managed to recapture two of the positions, where they repositioned themselves. During the battles of that day, the Chinese suffered heavy casualties, while the Turks had 104 killed and 367 wounded.
This successful resistance of the Turks, could be explained in many ways. First of all it was the third in the row brigade arriving in Korea and was already there for a period of eight months. Therefore, it had been completely accustomed to the war environment and face, while it had all the time needed to fill the gaps existing when arriving from Turkey. As a result, even this average Turkish performance had serious excuses to be explained.
In general, everyone and especially the Americans, were always overestimating the Turks as soldiers in the Korean War and many times they were presenting examples with which they tried to excuse the reputation of the “tough” Turk, that were funny and could easily be overturned.
Such a completely unfortunate example, is the indirect but obviously flattering comment for the Turks, made by Max Hastings: “When 21 Americans had been successfully Communist indoctrinated, not a single Turkish prisoner of war had succumbed”.(18) It is a totally superficial consideration which concludes to the derivation of a gross and arbitrary conclusion. This is because it ignores the biggest problem the Turks faced with their allies. While the Americans themselves could not communicate with the Turks, how was it possible for the Chinese to communicate with them and also to submit them to a methodical program of communistic propaganda? The whole case sounds hilarious.
There is also the description of an American that found himself in the same concentration camp with Turkish prisoners. Describing his impression form a Turkish soldier named Nafi, he mentions: “…a private soldier who had been such a powerful influence amongst his compatriots in the Turkish soldier’s company at Pyoktong, that the Chinese had believed him to be an officer. Fortunately, they were still not sure about his rank; they had no efficient Turkish interpreter in Korea”.(19)
From what has already been mentioned, one can easily conclude what is often lost in the depth of history. That behind big words and official statements, lies the political expediency and the support of an aim. So even in Korea, the Americans wished to raise in the eyes of public their Allies, contributing with forces to the Korean War. Not forgetting that most of the army units were coming from countries that already were, or were to become NATO members and it had to be shown that (especially to the new allies such as the Turks) were considered to be equal. They also had to find ways, as it was understood, to maintain and elevate the morale through the cultivation of a spirit of noble competition, among the Allied forces, based on the strong socle of anticommunism. The reports from people that participated in the Korean War, with respect to the level of morale of the Allies, indicate that the picture attributed by the novelistic and epic style of books, had nothing to do with the hard reality. Despite this, today the foreign veterans are giving easily the titles of “fearless” and “the toughest” to their Turkish comrades in arms; more a move of sympathy for the poor and clumsy Turks that suffered heavily than justified words.
1) Thomas Nigel/ Abbott Peter/ Mike Chappel, The Korean War 1950-53, Osprey 1986, p. 21.
2) Ntokos Thanos/ Protonotarios Nikos, The Turkish military power. A challenge for the Hellenic National security, Konstantinos Tourikis Publications 1994, p. 49.
3) Stokesbury James, A short history of the Korean War, 1988, p. 238.
4) Stokesbury James, A short history of the Korean War, 1988, p. 299.
5) Clay Blair, The forgotten war. America in Korea 1950-1953, New York Times books 1987, p. 451.
6) Clay Blair, The forgotten war. America in Korea 1950-1953, New York Times books 1987, p. 451.
7) Robert Leckie, Conflict: The history of the Korean War 1950-1953, G.P. Putham’s Sons 1962, p. 202, 203.
8) Hellenic Army General Staff/ Military History Directorate, The Hellenic Expeditionary Force in Korea 1950-1955, Athens 1977, p. 18.
9) Raymond Cartier, The Afterwar World History, Volume A 1945-1953, Papyrus/Parismatch 1970.
10) Clay Blair, The forgotten war. America in Korea 1950-1953, New York Times books 1987, p. 452.
11) Clay Blair, The forgotten war. America in Korea 1950-1953, New York Times books 1987, p. 455.
12) Clay Blair, The forgotten war. America in Korea 1950-1953, New York Times books 1987, p. 455.
13) Russel Spurr, Enter the Dragon: China’s undeclared war against the US in Korea, Newmarket Press 1988, p. 192.
14) Clay Blair, The forgotten war. America in Korea 1950-1953, New York Times books 1987, p. 657.
15) Harry G. Summers, Colonel US Army (Ret), Korean War Almanac, New York 1990, p. 280.
16) Thomas Nigel/ Abbott Peter/ Mike Chappel, The Korean War 1950-53, Osprey 1986, p. 21.
17) Clay Blair, The forgotten war. America in Korea 1950-1953, New York Times books 1987, p. 826.
18) Max Hastings, The Korean War, Pan Macmillan, New York 1987, p. 328.
19) Anthony Farrar, The edge of the sword, 1954, p. 246.
- Antony Farrar, The edge of the sword, 1954.
- Robert Leckie, Conflict: The history of the Korean War 1950-1953, GP Putham’s Sons 1962.
- Raymond Cartier, The Afterwar World History, Volume A 1945-1953, Papyrus/Parismatch 1970.
- Hellenic Army General Staff / Military History Directorate, The Hellenic Expeditionary Force in Korea 1950-1955, Athens 1977.
- Nigel Thomas, Peter Abbott, Mike Chappell, The Korean War 1950-53, Osprey 1986.
- Clay Blair, The forgotten war. America in Korea 1950-1953, New York Times books 1987.
- Russel Spurr, Enter the Dragon: China’s undeclared war against the US in Korea, Newmarket Press 1988.
- James L. Stokesbury, A short history of the Korean War, 1988.
- Thanos Ntokos & Nikos Protonotarios, The Turkish military power. A challenge for the Hellenic National security, Konstantinos Tourikis Publications 1994.