Korean War: Counter Attack
Scenario Preview, Part Six
In the next chapter of our newest Panzer Grenadier game, Korean War: Counter Attack, the Marines land at Inch’on and everyone fights for Seoul. Let’s take a look at these fine scenarios:
Inch’on and the Battle for Seoul
After the North Korean’s Great Naktong Offensive lost its steam due to heavy casualties, a kind of stalemate developed along the Pusan Perimeter. This was essential to the drama of the plan developed by MacArthur. A victory by the Eighth Army in the Naktong battles that was so significant that the NKPA withdrew would have robbed the Inch’on strike of its impact. Indeed this happened later in the campaign during the drive north as a planned invasion at Wonsan became ridiculously delayed until the troops landed only after the ROK had already entered the town by land. However, Walker did just what the plan called for during the battles for the Perimeter: He fought the NKPA to a standstill. Now Doyle’s detailed planning to prove that an invasion at Inch’on was “not impossible” would be put to the test. Scenarios 42 through 52 cover this period.
Beaches of Wolmi-do
15 September 1950
The Inch’on invasion began with a reinforced Marine battalion landing on Wolmi-do (Moon Tip Island), a small but hilly island right off the shore of Inch’on’s port and linked to the city by a causeway. Following heavy air strikes and naval bombardment, the Marines hit the beach.
The Central Intelligence Agency’s “Operation Trudy Jackson” had accurately identified all North Korean positions on the island in the weeks before the landing. The Marines swiftly captured Wolmi-do and the tiny connected islet of Sowolmi-do, killing or capturing almost all of the 400-man garrison within 90 minutes at minimal loss to themselves. With the island secure, the Marines now waited for the massive tides to return in the evening so the forces slated to land on other beaches could arrive.
We finally get to use one of those beach maps! This isn’t a very large scenario, with the Marines storming ashore (Marines never land, they always “storm ashore”) against a small Nork garrison well-supplied with support weapons if not with courage.
15 September 1950
Less than 10 days after their last firefight on the Pusan Perimeter, the 5th Marines stormed ashore at Inch’on. Four cruisers and five destroyers provided a heavy preparatory bombardment, assisted by large-scale air strikes. Scaling ladders helped many Marines make their way over a high sea wall that followed the shoreline.
Resistance proved uneven: in one sector, Marines faced a small force entrenched around a bunker that put up a fierce fight. In others, North Korean troops threw down their weapons and surrendered or ran away. By shortly after midnight the Marines had taken all of their objectives.
Most English-language sources call the North Korean defenders “Marines,” but that appears to be a bad translation of “coast defense troops.” These defenders are even less enthusiastic than those of Wolmi-Do and they lack much in the way of heavy support. The Marines are not as lavishly equipped here either, but they do have heavy naval firepower at their backs and they’re Marines.
Highway to Seoul
17 September 1950
Expecting the North Koreans to counter attack, the Marines took up a strong position barring the highway between Inch’on and Seoul, with both regiments in blocking positions overnight. As the sun rose North Korean T-34/85 tanks approached from the direction of the capital, accompanied by tank-riding infantry. They apparently did not notice the advanced Marine positions.
The Marine battalion’s anti-tank section and tank support waited until every North Korean tank was within their “kill zone” before opening fire. The infantry fell off the tanks, which ran over several men. Marine Cpl. Okey J. Douglas leapt from his hiding place and ran directly at the enemy, carrying an outdated 2.36-inch bazooka and a satchel of rockets. He fired his first rocket at a range of five yards; it hit the first tank on its first bogie wheel, and the tank burst into flames. He then ran to the next tank; the North Koreans riding on the tank and marching next to it apparently were too shocked by his appearance to shoot at him. He fired at the same range, this time striking the tank at the base of its turret. Smoke and flames erupted from the vehicle as the Marine Pershings opened fire, destroying Douglas’ target as well as the other four tanks. Douglas was unscathed. He was awarded the Bronze Star, with the citation adding that he “performed these actions in spite of intelligence that this type of tank could not be destroyed with his weapon.”
Okey Douglas annoyed his superiors by performing an impossible task, and he was apparently better known within the Corps for improbably surviving a long series of should-have-been-fatal automobile accidents before deploying to Korea. The scenario gives the Marines the more powerful 3.5-inch bazookas, since the game system wasn’t designed to handle a berserk Marine running to within literal spitting distance before firing his rockets.
Crossing the Han
20 September 1950
The Marine timetable called for an assault crossing of the Han River barring the way to Seoul, set for the morning of 20 September. The Marines arrived at the river line on schedule, and swimmers scouted out crossing points during the early morning hours. Strong artillery fire blanketed North Korean positions on a nearby hill, and then the Marine LVT amphibious tractors hit the water.
The Marines swarmed across the river quickly; the North Koreans were not prepared to meet amphibious vehicles. Coming ashore, the Marine rifle companies executed a rapid flanking maneuver to take the hilltop positions from the rear, securing the crossing and moving into the 1st Marine Division’s reserve by mid-afternoon.
This time the Marines get to use their amphibious assault tractors to cross a river and beat up on the Norks defending the other side. The Americans have only roughly equal numbers and the North Koreans have the river barrier to help them, but Marines.
21-22 September 1950
While the NKPA had a large number of combat troops in the Seoul area – about 20,000 – they were neither well-led nor tactically proficient. They did show at times a strong will to fight. When the 1st Marines encountered stiff resistance in the industrial suburb of Yongdungpo, one company executed a flanking maneuver to attack the North Koreans from an unguarded angle. The North Koreans responded with a counter-attack with about 500 men backed by tanks.
Marine veterans swore later that the North Koreans came on screaming the Japanese battle cry of “Banzai!” rather than the Korean “Manzai!” Whatever words were on their lips as they died, they died in droves: the Marines counted 275 North Korean dead after the attack, against only light losses of their own. At 0800 the 1st Marines launched their own attack into Yongdungpo, only to find that the NKPA had already pulled out of the suburb.
This is just a small scenario that proves that even when supported by T-34/85’s, it’s not always a good idea for the Norks to attack Marines.
The Night Road
21-22 September 1950
The U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division followed the Marines ashore, and its Reconnaissance Company set out to find the enemy. When the division lost contact with the recon troops, the 73rd Tank Battalion and some attached motorized units raced southward to find it. Instead they found a small tank-infantry force from the NKPA’s 105th Armored Division.
The American task force ran into North Korean armor and a confused fight ensued, with both sides losing tanks. With the North Koreans occupying the buildings of the town of Suwon under the cover of darkness, the Americans halted for the night rather than risk more attacks from hidden tanks. The Recon Company had formed a perimeter three miles to the south, and the American tankers finally joined them later that morning.
This one’s a nighttime meeting engagement, with the Americans encountering a small force of North Koreans and trying to bop their way past. Neither side is particularly strong, but the North Koreans do have an anti-aircraft gun handy in case of need.
Guarding the Western Rampart
24 September 1950
The 1st Marine Division planned to attack Seoul from three directions, with one regiment coming the north, west and southeast to assure that the NKPA defenders could not escape. The 5th Marines and ROK 1st Marine Regiment would strike from the west. Around the elevation known as Hill 105B the NKPA’s 25th Coastal Defense Brigade had dug in with steel-reinforced concrete bunkers expertly sited on reverse slopes. The slipshod 25th Brigade appears to have been heavily reinforced from the training cadres present around Seoul and displayed a high degree of skill in deployment and many modern weapons.
A forty-minute air and artillery bombardment damaged some of the North Korean positions, but the Marines still had to advance and dig them out one bunker at a time. Despite massive casualties, the Marines could not drive the North Koreans off the ridge and both regiments halted for the night. The assault resumed the next morning and late in the afternoon the hills finally fell; the two assault battalions of the 5th Marines counted 1,750 enemy dead in their sector alone.
