Nationalist Chinese Army

Sun Yat-sen’s decision to develop the Guomindang KMT’s own military force led directly to the founding of the Chinese Nationalist Party Army Officer Academy in 1924. The choice of site was determined by Sun’s own limited power base, which at that time barely extended beyond Canton (Guangzhou). The academy was located on Huangbu Island near Canton (with the name Whampoa derived from the Cantonese pronunciation). Chiang Kai-shek acted as commandant, and the school’s military curriculum was set up under the guidance of the Soviet advisory group, utilizing the latest military theories and techniques, albeit with a distinct Soviet flavor. Unfortunately, the exigencies of the revolution severely limited the time available for training, so the emphasis naturally had to be on the practical knowledge and skills required on the battlefield. Like all other Chinese military schools, Whampoa was influenced by Japanese models. There was, however, one way in which Whampoa differed from the other schools: From the very beginning political instruction played a major part in the training. All told, there were more than twenty topics covered in the political curriculum, including Sun Yat-sen’s own ideology of the “Three Principles of the People” (San Min Zhuyi), the anatomy of imperialism, Soviet studies, comparative political systems, revolutionary history, and the study of student, peasant, and labor movements. Further reflecting the Soviet experience, the Whampoa school also established a political bureau and arranged for a system of party representatives (in this case from the KMT) who were modeled after the commissars of the Red Army. They supervised day-to-day administration, participated in management decisions, directed party activities, and personally took charge of political training in their units. In general, they were responsible for ensuring that all military training and combat missions were completed, and to that end, all orders issued by military commanders had to obtain the endorsement of the party representative before implementation.

As commander of the Whampoa forces, Chiang Kai-shek often boasted that his troops were the first in China to have a party commissar system. Despite his later break with the Communists, Chiang was always a supporter of an effective commissar system and political training for his troops. In his drive to turn the KMT force into a Chinese version of the Soviet Red Army, Chiang stressed the use of Sun’s Three Principles of the People as the basis for political indoctrination. This commissar system was preserved even after the success of the Northern Expedition, the split with the CCP, and the reunification of the country, with special party bureaus being retained in all formations above the divisional level. Unfortunately, over time the system lost its effectiveness as more and more party representatives were appointed from above as opposed to being elected from members within a given military unit. That, coupled with the fact that the appointees were often full-time party workers with other more pressing responsibilities, ensured that the system gradually lost its coherence and eventually came to exist in name only.

In the first eventful years of its existence, the Whampoa-based military arm of the Guomindang underwent numerous changes. In late 1924, only a few months after the school had opened, the first training regiment was activated. School instructors led this regiment, and the very first graduates acted as platoon commanders. The bulk of the ordinary soldiers were selected from the hodgepodge of other units loyal to Sun Yat-sen in the greater Canton area. As more cadets graduated, Sun added a second training regiment and officially christened the academy force the Guomindang Party Army. Sun himself acted as generalissimo, and appointed Whampoa commandant Chiang Kai-shek as his military secretary. In April 1925 Chiang was appointed commander of the constantly expanding Party Army, and in August of that same year, the Military Affairs Committee of the KMT announced the organization of a National Revolutionary Army, with the two Whampoa training regiments joining to form its first division. From this point on, all units under the jurisdiction of the Nationalist regime were collectively known as the National Revolutionary Army.

The first Whampoa graduates gave an excellent account of themselves during the Eastern (1925) and Northern (1926–1928) Expeditions. Although Sun’s warlord allies did much of the fighting, the students and staff played an important role in both campaigns, and to a certain extent their determination and daring compensated for the tactical inexperience of some of their commanders. Although they were often at odds with Chiang Kai-shek and his staff over both strategic and tactical issues and considered the much-celebrated attack on Huizhou (during the Eastern Expedition) to be an unnecessary waste of lives, even the hardened Soviet advisors were impressed by the performance of the Whampoa units. They displayed a level of esprit de corps and combat tenacity that had largely been absent from the internecine squabbles of the warlords, and their enemies generally gave way before the firebrands from Whampoa. Indeed, many of the students and staff went on to play important roles in modern Chinese history. By the end of the 1940s, many of those who had once held positions on the school staff were serving as commanders-in-chief, provincial governors, or heads of central government ministries. Many Whampoa graduates, particularly those from the first four classes, went on to hold command positions at the division and corps level. These former students and staff were often seen as an elite group within the military, and were generally referred to as the Whampoa clique.

With the success of the Northern Expedition and the reunification of most of the nation, the military academy followed the KMT government to the new capital at Nanjing, and in March 1928 the new school was officially renamed the Central Military Academy. In the aftermath of unification, faced as they were with a bewildering array of disparate local and regional forces, the new government had to deal with the difficult task of standardizing both military education and military organization throughout the country. The Central Military Academy played a crucial role in this process, becoming in effect the breeding ground for the officers-cum-agents of centralization that were posted to every unit across the country Chiang Kai-shek’s task was made somewhat easier through the assistance of a quasi-official German military advisory group that came to China in the early 1930s, and the quality of the officers who graduated during this period was considered quite high.

Unfortunately, the small numbers of advisors and the demands of the ongoing anti-Communist campaigns made it difficult to expand the school quickly enough to meet the demand for junior officers. Between 1928 and 1937, the Central Military Academy only graduated 10,731 officers, a number that fell far short of even the peacetime requirements of an army as large as China’s. With the outbreak of the Anti-Japanese War in 1937, the high number of casualties and the rapid expansion of the army essentially prevented Academy graduates from exerting any decisive influence on the quality of Chiang’s troops. In the furious fighting that followed the outbreak of the war with Japan, the attrition rate for lower-level officers was extremely high. For example, during the fighting in and around Shanghai in late 1937, which saw Chiang Kai-shek commit his crack German-trained divisions to a battle of attrition with the Japanese, almost 10,000 lower-level officers were lost in a single three-month period. With no way to replace losses on that scale, a vacuum quickly developed. The demand for new officers grew quickly, and lowering the threshold entry requirements turned out to be the easiest way to bring in more candidates.

Prewar regulations had stipulated that only high school graduates could sit for the Academy’s entrance exams. Starting in 1937, however, those standards were lowered to include junior high graduates, and it was not unheard of for some who had not even attained that level of schooling to gain admission. Prior to the war against Japan, the pay and benefits of officers had improved to the point where they were considered quite good, and as a result there were large numbers of applicants for the limited positions in the Central Military Academy and the school could afford to be selective. For example, when the school started looking for students for the twelfth class in 1935, the acceptance rate was only 7 percent. Due to the large increase in the number of students needed after the outbreak of the war with Japan, the acceptance rate rose dramatically. According to the records for the Number Six Branch School of the Military Academy, the acceptance rate in 1940 was as high as 87 percent. Not only were more candidates being accepted, both the curriculum and the training period were reduced. During the war, the time cadets spent at the Central Military Academy and its various branch schools, including the period spent on basic training, was at most two years and seven months, with some courses lasting less than nine months. The constant pressure to produce more officers in less time was exacerbated by wartime shortages of funds and equipment, and the lack of a rigid quality-control system inevitably led to a decline in the quality of the graduates, thus undoing much of what had been accomplished in the prewar period.

Most of the original commanders of the National Revolutionary Army were graduates of the Baoding Military Academy founded by Duan Qirui in 1912. By the time of the outbreak of the war with Japan, the place of these Baoding graduates had been taken over by the new Whampoa officers. This trend was clearest among those officers who actually exercised direct control over troops, such as corps and divisional commanders. Most of those wartime general-level officers had graduated from the earliest Whampoa classes, receiving only an abbreviated course of training (six months to one year), and therefore their basic military education was limited. The Army War College was the main organization responsible for providing further in-depth tactical, strategic, and administrative training for commanders, but the number of graduates was far too small to have any significant impact. By the end of the war with Japan, there were only 2,100 War College graduates throughout the army, and most commanders had not been to the school. In the armies of most advanced nations, officer academy graduates were able to further their military education through a carefully planned rotation system among different positions, units, and specialized schools. This ensured that those officers who rose to high rank were well versed in their own trade and familiar with the workings of other branches. Officers in the National Army rarely had that opportunity, and this was reflected in their generally low level of professional knowledge.

Following the founding of the National Revolutionary Army, the steady succession of campaigns and the high number of casualties among the Whampoa officers—who tended to lead from the front in the early days—resulted in excessively rapid promotions and a corresponding decrease in opportunities to gain necessary experience at every level. These factors conspired to prevent Chiang Kai-shek from improving the quality of his commanders, and it is not surprising that at a conference in 1938 Chiang himself pointed out that in terms of military knowledge and skills his commanders were inferior to officers in Western armies, and were not even comparable to their counterparts in the Japanese Imperial Army. He even went so far as to say, “We who are commanders-in-chief are only comparable to their regimental commanders, and our corps and division commanders are only fit to act as their battalion or company commanders.”

The poor quality of Chiang’s commanders was compounded by the lack of a sound general staff system. Although the quality of staff officers had improved by the end of the war, and most of the general staff officers in the various war zones and group armies above the rank of colonel were graduates of formal military schools or the War College, many local units lacked a sound staff system. All too often these units adhered to the old notion, “If someone is literate, then he can be a staff officer; if someone is illiterate, then he can be an aide-de-camp.” Literacy, while essential to staff work, is hardly in itself an adequate substitute for a solid foundation in administration, logistics, operational planning, or even the elementary military skill of map reading. By way of comparison, during the war 35 percent of the Japanese general staff were graduates of Japan’s Army War College. The Japanese staff system had been created along German lines, and had been in place for far longer than its Chinese equivalent, so it is not surprising that the Japanese staff corps was superior to that of the Nationalist army throughout the war.

As one might expect, the dramatic increase in the demand for lower level officers during the war led to a corresponding increase in the number of men commissioned from the ranks. While this had been a common practice in the prewar army, with the statistics from 1930 showing that 29.1 percent of the total number of officers in the Central Army had been commissioned from the ranks, this number was bound to increase in response to the huge losses suffered in the opening stages of the Anti-Japanese War. Officers from the ranks were not necessarily inferior to their academy-trained counterparts; while acting as the vice chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission, the wily former foot soldier and warlord Feng Yuxiang went so far as to claim that 85 percent of the bravest and most talented fighting officers came from the ranks. As the number of officers commissioned from the ranks increased, the percentage of military school graduates correspondingly decreased. In 1930, 70.9 percent of the officers in the Central Army were graduates of military schools. By 1944, the percentage of lower-level officers who had passed through some sort of formal military school had dropped to 27 percent.

