Battle of the Ch'ongch'on River

Battle of the Ch'ongch'on River
Part of the Korean War
A snow covered hill with the hill top on fire and the slopes filled with charging soldiers
Chinese forces overrun a U.N. position.
DateNovember 25 – December 2, 1950
Location
ResultDecisive Chinese victory[1]
Territorial
changes
Communists regain control of all areas north of the 38th Parallel[2]
Belligerents

 United Nations (UNC)

 China
Commanders and leaders
United States Douglas MacArthur
United States Walton H. Walker
United States John B. Coulter
United States Laurence B. Keiser
South Korea Yu Jae-hung
South Korea Paik Sun-yup
Turkey Tahsin Yazıcı
United Kingdom Basil Aubrey Coad[3]
China Mao Zedong
China Peng Dehuai
China Han Xianchu
Units involved
United States I Corps
United States IX Corps
South Korea II Corps
United States US Fifth Air Force
38th Corps
39th Corps
40th Corps
42nd Corps
50th Corps
66th Corps
Strength
254,571[4]230,000[5][6]
Casualties and losses
US:
676 killed
813 missing
3,034 wounded
2,055 captured[7][nb 1]
Turkey:
218 killed
94 missing
455 wounded[8]
Total UN casualties:
11,000+[9]
Chinese estimation:
23,000[10]

Official data:
10,000+ battle casualties
~20,000 non-battle casualties[11][nb 2]
30,000+ total casualties

  • 38th Corps: 415 killed, 5,005 wounded
  • 39th Corps: 463 killed, 1,125 wounded
  • 40th Corps: 869 killed, 3,267 wounded
  • 42nd Corps: 298 killed, 1,378 wounded
  • 66th Corps: 1,347 killed or wounded
    (From November 25 to December 25)[12]

The Battle of the Ch'ongch'on River (Chinese: 清川江战役; pinyin: Qīngchuānjiāng Zhànyì), also known as the Battle of the Ch'ongch'on, was a decisive battle in the Korean War, and it took place from November 25 to December 2, 1950, along the Ch'ongch'on River Valley in the northwestern part of North Korea. In response to the successful Chinese First Phase Campaign against the United Nations (UN) forces, General Douglas MacArthur launched the Home-by-Christmas Offensive to expel the Chinese forces from Korea and to end the war. Anticipating this reaction, the Chinese People's Volunteer Army (PVA) Commander Peng Dehuai planned a counteroffensive, dubbed the "Second Phase Campaign", against the advancing UN forces.

Hoping to repeat the success of the earlier First Phase Campaign, the PVA 13th Army[nb 3] first launched a series of surprise attacks along the Ch'ongch'on River Valley on the night of November 25, 1950 at the western half of the Second Phase Campaign[nb 4] (Chinese: 第二次战役西线; pinyin: Dì'èrcì Zhànyì Xīxiàn), effectively destroying the Eighth United States Army's right flank while allowing PVA forces to move rapidly into UN rear areas. In the subsequent battles and withdrawals during the period of November 26 to December 2, 1950, although the US Eighth Army managed to avoid being surrounded by PVA forces, the PVA 13th Army were still able to inflict heavy losses onto the retreating UN forces which had lost all cohesion. In the aftermath of the battle, the US Eighth Army's heavy losses forced all UN forces to retreat from North Korea to the 38th Parallel.

Background

A map of Northwest Korea with arrows pointing towards Unsan and Kunu-ri
Map of Chinese First Phase Campaign, October 25 – November 1, 1950

Well, if they go fast enough, maybe some of them can be home by Christmas.

— General Douglas MacArthur[13]

In the wake of the UN forces' successful landing at Inchon, the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter and the subsequent destruction of the Korean People's Army (KPA) during September 1950, the Eighth United States Army crossed the 38th Parallel and advanced rapidly towards the Sino-Korean border.[14] Alarmed by this development, China's Chairman Mao Zedong ordered the PVA to intervene in Korea and to launch the First Phase Campaign against the UN forces.[15] Between October 25 and November 4, 1950, the PVA 13th Army surprised and defeated the Republic of Korea Army (ROK) II Corps and the US 1st Cavalry Division in a series of battles around Onjong and Unsan, destroying the right flank of the US Eighth Army while forcing the UN forces to retreat back to the Ch'ongch'on River.[16] Although PVA forces were able to break through the UN line, logistics difficulties forced the PVA to withdraw on November 5, 1950.[17]

Despite the success of the PVA First Phase Campaign, the UN planners still believed that China had not intervened in Korea on a large scale.[18] The suddenness of the PVA withdrawal in the face of a victory further reinforced this belief.[19] Working on the assumption that only 30,000 PVA troops could remain hidden in the hills,[20] General Douglas MacArthur ordered the bombing of the bridges over the Yalu River in an effort to cut off PVA reinforcements.[21] Confident that the UN air forces could detect and disrupt any troop movements across the Yalu River, MacArthur launched the Home-by-Christmas Offensive on November 24 to rout the remaining PVA and KPA forces and to end the Korean War.[22]

Unknown to the UN planners, however, there were already 180,000 PVA troops stationed in Korea, with more reinforcements infiltrating across the border.[23] Although the PVA was ordered to maintain a defensive posture in North Korea until Soviet weapons could arrive in the spring of 1951,[24] its earlier successes convinced the Chinese leadership that the PVA was capable of turning the tide of UN advance.[25] Encouraged by the fact that the UN did not know their true numbers, PVA Commander Peng Dehuai outlined the Second Phase Campaign, a counteroffensive aimed at pushing the UN forces back to a line halfway between Ch'ongch'on River and Pyongyang.[5] As a part of a deception plan to further reinforce the weak appearance of PVA forces, Peng ordered all units to rapidly retreat north while releasing POWs along the way.[26] With 230,000 troops at his disposal and another 150,000 heading to the Chosin Reservoir,[5] Peng authorized the start of the Second Phase Campaign on November 22, 1950.[27]