ROK Marines and U.S. Marines fight side-by-side through a tough layer of North Korean fortifications manned by some surprisingly resolute coast-defense troops. The Norks are numerous and fierce, entrenched, and possessed of many heavy support weapons and even some artillery support. The Americans have not only two kinds of Marines, but a great deal of artillery plus Marine air support.
Seoul by Noon
25 September 1950
Advancing on Seoul, the 1st Marine Regiment – led by Col. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, the most decorated Marine in American history and already a living legend – ran into a small North Korean roadblock backed by anti-tank guns. The Marines, of course, attacked; as Puller put it, “There are not enough (Asians) in the world to stop a fully armed Marine regiment from going where ever they want to go.”
The North Koreans fought stubbornly, but the Marines drove them out with the help of a flame-throwing tank. After about half of the defenders had been killed, the remainder surrendered. The 1st Marines continued their advance, aiming right for the heart of the South Korean capital.
Chesty Puller is back, having last appeared on our old Guadalcanal game. In a pure work of history I would have left in his full quote, but not in what’s also an entertainment product.
26 September 1950
Whether X Corps commander Edward Almond was unhappy with the speed of the Marine advance into Seoul, or unhappy with the thought of Marines capturing the symbolically important city instead of the U.S. Army, is unclear today. Whatever the motivation, he shifted his division boundaries and ordered the 7th Infantry Division to advance into the city. First they would have to capture the heights known as South Mountain.
The Americans came out of their positions to attack the advancing North Koreans, who may not have realized that the road out of Seoul had been blocked, and inflicted heavy casualties on them. Despite this success, 7th Infantry Division remained four miles outside the South Korean capital while the Marines had finally entered the city.
This is just a little scenario, with highly motivated Americans attacking some battered and deeply unwilling North Koreans, who do at least have a tank on their side.
Battle of the Barricades
26 September 1950
During the late evening of 25 September, Almond’s headquarters sent a teletype message to Gen. Oliver P. Smith of 1st Marine Division declaring that the North Koreans were on the run and ordering the Marines to enter Seoul immediately to pursue them. Smith demurred, instead ordering his regiments to probe ahead carefully according to the division’s attack plan. That caution proved wise when a small Marine patrol found a large force of tanks and infantry preparing to fall on the 1st Marine Regiment as it entered the city.
Forewarned, Chesty Puller responded by calling down an intensive artillery barrage on the advancing North Koreans, and following it with a counter-attack. Marine bazooka teams hunted down five of the enemy tanks, and the Marines counted 375 North Korean dead left in the otherwise empty streets of Seoul. The regiment began its own attack immediately afterwards, but made little progress during the night.
The Allied command’s impatience to claim the capture of Seoul does little credit to any of the generals; in any event, it would be Paik Sun Yup’s ROK 1st Division which first entered the capital. This is a small, urban scenario that’s pretty tough on both sides despite the apparent American advantages.
27 September 1950
Eighth Army troops advancing from the Pusan Perimeter had linked up with the 7th Infantry Division on the previous day, but that did not alter the grim task facing the 1st Marine Division in Seoul. The North Koreans fought for every building and blocked every street with sandbagged fortifications, forcing the Marines to take each one. Heavy support from air strikes, artillery and tanks helped remove the enemy, and assured the thorough destruction of the ancient Korean capital.
It took three days of savage street fighting to push the North Koreans out of Seoul, at the cost of over 300 Americans and 50 ROK troops killed in action and uncounted thousands of NKPA soldiers. Finally on 29 September Douglas MacArthur formally handed the city over to South Korean President Syngman Rhee. ROK troops paraded through the capital while ROK police proceeded to massacre hundreds of suspected Communist sympathizers and their families, including children under the age of 10. More than 50 years later the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission would find that few if any victims had assisted the North Koreans.
We wind up the chapter with more intense street fighting that rewards the American way of war: if it gets in your way, blow it up. The Americans have all sorts of firepower with which to achieve this; the North Koreans have a strong position that’s going to be hard to overcome.
And that’s the eighth chapter.
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.