The factor that most affected the quality of middle- and lower-echelon officers was the kind of education they received. Following the founding of the army, the official tactical doctrines and training standards were changed frequently, which naturally resulted in some confusion in the schools. For example, while still in Guangdong prior to the start of the Northern Expedition, the army used verbal commands derived from Japanese along with Soviet-style training and organization. During the Nanjing period, the Central Military Academy adopted German tactical doctrine, while the Infantry School continued to follow the Japanese model as laid out in the manuals published by the Inspectorate General for Training. The War College simultaneously used both German and Japanese doctrine. Following the start of the war, Japanese doctrine remained influential, but it was increasingly mixed in with Soviet, German, and American doctrine. Wartime military journals reveal that army officers studied doctrine from many countries, with no one system predominating, but these imported ideas had only a superficial impact on the Nationalist army. Although in the later stages of the war troops trained in India, Yunnan, and Guilin all embraced American doctrine, other units continued to do as they pleased. This lack of standardization, which extended even to the terms the army used in its day-to-day operations, naturally had a deleterious effect on troop training.

The lack of standardized doctrine was but one of the many organizational problems that plagued the Nationalist army. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, organization and equipment varied widely, and the steady stream of provisional reorganization plans flowing out of Nanjing did not help this situation. Far more important, while the skills emphasized in the schools were usually taught using the most current equipment, it was nearly always the case that when the students graduated and were posted to their units, they would discover that their troops possessed neither modern nor standard equipment. As one horrified observer noted, many supplies and materials were stored like junk in an old warehouse, with no two pieces of equipment identical. As a result, the new officers often felt that the skills they had learned at the various schools were irrelevant to the actual problems they faced once posted to their units. The lack of equipment and logistical support, the high level of illiteracy among the troops, poor morale, and a high desertion rate all combined to thwart even the most motivated of junior officers. In addition, like the higher echelon officers, mid- and low-level officers of the Nationalist army had to spend much of their time on duties beyond the scope of their normal military responsibilities.

As the army found itself moving into areas either previously beyond the reach of Nanjing or simply overlooked by the resource-starved government, officers found themselves forced to take on the civil duties of an army of occupation in their own country. Only rarely could officers devote themselves exclusively to their military duties, and the need to assume civil administrative functions impaired their ability to fight. Most units considered themselves lucky if they could devote three days a week to training. Even if they were free to focus on their military duties, officers were burdened with an administrative system that was a nightmarish web of overlapping jurisdictions, infested with petty tyrants who wielded power out of all proportion to their actual rank. When it came to dealing with the various organizations that controlled money and supplies, all but the most powerful officers were forced to grovel. In order to get the resources needed to survive on a day-to-day basis, let alone fight, officers had to be willing to appear subservient before even the lowliest of clerks. As the power and position of those they were dealing with increased, so too did the time and effort officers had to expend to obtain what would have been considered normal administrative and logistical support in any other army. Even the relationships with their own immediate superiors could be burdensome in terms of time and money. Reflecting the influence of traditional Chinese bureaucratic practices, officers were expected to socialize with, or perhaps more accurately, court, their superiors or anyone else who could expedite their career progression.

If the officers in the Nationalist army had to concern themselves with so many things tangential to their main duties, how could they be expected to realize their full potential as military commanders? Even if an officer was talented, the conditions that prevailed in the Nationalist army made it unlikely that he would get a chance to prove himself. An American military officer who was in China for many years during the war pointed out that if an officer in the Nationalist army could perform well in China, he would surely also perform well abroad. The historian Ray Huang, himself a graduate of the Central Military Academy, claimed that if Chinese officers were given a chance to go abroad and command English or French troops, they would surely prove to be first-class officers. This was in fact the case when Chinese troops were dispatched to Burma to participate in the Allied campaigns there. Once freed from the political, economic, and administrative constraints that existed in China, the Nationalist officers proved to be every bit as competent as their Allied counterparts.

Aside from suffering from a scarcity of resources and an undertrained, undersized officer corps that was handicapped by a Byzantine bureaucratic culture, the Nationalist army also suffered from a chronic shortage of suitable recruits. Prior to the war, the Nanjing regime relied on a volunteer recruitment system that was essentially identical to that of the earlier Beiyang Army. Individual units were required to send out teams to their favorite hunting grounds to seek recruits, which accounts for the distinctly regional flavor of many regiments. In 1933, as part of a German-inspired plan to modernize China’s defense preparedness, the government promulgated a conscription law; however, the law was only put into effect following the outbreak of the war with Japan. According to available statistics, China conscripted a total of 14,049,024 men between 1937 and 1945. This seems like a rather impressive number, but given China’s large population it does not represent a high degree of mobilization. F. F. Liu compared the mobilization figures for all of the major powers during World War II, and he calculated that China’s mobilization index (average number of men mobilized per year as a percentage of the total population) was only 0.4 percent. That figure falls far short of Japan’s 1.3 percent, England’s 1.4 percent, the United States’s 2.4 percent, Russia’s 3.0 percent, and Germany’s 3.8 percent.

China’s failure to achieve a degree of mobilization comparable to the other combatants was in large part due to the fact that Chinese society failed to meet many of the basic preconditions for the successful implementation of compulsory service. First, China lacked a sound household register system, and without detailed population records it was very difficult to track down all the draft-eligible men. The Nanjing regime had been trying, but following the Japanese attack and the government’s retreat into the interior, they found themselves cut off from precisely those areas in which they had made the most progress. Second, the successful implementation of the conscription law depended on the cooperation of cadres at the lowest levels, and many of them were simply not interested in actively enforcing an unpopular law. Sometimes cadres were understandably reluctant to draft their friends and relatives. On other occasions they were threatened by local bullies, and chose discretion over valor in the absence of any concrete help from the central government. Often the cadres simply accepted bribes from local notables, agreeing in exchange to pass over their relatives or accept illegal substitutions. Third, household incomes were generally low throughout the country. The wartime pay of conscripts was appallingly low, even by contemporary Chinese standards, and if the draftee happened to be a key breadwinner or vital source of farm labor, his household could quickly find itself in trouble. The serious economic consequences for families of draftees led many to view military service as the first step on the road to ruin. Finally, the low level of literacy in China and the parochialism it fostered meant that many Chinese simply did not understand the need for conscription during the war, especially if they lived outside the war zones. Military service still suffered from image problems associated with the wanton looting and destruction of the warlord period, and the notion that “good men do not become soldiers” was pervasive in Chinese society. This in turn encouraged the practice of draft avoidance. Because the literate (who presumably knew what was coming), the wealthy, and the powerful could avoid conscription by flight or corruption, most of those ensnared were illiterate peasants from poor households who were often in poor physical condition.

Most military authorities are of the opinion that peasants are possessed of many military virtues, such as simplicity, sincerity, bravery, obedience, tenacity, and the ability to stoically endure great hardship. According to one prewar American military observer, the Chinese peasant was excellent soldier material, having infinite patience, a natural deference to authority, and a robust physique. If provided with suitable training and equipment, enough to eat, and clothes to wear, the Chinese would make good soldiers even by American standards. It was also noted that although most Chinese soldiers were illiterate, their learning ability was quite impressive. An Allied observer noted that whereas it took American GIs four or five days to master the intricacies of the flamethrower, Chinese troops required only two or at most four days to master the same weapon. As was the case with their officers, it seemed that when Chinese troops were freed from the limits imposed on them by their own straitened circumstances, they were capable of performing as well as their Allied counterparts.

Sadly, for the majority of the Nationalist troops who were not part of American training programs after 1941, conditions continued to deteriorate. As China’s financial situation worsened, the resources available to the army began to shrink, and this had a negative impact on its fighting strength. The soldiers, who had never really enjoyed an abundance of food, began to manifest signs of malnutrition. In 1944 an American expert undertook a medical inspection of some 1,200 Chinese soldiers from throughout the army. His findings revealed that fully 57 percent of those he examined were undernourished. Prolonged malnutrition, coupled with poor sanitation and a shortage of medical services, resulted in a large number of cases of preventable diseases, such as night blindness, trachoma, scabies, anemia, and parasitic infections. The Nationalist army had only one doctor for every 1,700 to 3,400 men, as compared to one for every 210 men in Britain and one for every 150 men in the United States. This critical shortage of doctors and the primitive state of medical facilities made it impossible for the army to gain the upper hand in its fight against these preventable illnesses.

The real income of the soldiers also experienced a rapid decline, which exacerbated already poor morale. Up until the outbreak of the war, the army’s pay and benefits had continued to improve. Relatively high rates of pay and good benefits, coupled with the flowering of Chinese nationalism during the 1930s, meant that the army enjoyed an unprecedented popularity. Even many students indicated their desire to pursue a military career, and one survey showed that military officer ranked higher than both doctor and lawyer on a list of desirable professions. This popularity was fleeting, however, and by the time the war had entered its middle stage after a long succession of embarrassing defeats, an army career had lost its appeal for most Chinese youths. Military pay and benefits declined drastically, and by the midpoint of the war they could not even compare with the earnings of coolies and rickshaw drivers (in 1943 a second-class private earned a monthly salary equivalent to only 7.5 American cents). By the end of the war, the military’s position in society had declined so far that common soldiers were seen as little better than beggars.

As serious as the Nationalist army’s financial and personnel problems were, its supply difficulties were even greater. Following the establishment of the Nationalist army, its organization and training models changed with bewildering rapidity, leaving weapons-procurement policies in a state of continuous flux. As had been the case with all previous Chinese regimes, the Nanjing government found itself unable to produce domestically the type and quantity of weapons required by its ambitious rearmament program. It was also unable to purchase all that it needed from overseas, and as a result the army was saddled with a collection of unstandardized weapons drawn from every conceivable source. They ranged from centuries-old spears and lances to the very latest automatic rifles and antiaircraft guns. It seemed that no weapon was too old or too exotic for the Chinese, and they had in service at any given time weapons from countries such as Japan, Germany, France, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Switzerland, along with the products of their own diverse arsenals. As the army planners were well aware, such a hodgepodge of weapons made for a logistical nightmare.

When war broke out, the army found itself dependent on large-scale imports of munitions from Germany, the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, France, and Czechoslovakia. This diversity of weapons meant that ammunition and parts were not interchangeable, and that in turn greatly increased the burden on the already overstrained supply system. For example, those units that were lucky enough to receive American weapons during the latter stages of the war enjoyed a marked increase in their firepower and mobility. However, when the American government imposed a weapons embargo on Nanjing following the end of the Pacific War (the American intention being to force a reluctant Nationalist government to abandon a military solution to the CCP problem in favor of a negotiated solution), the combat effectiveness of those same units deteriorated rapidly. In 1947 a reporter visiting Nationalist units at Shenyang discovered that the cargo trucks, armored vehicles, and other transport belonging to some mechanized units had been abandoned at various barracks due to a lack of spare parts. Exposed to the elements, these hard-to-come-by assets were quickly being reduced to piles of rust. In another case, an artillery regiment that was equipped with powerful American 155mm howitzers had been crippled by ammunition shortages and could no longer scrounge sufficient gasoline for the trucks needed to move the guns. Despite their superior equipment, they were less effective than another regiment armed with older, mule-drawn Japanese 150mm guns, which could be supplied from the ample ammunition stockpiles left behind after the war.

Aside from their dependence on external sources of supply, the Nationalist army confronted yet another major logistical problem. China’s poor interior infrastructure and the widely scattered battle lines meant that the army had to rely on human labor for many transport and construction tasks. As with its attempts to conscript soldiers, the Nationalist army encountered many problems in trying to raise the necessary civilian levies. The pay offered to the civilian laborers was excessively low, insufficient even to support the workers, let alone compensate them for the cost of whatever tools they may have contributed. Civilians generally recoiled in apprehension at the prospect of serving, and few stepped forward of their own volition. Many simply fled, while others went so far as to destroy their own tools. This stands in stark contrast to the success the Communists enjoyed in mobilizing civilians. According to the memoirs of one Communist commander, one of the key factors in their success at the Civil War battle of Huai Hai (November 1948-January 1949) was the huge number of large and small carts provided by the peasants. During the course of this long battle, the Communists claim to have mobilized more than 5 million civilian workers in five different provinces. Utilizing 230,000 stretchers, 800,000 carts of various types, and their own backs, they moved 110,000 casualties, 342 million kilograms of food, and 3.3 million tons of ammunition. There is still an ongoing debate as to whether their success in mobilizing this type of civilian support was due to their organizational expertise or the allure of their land reform program, but it is an indisputable fact that their ability to evacuate their wounded and maintain a constant flow of supplies to the front contributed in no small measure to their victory.


BAV-485 amphibious carrier

Derived directly from the wartime 6 x 6 DUKW provided under Lend-Lease, the BAV-485 is a watertight boat-like body on a Soviet truck chassis.

Following the successful use of American-supplied DUKW 6×6 amphibious vehicles by the Soviet army during World War II, it was decided to build a similar vehicle but based on a Soviet truck chassis. This finally appeared in the early 195Os as the BAV-485, sometimes called the ZIL-485, The layout of the BAV-485 is similar to that of. the American DUKW with the engine and transmission at the front, crew seats to the rear of the engine compartment, and the cargo area at the rear. A maximum of 2500 kg (5,511-lb) of cargo or 25 fully equipped troops can be carried. The crew at the front are provided with a windscreen which can be folded forwards, and if required bows and a tarpaulin cover can be erected over the crew and troop compartments. A major improvement over the original American DUKW is the installation of a drop-down tailgate at the very rear of the cargo compartment, which enables light vehicles, mortars and light artillery weapons to be loaded very quickly. The engine is coupled to a manual gearbox with five forward and one reverse gear, and a two-speed transfer case,- The main brakes are pneumatic, with a mechanical parking brake that operates on the rear wheels only. The BAV-485 is powered in the water by a single three-blade propeller mounted under the rear of the hull, and before the vehicle enters the water bilge pumps must be switched on.

The basic BAV-485 was based on the ZIL-151 6×6 2500-ks (5,511-1b) truck chassis built by the Likhachev Motor Vehicle Plant ln Moscow between 1947 and 1958. Later production vehicles were based on the ZIL-157 6×6 2500-kg (5,511-1b) truck chassis built at the same plant between l95B and 1961, this model being designated the BAV-485A. The major difference between the BAV-485 and the later BAV-485A is that the former has external air lines for the central tyre pressure-regulation system while the latter has internal air lines which are less easily damaged. The central tyre pressure-regulation system is a common feature on Soviet wheeled armoured vehicles and military trucks, and enables the driver to adjust the ground pressure to suit the ground being crossed. It is by no means a new idea, however, as the Americans had a similar system on their DUKWs during World War II. Some BAV-4BSs have been observed with a 12.7-mm (0.5-in) DShKM heavy machine-gun for anti-aircraft defence, this being mounted on the forward right side of the troop compartment.

Specification BAV-485

Crew: 1+ 1

Combat weight: on land and on water 9650 kg (21,275-lb)

Powerplant: one ZIL- 123 6-cylinder petrol engine developing 110 hp (82 kW)

Dimensions: length 9.54 m (31 ft 3.6 in) width 2.845 m (9 ft 4 in): height 2.66 m(8 ft 8.7 in)

Performance: maximum road speed 60 km/h (37.3 mph); maximum water speed 10 km/h (6.2 mph) maximum road range 480 km (298 miles); fording amphibious; gradient 60 per cent; vertical obstacle 0.4 m (1 ft 4 in); trench not applicable


More DUKWs

Pronounced “duck,” this 2.5-ton, six-wheel-drive amphibious vehicle was put into service with the USMC and U. S. Army in 1942. Built on a truck chassis, the DUKW could carry 25 fully equipped troops. Clumsy and slow, DUKWs were little used by the USMC in the Pacific during WORLD W AR II, although a USMC DUKW company saw action at IWO JIMA. Most DUKWs were used by the army in the European theater. Operation HUSKY was also the first Allied invasion of the war in which the specially designed amphibious DUKW truck was employed.


The Army Rescues the Navy. There was some objection to the DUKWs as a waste of resources. The first were shipped to Cape Cod, where they joined the U. S. Army’s 1st Engineer Amphibian Brigade. That winter when a Coast Guard boat foundered in high winds and a DUKW rescued its seven-man crew, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson informed President Franklin D. Roosevelt at a cabinet meeting that “Two nights ago on Cape Cod, an army truck rescued the men from a stranded naval vessel.” This ended any opposition to the new vehicle, which was then sent to war.

The DUKW amphibian truck was one of the most innovative logistical developments of World War II. Based on the highly successful Yellow Truck 2.5-ton truck, the new vehicle was developed to meet the need for an amphibian vehicle capable of delivering men and supplies over the beaches on remote islands without dock facilities in the Pacific theater. DUKW production was 37,000 units during the war.

When approached about the possibility, General Motors, which had bought out Yellow Truck, took little more than a month to produce four pilot models. The new vehicle took its name from the company code of D for the year (1942), U for utility, K for four-wheel drive, and W for two rear-driving axles. The “Duck,” as it became known, weighed 7.5 tons empty; was 31 feet long and 8 feet wide; was powered by an 8-cylinder, 91-horsepower engine; and could transport up to 50 troops or 2.5 tons of supplies.

Buoyancy was provided by giving it a body composed largely of sealed, empty tanks. On land the DUKW employed its six driving wheels, while in the water it used its marine propeller and rudder. On land it could reach road speeds of 45 miles per hour, while its maximum water speed was 5 miles per hour. In order to prevent the DUKW from becoming bogged down in sand, tire pressure was kept low. Once the vehicle was on a solid surface, the driver used a device to inflate the tires from an air compressor and air storage tank. The DUKW entered the U. S. military inventory in October 1942. The DUKWs entered the Pacific fighting in operations against Nouméa in New Caledonia. In the European theater, DUKWs were employed most notably in the Sicily landings and at Normandy, where in the first 90 days after the initial landings they moved ashore 18 million tons of supplies.

A number of DUKWs remain in service to transport tourists. They have also been used to rescue civilians stranded by natural disasters, such as flooding.


Captain F. J. Walker, CB, DSO and three bars, DSC and two bars

Out With U-boat Killer Number 1; the Second Escort Group’s Success. 26 January To 25 February 1944, on Board HMS Starling. With the 2nd Escort Group, Commanded by Captain F J Walker, CB, DSO and Two Bars, on His Most Recent and Most Successful Patrol. Three of the Group’s Six U-boat “kills” Were Made Within 16 Hours. The sloop WOODPECKER goes into the attack and Captain Walker shouts encouragement to her through the loud hailer.

To the end of the war the main anti-U-boat weapon would continue to be the 300-lb depth charge. The outstanding practitioner with this was Captain Walker, whose 2nd Escort Group accounted for fourteen U-boats while under his command. Walker’s high peak of achievement was his 27- day cruise in the Western Approaches between 31 January and 26 February, 1944. In the course of this the 2nd Escort Group sank no fewer than six U-boats; the full total of U-boats sunk during this strenuous four-week period was eleven, while twelve large Atlantic convoys passed safe and unmolested to their destinations. In these operations Walker made extensive use of what was known as his ‘creeping attack’ method, which he himself called ‘Operation Plaster’. This was essentially a group tactic, already perfected by the end of 1943. It was designed not merely to overcome but to exploit the ASDIC characteristic generally regarded as a weakness – the loss of contact when the attacking ship’s ASDIC beam passed right over the submarine. From the U-boat captain’s point of view, although the constant ping of ASDIC on the hull of his boat could be somewhat unnerving, it was also useful for placing the attacker; when the pinging stopped, attack was imminent, and the U-boat would take all possible evasive measures. Walker’s method was to make his attack while the U-boat was still in ASDIC contact, and pending the perfection of the ahead-throwing weapons, he saw that this could be done very satisfactorily by close cooperation in his Group.

Walker’s method had all the merit of simplicity: its cardinal requirements were a superbly trained group, endless patience, stamina and a large supply of depth charges. In a typical ‘creeping attack’ on a U- boat that had dived deep, one ship (more often than not Walker’s own sloop, Starling – he was, after all, known in the Group as ‘the Boss’) would take the role of directing ship. She would station herself some 1-1,500 yards from a located U-boat which she then stalked by ASDIC contact at a speed matching the U-boat’s, which might be as low as 2 knots. If the U-boat captain was a skilful evader, or if the contact was made on a dark night with the risk of losing the quarry once depth charges broke the ASDIC link, the stalking might take a long time, but while it continued it would be rare for a U-boat to shake off the skilled ASDIC operators of the 2nd E. G. So the U-boat captain (and his crew) would know from the steady ping that he was being pursued, but he would also know that the hunter was half to three-quarters of a mile away. And thus the manoeuvre would proceed until the moment came when the director called the attacking ship to pass him and take station ahead on the same course. She would then close the V-boat very slowly, probably at no more than 5 knots, so as not to be detected on the hydrophones, and also to avoid German acoustic torpedoes. The directing ship would range on her as she advanced, and at the moment when her range exceeded the ASDIC range of the V-boat by the distance this would travel while the depth charges were descending, the director would make the signal to fire. Operation ‘Plaster’ would now begin, perhaps with a salvo of as many as twenty-six charges, dropped in pairs and set to explode at 500-740 feet along the course of the unsuspecting U-boat. If the latter showed a disposition towards evasive action, Walker would have three attackers in line abreast, so that whichever way the V-boat turned, it would be caught. There were no reports on this tactic to U-boat Command, because once held in the vice of the 2nd EG’s ASDIC, no U-boat survived. Walker hunted to the death.

On 31 January, 1944, the attacking ship was Wild Goose (Lieutenant-Commander D. E. G. Wemyss), the U-boat was U 592, and the action was all over very quickly. Creeping attacks were elaborate affairs, and not always necessary. On 8 February it was the turn of HMS Woodpecker, attacking U 762; her first salvo of twenty-two charges was so well placed that no more was needed and Walker made the famous signal to Commander H. L. Pryse,

Come over here and look at the mess you have made.

The next day was a big one for the 2nd EG: two U-boats were destroyed, both by creeping attacks. In the early morning (0615) Wild Goose once more obtained a contact some 10 miles from the homeward-bound convoy SL 147; she called up Starling and the two sloops began a creeping attack which lasted 3 hours and 25 minutes, ending in the destruction of U 734. At almost the same time as Wild Goose’s contact, HMS Kite, following an HF/DF bearing, sighted U 238 some 800 yards off, coming out of the mist. The U-boat dived at once, and Kite, later joined by Magpie, began a long vigil. U 238 was well-handled and elusive; the hours went by, Kite’s depth charges were almost all expended, when Starling and Wild Goose arrived from their earlier victory, and Walker directed Magpie in a creeping attack which began with a Hedgehog salvo, continued with depth charges and destroyed the U-boat. It had taken 8 hours and 266 depth charges to perform the deed. The Group’s fifth sinking came on 11 February, and once again it was Wild Goose that made the contact, and in company with Woodpecker carried out the destruction of U 424 after three attacks. The final (sixth) success had to wait just over a week – until February 19; once more Woodpecker was in the fray, obtaining a contact which, after seven hours, enabled her and Starling to force U 264 to the surface. Her crew abandoned ship and the U-boat went down for the last time; the men were all picked up by the 2nd EG. They were the lucky ones.

In this astonishing action (or series of actions), all, it should be noted, in the vicinity of convoys (hence the abundance of U-boat contacts), Walker’s group had fired off no fewer than 634 depth charges (one wonders that any fish were left alive in the sea). The presence of convoys had a double value in the light of that figure; obviously, some means of replenishment was essential if these tactics were to continue, and sure enough, we find Kite, on 9 February, obtaining a fresh supply of depth charges from a merchantman in HX 277. So we perceive that the tried and trusted anti-submarine weapon remained the essential ingredient in a triumph which, amongst much else, underlined once more the obsolescence of the tried and trusted U-boats of 1939-42. These battles, says Roskill,

marked the climax not only of Captain Walker’s achievements but of the whole long-drawn, bitter offensive by the convoy escorts against their cunning and ruthless enemies.

There was a price to pay, part of it only sad, part irremediable. On the day of her last success, HMS Woodpecker was hit by an acoustic torpedo and her stern blown off. Despite seven days of valiant effort to bring her home, she capsized on 27 February in a storm which finished off the U-boat’s work; by great good fortune, her entire ship’s company was saved. Woodpecker was the 2nd Escort Group’s sole casualty in this whole climactic action; but it had taken a toll which exacted a further most grievous loss not long after. Walker, in these engagements, was like Nelson; every nerve vibrated in him, the battle burnt him like a flame. He hardly ever left the bridge; nourished by corned beef sandwiches and hot cocoa, clad in an old grey pullover and stained leather waistcoat, his senses were alert to every nuance of the action, he breathed his ardour into every phase of it. And Nature claimed its price: on 9 July, 1944, Captain F. J. Walker, CB, DSO and three bars, DSC and two bars, died of a stroke brought on by the cumulative strain of three years’ high intensity war. He was buried at sea – fittingly, for as Admiral Horton said at his funeral service in Liverpool Cathedral,

Not dust nor the light weight of a stone, but all the sea of the Western Approaches shall be his tomb.

And later, with an equally fitting allusion, Horton identified the ultimate secret of Walker’s success:

He trained and welded his own group into a splendidly efficient Band of Brothers.

The only consolation for such a loss was that the battle was now won.

Captain Walker’s Burial At Sea (1944)

Albania and the Ottomans

A memorial wall dedicated to George Kastrioti (1405–1468), also known as Skanderbeg, the national hero of the Albanian people, who repulsed 13 Ottoman invasions between 1444 and 1466.

Albania is a country in southeastern Europe in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula on the Strait of Otranto, the southern entrance to the Adriatic Sea. Present-day Albania is bordered by Greece to the south, Macedonia to the east, the Adriatic Sea to the west, and Montenegro and Kosovo to the north. Albanians are believed to be the descendants of the ancient Illyrians, who lived originally in central Europe and migrated south to the territory of present-day Albania sometime around 2000 BCE.

Because of its strategic location, Albania has been used as a land bridge by conquering armies and empires whose ambitions reached farther afield. In the second century BCE Albania was conquered by the Romans. Beginning at the end of the fourth century CE the Byzantine Empire seized the territory of present-day Albania. In the following centuries the country was invaded by Visigoths, Huns, Bulgars, and Slavs.

In the second half of the 14th century, when Sultan Murad I (r. 1362–1389) began to expand his territorial possessions in the Balkan Peninsula, Albania became a target of Ottoman expansion. A coalition of Christian states under the leadership of Prince Lazzar of Serbia fought the Ottomans but was eventually defeated at Kosovo Polje (Plain of Blackbirds) near Pristina in present-day Kosovo in 1389. Murad I was killed on the battlefield, but his son and successor, Bayezid I (r. 1389–1402), continued his father’s expansionist policies, pushing the boundaries of the Ottoman sultanate to the borders of Albania. Albanian princes were forced to submit, pay tribute, and demonstrate their loyalty to the Ottoman sultan by sending their sons as hostages to his court in Edirne (Adrianople). Gjon (John) Kastrioti, the ruler of Emathia in central Albania, was one of these princes; he sent his son, Gjergj (George) Kastrioti (1405–1468), to the court of the Ottoman sultan in Edirne.

After he had arrived in the Ottoman court, Kastrioti converted to Islam and received a traditional Ottoman education. He also participated in the Ottoman military campaigns against Serbs and Hungarians, displaying unrivaled courage and bravery on the battlefield, which won him the name Iskander or Skander (Alexander), after Alexander the Great, and the rank of bey (hence Iskender Bey or Skanderbeg). When the armies of the Ottoman sultan Murad II (1421–1444, 1446–1451) were defeated by the Hungarian general János (John) Hunyadi (1407–1456) at Nish in present-day southeastern Serbia in November 1443, Skanderbeg deserted Ottoman service and returned home to Albania. Once there, he renounced Islam and re-embraced Christianity.

In 1444 Skanderbeg created a league of Albanian princes, which repeatedly defeated the Ottomans. The Ottoman armies were defeated twice in 1450, then again at the battle of Mokrea in 1453, and yet again in 1456. In September 1457 Skanderbeg scored an impressive victory over the Ottomans west of Mount Tomoritsa, which he followed with the conquest of Satti (Shati) in present-day northwestern Albania in 1459. Skanderbeg and the Ottoman sultan, Mehmed II, agreed to a truce in 1461, but this proved to be short-lived. In 1462 Skanderbeg was back on the battlefield, fighting two successful campaigns against the Ottomans in the Dibra in present-day western Macedonia, followed by a successful invasion of Macedonia. Once again a peace treaty was negotiated, in April 1463. Conflict resumed in 1464, with Skanderbeg inflicting defeats on the Ottomans twice in the Dibra, followed by yet another victory near Tirana (present-day capital of Albania) in 1465. To the shock of the Ottomans, in 1466 at Kroya (Kruja) in north-central Albania, Skanderbeg attacked and defeated a large Ottoman army led by Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople (Pitcher: 88). In 1467 he repeated this feat, first defeating an Ottoman army led by the Albanian commander Ballaban near Kroya, then repelling Mehmed’s second major campaign to pacify Albania (Pitcher: 88).

Considering this extraordinary set of accomplishments and victories, it is not surprising that Skanderbeg was and remains to this day the unchallenged national hero of the Albanian people and a legend in European history. In his battles with the Ottomans, Skanderbeg received assistance from the papacy, Naples, and Venice. He formed a formal alliance with Venice in 1463. Skanderbeg died in January 1468. After the death of Skanderbeg, Albanian resistance continued for another decade. In 1477 the Ottoman commander Gedik Ahmed Pasha besieged Kroya, the birthplace of Skanderbeg. The town surrendered to the Ottomans in June 1478. Scutari (Shkodër) in northwestern Albania then surrendered to Mehmed in 1479. By 1501 the Ottomans had pacified much of the territory of present-day Albania. Albania remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912, when the country declared its independence.

As the Ottoman Empire began to disintegrate in the 19th century, the Albanians, who had remained loyal to the sultan, began to organize their own national movement as a means of protecting their communities from encroachments by their Greek and Slavic neighbors. In the earlier part of the 19th century Albania had been divided between two pāshālik, both of which enjoyed considerable autonomy. Ali Pasha of Janina and the Bușati (Bushati) family of Shkodër had dominated Albanian politics for decades. In 1820 the Ottoman sultan, Mahmud II, who was determined to impose the authority of the central government over the empire’s distant provinces, dismissed Ali Pasha and attacked his territory. Ironically, the suppression of Ali Pasha, who was killed by Ottoman agents in 1822, allowed Greek nationalists to stage their revolution against the Ottoman Empire. Following Ali Pasha’s downfall, the Ottoman government turned against the head of the Bușati family, Mustafa Pasha. After his defeat at the hands of Ottoman forces, Mustafa Pasha accepted his fate and settled in Istanbul, where he lived the rest of his life (Jelavich: 362).

The establishment of direct Ottoman rule over Albania allowed the government to introduce a series of reforms. The principal objective of these reforms was to remove the intermediary class of notables and replace it with a new administrative organization run by officials sent from Istanbul. The Ottoman government also intended to bring under its control the local landowners who had converted the old timārs into privately owned estates and create a more efficient tax collection system, which would increase the state revenue. The central government also wished to establish a new recruitment system, which would provide troops for a new military force. In implementing this ambitious agenda, the sultan abolished the timārs in 1832 and created two eyālets of Janina and Rumelia, which were reorganized into the three vilāyets of Janina, Shkodër, and Bitola in 1865 (Jelavich: 362–363). The reforms introduced by the central government in Istanbul were vehemently opposed by the notables who preferred being ruled by their own local beys. But, it was the inability of the Ottoman state to protect Albanian communities from Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro that forced the Albanians to arm themselves and organize their own independent national movement.

The Ottoman defeat at the hands of the Russians in 1878 and the Treaty of San Stefano, which rewarded Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria with Albanian-populated areas, marked the beginning of a transformation in the relationship between Albania and the central government in Istanbul. Until 1878 the Ottoman government, which viewed the majority of Albanians as members of the Muslim community, did not treat them as a separate national group. Muslim Albanians, who attended school, studied Arabic, the language of the holy Quran, and Turkish, the language of the government and the army. Christian Albanians, on the other hand, were viewed as members of the Christian Orthodox community, who studied Greek as the principal language of their religious community (Shaw: 2:199–200).

In response to the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano, a group of prominent Albanian leaders organized a secret committee in Istanbul and called for a larger gathering at Prizren in June 1878. The meeting at Prizren brought together Muslim and Christian Albanians, who agreed to create the League of Prizren. The league had the authority to collect taxes and raise an army (Shaw: 2:199; Jelavich: 363–364). It also sent an appeal to the European powers participating in the Congress of Berlin, which was ignored (Jelavich: 364).

With Serbia and Montenegro emerging as independent states, the Ottoman government was forced to negotiate the delineations of its new borders with the two countries. Since several towns and districts, such as Bar, Podgorica, and Plav, that were handed over to Montenegro had significant Albanian populations, the League of Prizren turned to resistance. The Ottoman government was caught in a dilemma. It had to abide by the terms of the Congress of Berlin, but it was also determined to benefit from Albanian resistance and use it as a means of reducing its territorial losses (Jelavich: 364–365).

With arms from the Ottoman government, the Albanians resisted the occupation, forcing the European powers to recognize the power of the newly emerging nationalist movement. Realizing the intensity of Albanian national sentiments and the potential for eruption of ethnic conflicts, the European powers reversed their position and agreed to allow Plav and Gusinje to remain within the Ottoman Empire. Instead, they offered a port, namely Ulcingi (Dulcigno), to Montenegro (Jelavich: 365). But the Albanian resistance was not confined to the towns and districts that were handed over to Montenegro. There was also strong opposition to handing over any Albanian territory, such as Epirus, to Greece.

In 1881 the Albanian resistance against Greek occupation of Epirus forced the European powers to agree that aside from Thessaly, the Greeks would only receive the district of Arta in Epirus. Despite the successes of the Albanian resistance and the support it enjoyed from the Ottoman government, the sultan remained bound by provisions of the agreement to hand over Ulcinji to Montenegro even if it meant crushing the Albanian League. An Ottoman army was dispatched to capture Prizren, which fell in April 1881 (Jelavich: 366). Another Ottoman force routed the Albanian resistance at Ulcinji before the town was handed over to Montenegro. Despite its suppression, the League of Prizren had accomplished a great deal. The European powers had recognized that Albanian lands could not be partitioned among their Balkan allies without formidable resistance from the local population (Jelavich: 366).

Ottoman rule in Albania ended shortly after the eruption of the First Balkan War in October 1912. On October 8, 1912, Montenegro, a member of the Balkan League, declared war on the Ottoman Empire. The other members of the Balkan League, Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria, followed suit 10 days later. The Bulgarians quickly seized Thrace, defeating the Ottomans at the battles of Kirklareli/Kirkkilise (October 22–24) and Lüleburgaz (October 22–November 2). The Serbs also scored an impressive victory at the battle of Kumanovo (October 23–24) in Kosovo Vilayet in present-day northern Macedonia. The Greeks captured Salonika on November 8. To the west the Serbs went on to capture Bitola in present-day southwestern Macedonia and joined forces with Montenegrins, who besieged Shkodër in northwestern Albania. The Serbs eventually would seize Durrës on the western coast of Albania.

Without a coordinated plan and in the absence of a unified command, the Ottomans were forced either to retreat or to take defensive positions. The major urban centers of the empire in Europe (Edirne, Janina, and Shkodër) were surrounded by armies of the Balkan League. By December 3 the Ottoman government was willing to conclude an armistice. As the discussions dragged on in London, Bulgaria demanded the city of Edirne. This was too much for a group of young officers in Istanbul, who staged a military coup on January 23, 1913. The former commander of the army, Mahmud Şevket (Shevket) Pasha, assumed the posts of grand vizier and minister of war. When the news of the coup in Istanbul reached London, the Balkan states resumed their military campaigns. Bulgarian forces captured Edirne on March 28, and the Serbs entered Shkodër on April 22. On May 30 the Ottoman government was forced to sign the Treaty of London, which resulted in the loss of much of its territory in Europe.

Instead of worrying about the disintegration of the Ottoman state in the Balkans, the Albanian nationalists were increasingly more concerned about Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro undermining Albania’s territorial integrity by invading and occupying Albanian-populated cities and towns. It was under these circumstances that the Albanian leader, Ismail Kemal Bey Vlora (1844–1919), known in Albanian as Ismail Qemali, returned to Albania with the support and blessing of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to convene a national assembly, which declared Albanian independence on November 28, 1912, in the coastal town of Vlora (Vlorë) in southern Albania.

Further Reading

Jelavich, Barbara. History of the Balkans: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Vol 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Jelavich, Charles, and Barbara Jelavich. The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804–1920. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977.

McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923. London and New York: Wesley Longman Limited, 1997.

Pitcher, Donald Edgar. An Historical Geography of the Ottoman Empire. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972.

Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700–1922. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Shaw, Stanford J. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Sugar, Peter. Southeastern Europe under Ottoman Rule, 1354–1805. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977.

Zürcher, Erik-Jan. Turkey: A Modern History. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004.

The Lieutenant’s Story

As a German shell bursts dangerously close by, steady veterans of the 4th Indian Division continue to move forward across a stark desert landscape.

General Alexander inspects the 3/2nd Punjab.

El Alamein, July–November 1942

Late that night, two lieutenants, escaping the fug of the VCOs’ circle, prowled the tented rows of Latifiya Camp and found a pipeline on which to sit, or perhaps lie down. They lay down. The stars hung chandelier-like, so infinitely various and bright that some seemed pinned up, high in the tent of night, and others dangled low, heavy with radiance. Bobby’s head spun slowly, and he could not shut his eyes, and the stars poured into them.

In the desert, Wright said, this was the only sight he had not tired of ten times over. On his first night at Ruweisat Ridge, he thought God had taken down the old night-roof and put in a new one. The sky had three dimensions here, which was a mercy, because the desert was so damned flat.

They were engineers, trained to work with inclines, gradients, cambers, but in the Western Desert, just about the only place where vertical relief mattered was up there. The stars suggested it, and men elaborated on the imaginary contours. The launch and drop of artillery shells traced thousands of hills in the sky; the long flight of Spitfires and Stukas drew an aerial steppe. Paratroopers jogged down gentle bluffs, swinging sideways from slope to opposing slope. Bursting anti-aircraft shells made pale vegetation, and even shots from rifles, fired in error or in desperation, added the thinnest pencil strokes to the mad conjured landscape. In night battle it was visible: Verey flares etched the luminous outlines, which glowed in his eyelids when he blinked.

Mainly there was no battle. Only the desert, so woefully flat. Wright arrived in Cairo to the news that his formation, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, had been destroyed at Gazala. He was instead to join 2nd Field Company, barely half a mile from the front line. On Ruweisat Ridge rain had parted the curtains of desert haze, and a long blue scratch of Mediterranean water had appeared to the north, beyond the pebbled flatness. The infantry roasted in their trenches, endlessly cleaning the sand out of their weapons and flies out of their ears. In the daytime, an inattentive nomad might walk right through the forward area, veined and scabbed as it was by trenches and sandbags, and barely notice. Brown heads and helmets only rose out of the earth like moles, travelled low along the ground and vanished again. Only the engineers worked all day, fixing desert tracks or blasting rock, or planting and clearing, planting and clearing, planting and clearing mines.

At dusk, as the sky’s fever abated and cool winds crossed the camp, life rose out of the blistered ground. Bright points of cigarettes glowed against the indigo sky and the grey earth, and the Muslim sappers bent in prayer, their bottoms to the foe. Cut-off petrol tins mouthed cowbell noises as tea was boiled. Infantry patrols slipped up to the wire, and rifles barked as snipers took aim at silhouettes, in the minutes before they were swallowed by darkness.

It was not until September that the dreary peace lifted, and a battle began that dazzled the eye. Replaying Gazala, the Panzers punched into the southern El Alamein front, then swerved back in behind the British lines, cutting an arc below Ruweisat Ridge. From up on top, Wright watched the fireworks.

If it had been scored by Wagner instead of the machines, it would have seemed a war of angels. To the south, above the main enemy thrust, Fairey Albacores dropped phosphorus flares that lit up the desert with electric brilliance, illuminating targets for Wellington bombers. Above their own sector, the Luftwaffe slit the full-moon sky with tracer fire. Planes dropped cases of butterfly bombs: delicate contraptions with hinged casings that sprang open, releasing a pair of wings that spun in the airflow, and drove a spindle into the bomblet to arm it. Landing, they flashed complex patterns on distant ground. Pulsing scarlet flares arced above the Allied lines, and searchlights swung across the spectacle, long flailing spider legs of light that grabbed at the descending figures. The stars burned on above it all.

‘An exhilarating performance,’ the major wrote in the unit diary.

The following morning they had orders to move east at once, and lay a minefield to stop the Panzer force from getting any further north. The company’s lorries stretched out into the desert, each a hundred yards behind the other, raising a great cliffside of dust and grit.

