North’s forces start to crumbleLast week, General Paik recounted how he helped preserve the allied defensive lines around the Bowling Alley and learned that his division would eventually attack Pyongyang.
In early September, word began to circulate that Gen. Douglas MacArthur was planning something big. However, we did not have any clues as to the details of what might take place.
It was at around that time I received a call from the U.S. 8th Army Headquarters. I was given orders to make my way down to Miryang, South Gyeongsang to meet with a high-ranking U.S. commanding officer. I was not provided with the name of the officer, however, which made me curious as to who I would meet.
Once I arrived in Miryang, I was redirected by the U.S. Army to an orchard in a remote locale near Daegu. Upon finally arriving at the orchard, I wandered the grounds lined with apple trees until I located what appeared to be a temporary army barracks. I located what appeared to be an aging man sitting nearby playing with his dog.
The man turned out to be Gen. Frank W. Milburn, who was 58 years old at the time. We introduced ourselves and made small talk. General Milburn said he had recently arrived in Korea and was commanding the U.S. Army I Corps.
He was already famous, having made a name for himself as the commander of the Allied XXI Corps under General Alexander Patch’s U.S. 7th Army. Maj. Gen. Milburn’s XXI Corps played a crucial role in winning the battle at the Colmar Pocket in Alsace, France during World War II. Before coming to Korea, General Milburn had served as the commander of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division and also as the deputy commander of the U.S. Army Europe.
General Milburn had been a part of General MacArthur’s Incheon Landing and he was selected to lead the upcoming counteroffensive.
“General Paik, I already know about your accomplishments. I heard about your credentials,” said General Milburn. “Your division will be under the command of the U.S. Army I Corps from this point on. We are planning on a counteroffensive soon and I need you to do well.”
Then, to my surprise, General Milburn added, “As of now the ROK Army 1st Division sorely lacks firepower. I will provide you with the necessary artillery firepower to fight proper battles.”
I was surprised to hear this since the U.S. Army did not usually lend its equipment or weapons to the ROK Army. They were very cautious due to the possibility that the ROK Army could lose battles and the U.S. Army’s equipment or weapons would end up in the hands of the enemy. Since we had not participated in many proper joint operations with the U.S. Army up to that point, we had not fully earned the trust of our allies.
Despite the pleasant surprise, I could not help but ask General Milburn for another favor. I asked the general if my men could receive proper training on how to use artillery guns from American soldiers. After a brief pause, General Milburn agreed and ordered one of the officers under his command to provide us with training and an ample number of maps.
The maps were in English and Chinese. They were different in many ways from the 1:50,000 scale maps that were first produced during the Japanese colonial period. The most impressive feature of the maps were the detailed coordinates. These were rarely seen even on the colonial-era maps.
We were also provided with the pens and markers necessary for strategic planning. I saw my officers’ jaws drop in awe. Maps were the quintessential basic necessity, vital to carrying out a proper war, but they had been difficult to come by for the ROK Army.
It was early September 1950 and I noticed something strange in the mobilization of the enemy troops. The manner in which the enemy was planning its battles was changing. Having failed to penetrate the Dabudong front lines, the enemy seemed overcome with anxiety.
The enemy evenly spread out its troops along the Nakdong and Dabudong lines. It was their intention to test the line until they discovered a weak point in the chain, at which point they would focus on that particular area. We noticed increased activity in the Yeongcheon, North Gyeongsang region, which fell roughly at the midpoint on the line between Dabudong and Pohang.
Yeongcheon was a major transportation point. It was a crossroads, with routes to Shinnyong and Gusan-dong. It also had roads leading to Daegu and Gyeongju. If the enemy were to take hold of this area, Daegu and Gyeongju would face immediate danger.
We also noticed a North Korean division start shifting in the direction of Gyeongju. It was their intention to seize Yeongcheon and then proceed towards Gyeongju, which would serve as the meeting point for several divisions. The enemy was planning a final attack on Busan from there.
The North Koreans moved their 15th Division, which had been pressuring the ROK Army 1st Division in Dabudong, to the Yeongcheon area.
On Sept. 5, I got a call from General Yu Jae-heung, the commander of the II Corps. I went to the command post set up at Hayang Elementary School. After explaining the situation to me and General Kim Jong-oh, commander of the 6th Division, General Yu ordered us each to pick out a regiment and send it to Yeongcheon. I decided to send the 11th Regiment.
The enemy offensive picked up speed on the night of Sept. 5. Unhappy with the delay in seizing Yeongcheon, the hierarchy of the North Korean Army replaced Park Sung-chul, the commander of the 15th Division. Artillery shells began to drop on the center of Yeongcheon by the evening of Sept. 5. By sunset, enemy tanks began to roll into the area.
But the ROK Army 8th Division did a good job of defending the area. After securing a defensive position in the southern part of Yeongcheon, they prepared for a counteroffensive. On the morning of Sept. 6, a tank platoon of the U.S. 8th Army, consisting of five tanks, arrived for support. In addition, the 6th Division’s 19th Regiment and the 1st Division’s 11th Regiment also arrived later in the day.
The weather on Sept. 6 was cloudy, and as such, the enemy was not expecting bombing missions from the allied forces. But allied forces went ahead with the air bombardment mission, and the air support suppressed the enemy troops that had briefly taken hold of Yeongcheon.
The ROK Army Headquarters worked to secure the area with a formidable defensive line consisting of ROK troops, and the enemy failed to mount a sizeable attack in the area again.
I could see that enemy morale had taken a hit. They had failed at Dabudong and again at their next target, Yeongcheon. I began to wonder how much longer the enemy could continue with its attack.
At this time, I hopped on a jeep and headed toward Yeongcheon. While on the road, I noticed several deserted Soviet-made T-34 tanks. Their exteriors looked perfectly fine, and when I inspected them more closely, the interiors looked fine as well. That’s when I came to the realization that the enemy had left their tanks because they did not have the gasoline to refuel them.
The enemy troops were in bad shape. I got a briefing from one my officers that the enemy troops had not eaten in days. This was evident when looking at the faces of the North Korean prisoners of war lined up along the road. The North Korean Army had started to reach its limit.
The enemy supply line, which extended to the Nakdong River, was long, and the Americans had been steadily bombing the supply line in an effort to cut off the enemy. I saw the effects of such bombing missions in person on the emaciated faces of the captured enemy troops.
My mind began to fill with anticipation for a counteroffensive. Having endured through a tough stretch from the onset of the war, which involved being on the defensive, we were finally getting a shot at forging an attack. I felt an icy chill with the anticipation of going on the offensive.
Translation by Jason Kim [email@example.com]
The first campaign to excavate the bodies of soldiers who went missing during the Korean War began on April 3, 2000. In the years since, countless bodies have been recovered from both sides of the conflict. The helmet above was found next to a corpse on a hill near Shinbuk-myeon, Pocheon, Gyeonggi in 2007.[JoongAng Ilbo]
Enemy attacks began to stall in late August of 1950, which paved the way for a counteroffensive by the UN. Above, Korean laborers place burlap sacks filled with sand in the Nakdong River to help the US 1st Calvalry Division transport their weaponry near Waegwan, North Gyeongsang.Provided by the U.S. Army