Publishing Disclaimer: In all of its publications and products, Army University Press presents professional information. However, the views and opinions expressed therein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Army University, the Department of the US Army, or any other agency of the US Government.



Consolidating Gains in the Eighth Army Rear, 25th ID in South Korea, October 1950

Eric M. Burke


This is a reprint of Chapter 11 from Enduring Success: Consolidation of Gains in Large-Scale Combat Operations, part of The Large-Scale Combat Operations Series.


Compared to the unrelenting intensity of large-scale combat operations (LSCO) they had conducted since arriving in Korea three months earlier, the first days of October 1950 seemed almost idyllic to the men of Capt. Sam Holliday's company of the 3rd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regimental Combat Team (RCT). Along with the rest of General William B. Kean's 25th Infantry Division and Maj. Gen. John B. Coulter's IX Corps, they were tasked with "mopping-up" pockets of Communist forces bypassed during the Eighth Army's dramatic breakout from the Pusan Perimeter. Holliday's exhausted GIs appreciated the respite at first. The company commander later recalled that it all began as "primarily a good break" and reminisced about the improved rations and opportunities to repair combat-worn equipment and vehicles.1 Cut-off from communication with the still northward-surging frontlines of the United Nations Command (UNC) offensive, "we really did not know much of what was going on outside of our battalion," he remembered. Even the larger mission of his own division remained mostly obscure beyond "attempting to capture the NKPA [North Korean People's Army] stragglers going north."2

Roving bands of Communist soldiers, orphaned from their shattered parent units, still roamed the rugged southwestern Korea mountains seeking safe passage northward through UNC lines. In an oft-overlooked Korean War episode, Kean's 25th Infantry Division was tasked with finding, securing, or neutralizing these rogue elements before they escaped Eighth Army's grasp. In doing so, the command would consolidate the army's recent gains won through hard fighting and swift maneuver. The more Communists they could capture, the higher the price the NKPA would pay for its chaotic rout from South Korea.

Initially stationed in Okcheon-gun county just east of the division headquarters at Daejeon, Holliday's battalion commanded by Maj. Robert L. Woolfolk III rounded up more than 1,300 Communist prisoners in the first week. Defeated "Reds" poured from the densely wooded hills to surrender of their own free will shortly after the battalion's arrival. All appeared quite "weary and hungry."3 Still, scattered patrols had comparatively little success locating more stalwart Communist fragments hidden in the local hills. To solve this problem, Holliday solicited the assistance of the locals in the hunt. He coordinated with Okcheon-gun's chief of police for the Okcheon people to spread a narrative throughout the area that "Americans are crazy! They give food to everyone! They even give the Communists rice and cigarettes. How can anyone treat enemies like that? They are crazy!"4 Holliday knew the enemy had a keen sense of honor. "I do not want the North Koreans to lose face," he emphasized to the chief. "Just offer to show them where they can get rice, other good things to eat, and cigarettes," