Korean War: Counter Attack
Scenario Preview, Part Four
Korean War: Counter Attackis an American story; there are a few scenarios featuring ROK troops, but almost always when they are operating under American command. I would have preferred a more balanced approach, and we’ll give ROK courage its due in the Taegukgi expansion book. But the American-centric story line does yield a tight focus, which makes for a good story structure and fine battle games linking the scenarios together.
Today we’ll look at the fifth and sixth chapters of Counter Attack:
West of Masan and the Stalemate
With the enemy’s penetration in the Pusan Perimeter at the bulge of the Naktong River controlled, Walton Walker pulled the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade from Task Force Kean to reorganize and put the 25th Division in defensive positions west of Masan. At this time the North Koreans were regrouping in their own defensive positions and waiting for reinforcements. Although no sustained offensive occurred during late August in this area, constant probing occurred. Scenario 25 covers this action.
28 August 1950
For days American and ROK troops had battled to capture a set of hills west of Masan, in particular Hill 665, known as Old Baldy (or sometimes Bald Peak, or Battle Mountain, or Bloody Knob, or Napalm Hill). Lt. Col. John T. Corley, a white officer commanding the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment’s 3rd Battalion, accused his troops of what amounted to widespread desertion under fire: “Companies of my battalion dwindle to platoon size when engaged with the enemy.” Corley’s battalion returned to Battle Mountain on the evening of the 27th; the North Koreans came to greet them the following morning.
In this action the 24th Infantry lost the hill and then took it back. The U.S. Army’s Official History of the Korean War is usually very circumspect about poor performance by American units in combat, describing “bug outs” as planned orderly withdrawals. Not so with the 24th Infantry Regiment, which is frequently excoriated for its troops’ reluctance to engage the North Koreans; they receive even worse treatment in the Army history than do the Marines. It’s surely a coincidence that the 24th Infantry was the U.S. Army’s last segregated black regiment. Corley, a white officer, would later alter his attitude and be reprimanded for speaking out too forcefully over the brutal racism directed at his troops.
This isn’t a very large scenario, with the North Koreans on the attack and the Americans dug in an awaiting them on a hilltop with artillery to support their defense. Both sides are kind of reluctant to be here, which is going to make the inevitable assault combats difficult to win easily.
The Perimeter Battles - North
Confusion reigned along the Pusan Perimeter during September 1950. So many engagements took place at the same time from the east coast near P’ohang-dong westward to Taegu and south along the Naktong River that it was difficult for either command to get a clear picture of the overall situation. The first two weeks of September saw at least five distinct and dangerous situations develop across the Perimeter. The decision to pursue the landing at Inchon had been made and substantial forces (an entire American corps) as well as much of the senior staff’s attention were focused elsewhere. Walton Walker would have to make do with what he had. Scenarios 26 through 32 cover these action-packed battles.
Manzai or Misery
27 August 1950
While a number of Eighth Army staff officers believed the NKPA to be finished, no one had informed the North Koreans of this fact. Despite the arrival of large-scale reinforcements on the United Nations side and a tenuous supply line on the North Korean side, the Pusan Perimeter remained in peril. Proving this, the NKPA 12th Division, one of the veteran “Chinese divisions,” attacked the Capital “Tiger” Division with cries of “Manzai!” - a Korean blessing for ten thousand years of good life.
The Tiger Division had fought well in the Perimeter, but did not stand up to the North Korean attack and fell back three miles. Walton Walker placed an American general in command of the ROK I Corps and dispatched American troops from the 24th Infantry Division to bolster the Tigers.
Finally we get some ROK action, with the usually-resolute Capital Division facing a pretty determined Nork attack. No one has any artillery; this one is a pure infantry fight as the sun rises.
G Company is Missing
4 September 1950
North Korean assault troops broke through the lines of the Capital “Tiger” Division in a strong nighttime attack, forcing the ROK troops back in some confusion. North Korean tanks overran ROK artillery and threatened the Capital Division headquarters, forcing it to retreat and adding to the confusion. The American command of I ROK Corps threw an American battalion into the fight, but it did no better and managed to lose one of its rifle companies. After gathering the missing troops, the battalion tried to fight its way free.
Discovering that his 2nd Battalion had left one of its companies behind, Col. Dick Stephens of 21st Infantry Regiment ordered them to turn around and fetch the missing troops. Finding the company still holding a bridge over the Hyongsnagang River, the battalion then once again fought its way free of the North Korean trap, losing most of its small detachment of new M46 Patton tanks in the process.
The hapless Americans have found their missing troops and have to fight their way back out through the North Koreans. Given their haplessness, they’re probably overrated in this scenario in terms of morale, initiative and leadership.
Task Force Davidson
11 September 1950
With the depleted but still-determined North Korean 5th Division threatening to break through the South Korean 3rd “White Skull” Division, the American 24th Infantry Division formed Task Force Davidson of many assorted units to protect Yonil Airfield. To help stabilize the positions held by The Invincible, the task force would pass through the ROK division and attack the key North Korean position on Hill 482.
North Korean machine-gunners – chained to their weapons, according to a ROK account of the fighting – held off Task Force Davidson for the remainder of the day. After an air strike with napalm and a thorough artillery bombardment, the Americans went forward again on 12 September and finally dislodged the stubborn North Koreans from the hill. ROK troops from The Invincible took over the positions and Task Force Davidson returned to corps reserve.
The Norks are under American attack and have no artillery support and very little anti-tank capability. That’s going to be a problem since the Americans bring some of their deadly self-propelled anti-aircraft guns to the party. The Nork 5th Division was one of the NKPA’s “Chinese” units but had suffered a great deal of wear in combat.
East of Taegu
2 September 1950
The hapless North Korean 8th Division had been nearly annihilated during its first battles in August 1950. Withdrawn from the front and replenished with a large number of raw replacements, it was ordered back on the attack despite its manifest inability to conduct road marches, much less an offensive. It went forward even so, accompanied by a newly-formed tank brigade.
Somehow the 8th Division’s political cadre convinced the raw recruits to storm the ROK positions along the road leading south to Hwajong-dong. The NKPA division took heavy losses but managed to force its way southward, helped by the brand-new tanks of the brand-new 17th Armored Brigade. They would eventually take Hwajong-dong but could advance no further before the ROK counter-offensive began.
The North Koreans have a good helping of armor support, and they’re going to need it to force their way through the Blue Star Division. No one has any artillery and there’s no air support; the ROKs are going to have to stop those tanks with bazookas and bravery, but at least they have plenty of each.
Losing the Hills
12-13 September 1950
With a combination of frontal assaults and infiltration tactics, the North Korean 3rd Division, given the honorific “Guards” in the previous month, steadily pushed back the American 1st Cavalry Division. A pair of hills barred the road to Chilgok and on to Taegu, and the North Koreans made determined attempts to take them in the darkness.
A night attack marked by copious use of hand grenades shoved the cavalrymen off of both hills, opening the road to Chilgok. But the depleted American cavalry regiment struck back during the afternoon and re-captured the high ground, with ROK soldiers – stragglers from other units – unofficially incorporated directly into its companies and platoons. Soon the U.S. Army would be officially recruiting Koreans to replenish its manpower.
Both sides deploy pretty substantial forces into a pretty narrow battlefield, with just two maps in play but over 60 units maneuvering across them. It’s a night attack, with the Americans dug in and the Norks coming to root them out.
Walled City of Ka-san
3 September 1950
Hill 902, known to Koreans as the Sacred Mountain, had a small, ancient fortress at its top, a level area covered in scrub and pine trees. American soldiers christened this the “Walled City of Ka-san.” The height was really too far from the main road for effective use as an observation post, and so it was held only by some I&R troops from 1st Cavalry Division and a detachment of South Korean police when the North Korean 1st Division attacked.
The 1st Cavalry Division blamed its neighbor, the ROK 1st Division, for loss of the hill but Eighth Army made it clear that the cavalry had responsibility for the position. A confused American attack failed to dislodge the North Koreans, and the troops suffered additional harm when their commander abandoned his radio and the North Koreans laid out captured recognition panels that caused U.S. planes to drop their napalm on the cavalrymen instead.
Just a tiny scenario, with a small mixed force of ROK National Police and some Americans trying to hold a fortified hilltop against an only slightly larger but more determined force of Norks. There’s no artillery, and the only on-board support to be had is a platoon of Nork mortars. This one is going to be a nasty little fight.
Keys to Taegu
12 September 1950
While the Walled City of Ka-san did not overlook the road to Taegu, a pair of other hills dominated this route and the North Korean 13th Division had deployed a large number of troops on them. A newly-arrived “cavalry” battalion formed from men of the 3rd “Rock of the Marne” Infantry Division at Fort Benning would lead the way with support from an air strike but no artillery fire.
Where other 1st Cavalry battalions had at times shown a marked reluctance to advance, the 7th Cavalry’s borrowed 3rd Infantry Division battalion went up the slopes three times. As officers fell, NCO’s and even enlisted men took up leadership roles, urging their comrades forward. The hilltops fell after bitter hand-to-hand fighting, as the North Koreans charged out of their entrenchments to meet the Americans on the crest.
Finally we get to use some really good U.S. Army troops, in an attack on a pretty determined foe. The lack of artillery is going to hurt, and the airplanes are no substitute. But this is a game system that rewards high morale in assault combat, and this time the Americans bring it.
And that’s the fifth and sixth chapters.
You can order Korean War: Counter Attack right here.
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.