Wright, in charge of picking up stragglers, drove a jeep all the way at the rear. His windscreen wipers worked non-stop to scrape open a view of the road. Turning to look over his elbow, Wright noticed a stationary staff car just south of their line of march. It didn’t seem to belong to the company, but he pulled off the track toward it. He stopped a regulation distance away and hailed the men beside the vehicle, and hearing English voices, walked over.

The Humber had its bonnet up, and a helpless-looking sergeant underneath it, prodding at an engine that was belching steam. By the doors were two older officers, one carrying a fly-whisk and wearing the beret of the 11th Hussars, and the other wearing a flinty expression and a peaked cap with a red band.

‘Anything wrong, sir?’ Wright called out.

‘Of course there is,’ the first officer snapped. ‘You don’t think I want to stop here?’

Wright brought his jeep up to where the staff car was still sizzling. The fan belt was gone.

‘I’ll have to tow you, sir. Where do you need to go?’

‘Army HQ, of course,’ said the impatient Hussar. ‘At Burg el Arab.’

Wright nodded, and went to unspool the towing hook from his jeep. Perhaps he should ask who they were. Of course he should ask who they were: it was protocol for desert encounters, where anyone might be an enemy infiltrator. He turned and snapped out a salute. ‘Mind if I ask for your identity card, sir?’

The older officer’s hand drifted to his pocket, but the Hussar exploded. ‘Don’t be a fool, man! Don’t you know the Army Commander?’

Wright made sure his face stayed flat and solicitous. The Eighth Army Commander was General Auchinleck, but this didn’t look like him. Someone had neglected to tell him that ‘the Auk’ had been relieved of his command. The news would be disappointing to any Indian soldier, but especially for the 161st Brigade, which included the regiment the Auk had once personally commanded, the 1/1st Punjab.

‘Oh!’ said Wright, and saluted again.

He hooked up the Army Commander’s car and off they went. Wright’s eye drifted to his rear-view mirror for a glimpse of the pinched face of the man who would dictate the fate of the Eighth Army. He was General Bernard Montgomery, the second appointee to replace the Auk, after a German Stuka put a bullet in the chest of General Gott as he flew to Cairo. Montgomery had some antipathy for the Indian Army: perhaps because he hadn’t passed out from Sandhurst high enough to join it himself.

Wright was thinking that it would require snappy navigation to get the general to the Army HQ and still locate his convoy before dark. He decided to head straight across on the compass bearing, which meant getting off the main Army track. He quickly found a strategic track, less visible and used by L-of-C transport to evade aerial observation, and steered onto it. It was rough and covered in fine sand, but the coupled vehicles made good progress. Wright’s eye went to his mirror again. The tow-chain disappeared into a cloud of dust. He sighed. Eventually he deposited a beige-masked, sand-blasted Army Commander at Burg el Arab, and waited for thanks, ‘which were not forthcoming’.

Hours later, when he found the company, he also found a furious captain waiting, who refused to believe a word of it.

When Bobby’s duties had him in the HQ tent, he read through the onion-paper pages of the unit diary, as quick as he could. The story of the September battle was completed here. By the time the sappers’ work on the new minefield had begun, Rommel’s last thrust was already exhausted. Short of petrol again, his Panzers ground to a halt amidst the fighting. They were forced to withdraw, and the offensive chance now lay with the Eighth Army, which was flush with new troops, new American tanks, raised morale and plenty of fuel.

The 4th and 5th Indian Divisions traded places one final time. The weary 5th piled into lorries to join the enormous reserve lying up in Iraq; only the 161st Brigade, its battalions still fresh, stayed put on Ruweisat Ridge. In the unit diary Bobby found the letters that had come down to the company in October, announcing ‘D-Day’ at last. ‘Together we will hit the enemy for a “six”, right out of North Africa,’ Montgomery wrote. ‘Let every officer and man enter the battle with the determination to do his duty so long as he has breath in his body. AND LET NO MAN SURRENDER AS LONG AS HE IS UNWOUNDED AND CAN FIGHT.’ The 4th Division commander had added his own message: they were to fight to ‘the last man, the last round, the last bomb, the last bayonet’.

It never came to that – Wright resumed his story, while they checked a register of tools maintenance with the stores naik that evening – once the attack began, Rommel’s ranks were quickly broken. There was one terrible day when a Stuka bomber dropped a stick of bombs over their lines, nearly killing the officers in the mess truck, but saving its rage for the cook staff. They found the water carrier, Maqbool, screaming at a stump of flesh that had been his left hand. Mohammed Sharif the masalchi, only seventeen years old, was blown to pieces, ‘shattered from head to toe’; Budhu Masi, the cook, was disembowelled. He was twenty years old and healthy. He took three hours to die.

Still the battle moved west of them, and its blanket of noise was lifted, then blown off by the open roar of the wind. Wright’s platoon found themselves in a quiet sector by the Qattara track, clearing S-mines. Those were anti-personnel devices that popped into the air and exploded at chest level. It was while clearing a minefield that the sappers looked like the farm boys many of them had been. A serried line of men jabbed their bayonets into the ground and felt for the edge of metal on metal. If they felt nothing, they struck again and again, clearing crescents before them, and advanced this way, scything slowly under the sand. The strange agriculture of the desert. One side planted steel seeds, and the other side harvested them. Only some lived out their natural design, to rise suddenly as a plumed palm of shocked air and sand.

Wright sat on a rock, watching his men till the sand. One NCO, Naik Taj Mohammed, was moving fast – he had cleared about thirty already. But then: the sharp noise, the bomblet hanging in the air. Wright felt the blast, the instant of utter surrender, everything tilting over, followed by long, gaping seconds of realisation. He saw the naik sit upright, his belly hanging in his lap like a tongue. It was bad but he would survive; the Germans built the mines that way, since a wounded man was a heavier burden than a corpse. When the ambulance left, work resumed.

Afterward, a jeep rolled up to where Wright stood, and he was hailed by Colonel John Blundell, the divisional Chief of Royal Engineers. The lieutenant explained how things were going. ‘Right, well, hop in,’ said the colonel. ‘They can look after themselves.’ They drove west into a minor depression of soft sand, interrupted by great limestone boulders, outrageously sculpted by the grainy wind. Wright was chuffed to be so friendly with the colonel, the CRE, and they spoke idly about the news of the fighting. The Desert Fox was losing, for lack of the one thing he valued even over water: petrol. This time the Eighth Army could exploit its advantage all the way. Both men were offended that the 4th Indian Division, one of three Allied divisions in Egypt since the desert war began, was being held back on salvage duty. Wright was wondering aloud whether that had anything to do with him giving Montgomery a mouthful of sand, when he heard a snap and a whistle past his ear.

It took a moment to register that they were being shot at. His instinct was to duck behind the dashboard, but the colonel floored the accelerator, and the jeep lurched forward at one of the boulders. Sure enough, an Italian soldier emerged from behind it with his hands behind his head. ‘Know Italian?’ the colonel shouted, above the engine’s whine. Wright didn’t.

The jeep slammed to a halt in front of the Italian, and the colonel leapt out and bounded right at him. In a flash, he picked up the man’s rifle and tossed it as far as he could. Then he gripped the straggler by his shoulders, and in lieu of arresting him as a prisoner of war, the colonel turned him to face due east, stepped three paces back and gave him a running kick in the bottom. The Italian went sprawling in the sand. The colonel dragged him back to his feet, turned him east again and gave him a shove. The Italian took off running toward the Eighth Army reserve.

John Wright watched as the soldier pitched through the sand. His figure grew smaller and lost detail, but on the clear, flat ground he stayed visible for a long while, running east and east while his army ran west. Very soon, Wright suspected, he would be doing the same.

North Korean Army Attacks

Camouflaged North Korean T34 tanks and motor cycle combinations enter Taejon city after the eviction of the US 24th Infantry Division.

Marines from the 1st Marine Division entering Seoul accompanied by late-production M4A3 (HVSS) 105mm-armed Sherman tanks, the nearest of which mounts a bulldozer blade.

This North Korean T-34 was destroyed by the Air Force south of Suwon as it was crossing a bridge on 17 October.

June – September 1950

Following the defeat of the Japanese and the end of the Second World War, the Korean peninsula had been occupied in the North by the Soviet Union and in the South by the United States. The two halves of the country were partitioned at the 38th Parallel. In 1948 the Republic of Korea was established in the South, ruled by Syngman Rhee whose declared objective was the reunification of Korea as a non-communist state. A month later the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea was established in the North, led by Kim II Sung. Elections should have been held to reunite the country, but never took place. By 1949 American combat forces had withdrawn from Korea, but left a military advisor group to assist the ROK army. The Soviet Union however, took an active role in governing North Korea and in early 1950 supplied weapons and several thousand soldiers to train the North Korean Army. Armed clashes were common along the 38th Parallel, but in 1950 US observers did not anticipate an invasion of the South. In January 1950 US Secretary of State Dean Acheson announced an American defensive strategy in the Far East that excluded both Korea and the Nationalist Chinese island of Formosa. It sent a clear signal to the DPRK that Syngman Rhee was on his own.

Colonel Paik Sun Yup was fast asleep when the telephone rang. His breathless G-3 was at the other end: ‘The North Koreans have invaded! They’re attacking all along the parallel! The situation in Kaesong is chaotic, and I’m afraid the city already may have fallen.’ It was 0700 hours on Sunday, 25 June 1950. Colonel Paik was the commander of the 1st Republic of Korea (ROK) Division, protector of Seoul, the capital of South Korea. He was twenty-nine years old. He was also away from his 10,000-man division, on a senior officer training course at the Infantry School in Seoul.

By the time Paik rejoined his division they were in contact with the 1st North Korean Division supported by tanks from the 105th Armoured Brigade. The 1st ROK Division was at the western end of the four divisions tasked with defending the 240 mile long imaginary line which was known as the 38th Parallel and formed the frontier between the two countries. Their section of the line was fifty-six miles long and impossible to defend, so Paik reduced it to nineteen miles by establishing his defences along the Imjin River. However, this meant that Kaesong was left open to the invaders and it fell within hours, with the 12th Regiment falling back in disarray.

The 13th Regiment at Munsan was also involved in a pitched battle and the third regiment of the division, the 11th was called up from its reserve position. However, 50 per cent of its personnel were on leave and it would take time for the men to rejoin their unit.

The 7th ROK Division was established to the east of the 1st ROK Division, but communications had broken down and their present situation was unknown.

At the time of the invasion, South Korea possessed eight infantry divisions and four of them – 1st, 6th, 7th and 8th – were in position along the 38th Parallel. They were armed with American M1 rifles, 0.30-calibre carbines, 60mm and 81mm mortars, 2.36-inch rocket launchers and the M3 105mm howitzers. They had no tanks, no medium artillery and no fighter aircraft or bombers.

The North Korean Army that attacked the South consisted of ten infantry divisions, eight of them at full strength with 11,000 men each plus one armoured brigade equipped with Russian T-34 tanks mounting an 85mm gun, an armoured regiment and two independent regiments totalling 135,000 men. They were equipped with 150 tanks, over 600 artillery pieces and 196 aircraft, including forty fighters and seventy bombers. Of the ten divisions, three were former Chinese Communist 4th Field Army divisions, 38,000 ethnic Koreans who had fought on the communist side during the Chinese civil war, so they were combat-hardened and efficient. The North Koreans had spent over 13.8 million rubles to purchase Soviet weaponry including 76mm and 122mm howitzers, 45mm anti-aircraft guns and 82mm and 120mm mortars. The invasion force comprised two Corps, both commanded by Koreans who had fought for Mao Zedung in the Chinese civil war. The commanders of the 5th, 6th and 7th Divisions were all veterans of the Chinese 4th Field Army and their men all brought their weapons with them when they crossed the Yalu River back into North Korea.

During the afternoon of 25 June, North Korean aircraft attacked South Korean and United States Air Force aircraft and facilities at Seoul airfield and Kimpo air base, just south of Seoul. They left a C-54 transport aircraft burning at Kimpo and one of its crew became the first American to be wounded in the Korean War.

The next day US Far East Air Force fighters based in Japan flew top cover while ships began to evacuate American citizens from Inchon, a seaport on the Yellow Sea, twenty miles west of Seoul. On the following day, 27 June, the UN Defensive Campaign formally commenced when Fifth Air Force fighters destroyed three North Korean Yak fighters, the first aerial victories of the war. The UN Defensive Campaign was the first of ten campaigns that would be fought the length and breadth of the Korean Peninsula over the next three years and the participants would be awarded medals accordingly.

As the North Koreans began to push the ROK forces southwards and Seoul fell to the invaders, the United Nations voted to assist the Republic of Korea. The United States would take the lead and President Harry S. Truman ordered US air and naval forces to help counter the invasion. Within days advance elements of the US 24th Infantry Division were on their way from Japan to the port of Pusan in the south-east corner of the peninsula. The men were part of the occupation forces that had been in Japan for the last five years and they were inadequately trained, poorly armed and led by inexperienced officers.

A small combat team from 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment was flown in to try to slow the North Korean advance. However, by the time Task Force Smith had arrived at Pusan airfield and boarded trucks for the drive northwards, the North Koreans had crossed the Han River and taken Suwon and were already on the way toward their next objective: Taejon.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Smith and his 400 men moved into their positions about eight miles south of Suwon, where the road ran through a saddle of hills. Supported by six 105mm howitzers and 140 artillerymen they dug in and waited with trepidation for the enemy to appear. At 0730 hours on 5 July the North Korean column came in sight, led by thirty-three T-34 tanks, spearheading the advance of the 4th Division. They were engaged by the howitzers, then the recoilless rifles and bazookas of the infantry. However, none of them managed to penetrate the armour on the tanks and by 0900 hours they had driven down the road and past the defenders. It would be another week before the first large 3.5-inch bazookas and their larger and more destructive shaped charges arrived from the United States. Now the main column came into view, led by three more tanks and when they got closer Smith ordered his men to open fire with mortars and machine guns. The North Koreans quickly disembarked and instead of attacking the defenders head on, began to outflank them. The artillery managed to destroy two of the tanks with anti-tank rounds, but as they only had six of them they did not last long. The normal high-explosive rounds simply ricocheted off the sides of the tanks. Anti-tank mines would have stopped the T-34s but there were none in Korea at that time.

At 1430 hours Smith ordered his men to withdraw, but the withdrawal was disorganised and nearly all the heavy weapons and twenty-five wounded men were left behind. Intense enemy fire caused heavy casualties amongst the GIs and only half of them made it back to safety; the rest were either killed or captured. In the meantime Major-General Dean, the commander of the division had arrived at Pusan and he sent the 34th Infantry Regiment up to P’yongt’aek with orders to hold the line. Lieutenant Colonel Loveless had only been in command of the 34th for a month. He had been brought in to replace the previous commander, who had failed to improve the fighting qualities of the regiment. Not only were the companies under strength, with about 140 officers and men each, but their weapons were inadequate as well. Each man had either an M1 or a carbine with 80 or 100 rounds of ammunition – enough for about ten minutes of firing. There were no hand grenades either, essential items for close-quarter fighting. A third of the officers had seen combat during the Second World War, but only one in six of the enlisted men had any experience of combat. The rest were at best only semi-trained and averaged under twenty years of age.

The men of the 1st Battalion stood in their water-logged trenches until dawn broke. They had earlier been told that Task Force Smith had been defeated and in the early hours they had heard the sound of the bridge behind them being destroyed, to prevent its use by tanks. It was bad for morale and when dawn broke and they saw a line of tanks and trucks extending as far as the eye could see, they were ready to run. They were also without artillery support and when the first tank shells began to explode around them, they climbed out of their foxholes and began to retreat back to P‘yongt’aek.

The poor performance of the American soldiers was due to the post-war complacency of their commanders and hundreds would die because of it. In this case the 34th Infantry Regiment was a third under strength and the two battalions were ill equipped and poorly trained for the battles ahead. The blame for this went right to the top, from the divisions officers, to General Dean and the commander of the US Eighth Army General Walton Walker. Ultimately the buck stopped at the desk of General MacArthur whose primary concern at that time was the rehabilitation of Japanese society and that country’s economy.

General Walker’s advance party established the headquarters of the US Eighth Army at Taegu on 9 July and the next day the 25th Infantry Division began to arrive. To the east of the country the South Koreans were carrying out a fighting retreat to prevent the enemy from outflanking the American forces. As the North Korean 3rd and 4th Divisions prepared to cross the Kum River and advance on Taejon, General Dean marshaled his forces to oppose them. The 4th Division was at half strength with 6,000 fighting men, but they also had fifty tanks. The 3rd Division had no tanks, but was up to full strength. The US 24th Infantry Division had 11,000 men on its strength, but there were only 5,300 at the sharp end. It would be a hard fought battle.

On 19 July General Dean and the three regiments of the 24th Division prepared to defend Taejon. General Walker told him that he had to hold the town for at least two days, to allow the 25th Division and the 1st Cavalry Division to reach the front. It was easier said than done. The enemy had rebuilt the bridge over the Kum River, ten miles north of Taejon and started to move tanks and artillery across. By midnight the two enemy divisions had encircled the town and were establishing roadblocks to the south and east. General Dean and his aide had spent the night in Taejon and awoke to the sound of small arms fire. Amazingly, considering his heavy responsibilities, the General found a pair of bazooka teams and went out tank hunting. By the afternoon of 20 July, General Dean realized that the battle was lost and ordered the withdrawal of the remaining units. Towards evening the main convoy tried to leave the town but came under enemy fire. General Dean’s jeep took a wrong turning and soon came under fire. After sheltering for a while in a ditch, Dean and his party made it to the banks of the Taejon River. They hid there until dark and then tried to climb the mountain north of the village of Nangwol.

Sergeant George Libby was in a truck which was hit by devastating enemy fire which killed or wounded all on board except Libby. He administered first aid to his comrades and flagged down a passing M5 artillery tractor and helped the wounded aboard. The enemy opened fire on the vehicle and Libby, realizing that no one else could operate the tractor, placed himself between the driver and the enemy, thereby shielding him while he returned the fire. Although wounded several times, Libby stopped to pick up more wounded and continued to shield the driver and return fire as they approached another roadblock. He sustained further wounds and died as his comrades reached friendly lines. For his courage and self-sacrifice he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour.

As darkness fell on the hills around Taejon General Dean and his party paused for a rest. Dean decided to go off on his own to look for water for the wounded, but he fell down a steep slope and was knocked out. When he came to, he discovered he had a broken shoulder and was disoriented. Up above, the rest of the party waited for two more hours for Dean to reappear, then set off for the American lines. General Dean spent thirty-six long days wandering the countryside before he was betrayed by two civilians and captured. His weight had dropped from 190 to 130 pounds and he was to spend the rest of the war in solitary confinement. If that was not bad enough, almost 1,200 of his men had become casualties.

Towards the end of July an incident took place that would lead to a review by the Department of the Army Inspector General fifty years later. Korean villagers stated that on 25 July 1950, US soldiers evacuated approximately 500 to 600 villagers from their homes in Im Gae Ri and Joo Gok Ri. The villagers said the US soldiers escorted them towards the south. Later that evening, the American soldiers led the villagers near a riverbank at Ha Ga Ri and ordered them to stay there that night. During the night, the villagers witnessed a long parade of US troops and vehicles moving towards Pusan.

On the morning of 26 July, the villagers continued south along the Seoul-Pusan road. According to their statements, when the villagers reached the vicinity of No Gun Ri, US soldiers stopped them at a roadblock and ordered the group onto the railroad tracks, where soldiers searched them and their personal belongings. The Koreans state that, although the soldiers found no prohibited articles such as weapons or other military contraband, the soldiers ordered an air attack upon the villagers via radio communications with US aircraft. Shortly afterwards, planes flew over and dropped bombs and fired machine guns, killing approximately 100 villagers on the railroad tracks. Those villagers who survived sought protection in a small culvert underneath the railroad tracks. The US soldiers drove the villagers out of the culvert and into the larger double tunnels nearby. The Koreans state that the US soldiers then fired into both ends of the tunnels over a period of four days (26–29 July 1950), resulting in approximately 300 additional deaths.

At the time of the incident, the South Koreans and their American allies were retreating before the North Korean advance. The roads were packed with refugees and amongst them were North Korean infiltrators. The US Divisional commanders had given orders to keep the refugees off the roads and generally relied on the Korean National Police to carry out the work. Sometimes they were too enthusiastic and shot civilians considered to be Communist sympathizers or infiltrators. Major General Gay, the 1st Cavalry Division Commander was alleged to have commented that he would not employ the National Police in his division’s area of operations. However, such decisions were being taken by higher authorities.

On 26 July, the Eighth Army in coordination with the ROK government formulated a plan to control the movement of refugees, which precluded the movement of refugees across battle lines at all times, prohibited evacuation of villages without general officer approval and prescribed procedures for the Korean National Police to clear desired areas and routes. They also strictly precluded the movement of civilians during the hours of darkness.

It was under these conditions that the above incident took place. The 5th and 7th Cavalry Regiments were withdrawing through the area at the time. An enemy breakthrough was reported in the sector to the north of the 7th Cavalry position and in the early hours of 26 July their 2nd Battalion conducted a disorganized and undisciplined withdrawal to the vicinity of No Gun Ri. They spent the remaining hours of 26 July until late into that night recovering abandoned personnel and equipment from the area where the air strike and machine gun firing on Korean refugees is alleged to have occurred. By that night 119 men were still unaccounted for.

The 7th Cavalry relieved the 2nd Battalion in the afternoon of 26 July and reported an enemy column on the railroad tracks on the 27th, which they fired upon. On the 29th they withdrew as the North Koreans advanced, so for two days they had believed they were under attack. It was later proven that the Air Force were strafing to the south-west of No Gun Ri on 27 July, but they were mistakenly strafing the command post of the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, rather than the enemy. It was not the first instance of ‘friendly fire’ and it certainly would not be the last.

Were the cavalrymen responsible for the civilian casualties? The review in 2001 could not establish for sure. However, the fact is that the American troops had been thrown into action straight from occupation duty in Japan, mostly without training for, or experience in combat. They were young, under-trained and unprepared for the fight they would wage against the North Korean Peoples Army. Many of their NCOs had been transferred to the 24th US Infantry Division and they were facing a determined assault by a well-armed and well-trained enemy employing both conventional and guerilla warfare tactics. In these circumstances some soldiers may have fired in response to a perceived enemy threat without considering the possibility that they may be civilians.

By 5 August, the North Korean advance had ground to a halt, due to a combination of factors: air attacks by the Far East Air Forces, lengthening supply lines and stiffer resistance from the South Korean Army and the United States troops who were now arriving in force. The defenders were now occupying only the south-east portion of the country, in a forty- to sixty-mile arc around the sea port of Pusan.

Another Medal of Honour would be awarded to Sergeant Ernest Kouma for his actions on 31 August and 1 September. The 2nd US Infantry Division had just replaced the battle-weary 24th Division when the North Koreans began to cross the Naktong River under cover of darkness. As they did so, Sergeant Kouma led his patrol of two M26 Pershing tanks and two M19 Gun Motor Carriages along the river bank to the Kihang Ferry near Agok. A heavy fog covered the river and at 2200 hours mortar shells began falling on the American-held side of the river. When the fog lifted half an hour later Kouma saw that a North Korean pontoon bridge was being laid across the river directly in front of his position. The four vehicles opened fire and sank many of the boats trying to cross the river. Kouma was manning the M2 0.50-calibre Browning machine gun in the tank turret when he was told over the field telephone that the supporting infantry were withdrawing. He decided to act as rearguard to cover the infantry and was shot in the foot shortly thereafter while reloading the tank’s ammunition. His force was then ambushed by a group of North Koreans dressed in US military uniforms. Kouma was wounded in the shoulder as he repeatedly beat back the attacking North Koreans. Eventually the other three vehicles withdrew or were knocked out and Kouma held the crossing site until 0730 hours the next morning. At one point the tank was surrounded and out of ammunition for its main gun and Kouma held them off with his machine gun, pistol and grenades. The tank then withdrew eight miles to the newly-established American lines, destroying three North Korean machine gun positions along the way. During this action Kouma had killed an estimated 250 North Korean troops.

The defenders of the Pusan Perimeter would try to keep the enemy at bay while General MacArthur planned the second US campaign of the war: the UN Offensive Campaign, which would last from 16 September until 2 November 1950.

The US Defensive Campaign ended on 15 September. The following day the fight back began with Operation Chromite, a daring amphibious landing at Inchon, a port on the west coast of Korea and far behind the enemy lines. The X Corps invasion force, numbering nearly 70,000 men, arrived off the beaches 150 miles behind enemy lines. It was the first major amphibious assault by American troops since Okinawa in April 1945. After a three hour naval bombardment, the men of the First Marine Division began to disembark from their landing craft at 0633 hours on the fortified Wolmi Island that protected Inchon harbour. It was defended by 400 men of the North Korean 226th Independent Marine Regiment, but by 0750 hours the island was in the hands of the US Marines. Because of the high tides, the landing on the Inchon shoreline did not take place until the afternoon when the 1st and 5th Marines approached Red and Blue Beaches at 1733 hours. Most of the men had to scale the seawall with scaling ladders before assaulting the two objectives in front of them: the Cemetery and Observatory Hills. By midnight the beachhead was secure at the cost of twenty Marines killed and 174 wounded. In the morning the two Marine regiments began to move inland, driving the North Koreans before them. The 7th Infantry Division would begin to land at Inchon the following day as the 5th Marines began its drive towards Kimpo airfield. The first Marine aircraft began to fly sorties from the field on the 21st. The enemy suffered heavy losses that day, trying to cross the Han River into Seoul. They were caught in the open with nowhere to hide and the Marine Corsairs made run after run on them, with napalm, bombs, rockets and 20mm cannon.

The Air Force’s contribution to the invasion was Air Interdiction Campaign No. 2, the first objective of which was to limit the flow of reinforcements to the landing zone at Inchon. The FEAF B-29s would also have to hit the rail yard at Seoul in the days before the landing and General MacArthur made it clear that he would require heavy air support for Eighth Army as it broke out of the Pusan Perimeter in pursuit of the North Koreans.

The Eighth Army had been reorganized into I Corps and IX Corps. The most reliable units were allocated to I Corps: the 5th Regimental Combat Team, the 1st Cavalry Division, the rebuilt 24th Division, the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade and the South Koreans’ best division, the 1st ROK Division. They were to break out of the Pusan Perimeter and spearhead the 180-mile drive north to meet up with Major General Almonds X Corps which was coming ashore at Inchon. IX Corps and its 2nd and 25th US Divisions would follow on a week later. On the east side of the country the ROK I and II Corps were to engage the enemy the best they could.

The breakout of Eighth Army was to begin on 16 September with a force of eighty-two B-29s bombing a pathway along the line Taegu-Taejon-Suwon. However, the weather delayed the attacks until 18 September when forty-two B-29s started to clear a path for the 38th Infantry Regiment to cross the Naktong River. This was followed by 286 close air support sorties from F-51s, F-80s and B-26s. A further 361 were flown the next day, halting North Korean counter attacks and weakening their defences until, on 22 September, the North Korean Army collapsed, leaving the door open for a race to the 38th Parallel.

Bomber Command pursued the retreating North Koreans and attacked them by day and night. The B-29s had been practising dropping flares at night, so that B-26s could attack the targets illuminated by the flares. On 22 September the roving B-26s bombed and strafed a long North Korean ammunition train south of Suwon and the explosions went on for an hour. Other B-29s flew psychological warfare missions dropping leaflets over retreating North Korean columns. Many prisoners surrendered with these leaflets in their hands.

As the bombing effort switched from the south to the north, the B-29s ranged far and wide looking for new targets. On 22 September a B-29 from the 98th Bomb Group spotted a town with a rail marshalling yard and bombed it. Several days passed before the Air Force managed to identify the town and discovered that it was actually Antung, across the Yalu River in Chinese Manchuria. The warning to stay clear of the Chinese border went out to the bomber crews and four days later attacks began against the North Korean hydro-electric plants, the first target for the 92nd Bomb Group being the electric plant at Hungnam. On the same day, UN forces fought their way into Seoul and began four days of street to street fighting to evict the 20,000 North Korean defenders. When Seoul finally fell on 28 September the total US casualties for the Inchon-Seoul operations had reached 3,500. Enemy casualties were estimated at 14,000 killed and 7,000 captured.

On 27 September, MacArthur received authorization from the Joint Chiefs to send his forces across the border into North Korea and on 1 October all bombing in South Korea ceased. The same day the first South Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel, heading north. By now there were four US Army Divisions and a Marine Division in action. The first major Allied contingent had arrived in the shape of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade and the 90,000 ROK troops were now receiving the weapons and training they sorely needed two months earlier.

On 7 October the UN General Assembly approved a US-sponsored motion that stability be restored on the Korean Peninsula, by defeating the North Korean forces and restoring democracy to both sides of the border. MacArthur met President Truman at Wake Island a week later and informed him, although there were intelligence reports of Chinese forces massing across the border, he considered it safe to pursue the North Koreans right up to the Yalu River.

In the meantime the Marines had been recalled to their ships and had sailed south around the bottom of the peninsula and up the east coast to the port of Wonsan. By the time the Navy had cleared the enemy mines from the harbour and the Marines had come ashore, the UN forces had swept past the town with the enemy in full retreat. The race for the North Korean capital of P’yongyang was under way. Three ROK divisions were driving northwards, together with the US 1st Cavalry Division, the 24th Division and the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade. On 19 October units of the 5th Cavalry entered P’yongyang, just minutes ahead of the ROK 1st Division. With the fall of their capital, North Korean resistance began to increase. On 20 October, 2,860 paratroopers from the 187th Regimental Combat Team and 300 tons of supplies were dropped near Sukchon and Sunchon, thirty miles north-east of P’yongyang. One of their objectives was to halt two North Korean trains full of American prisoners of war that were heading for POW camps along the Yalu River. They arrived too late and found that many of the prisoners had been murdered by their guards at the side of the railroad tracks.

At the same time Fifth Air Force began reporting increased enemy air attacks along the border. The new Russian Mig-15 fighter had made its debut, flown by Russian and Chinese pilots and it outclassed all other jets being flown by UN squadrons at that time. MacArthur wanted bombing missions flown against the bridges crossing the Yalu River, to prevent supplies coming in to North Korea and to block the path of retreat for the North Koreans into Manchuria. However, at the time the Air Force was prohibited from flying within five miles of the Manchurian border.

Originally, the Joint Chiefs only approved the use of South Korean units north of the 38th Parallel, but MacArthur ordered all of his forces to advance with all possible speed. He was taking a considerable risk and did not fully appreciate the possible reaction of the Soviets and Chinese as the UN forces approached their borders. On 26 October, advance units of the 6th Division of the ROK III Corps reached the Yalu River. Over the radio came the first reports that they had killed a small number of Chinese troops. At the same time the ROK 1st Division captured Chinese prisoners at Sudong. The next day, 27 October, the Chinese first-phase offensive was launched.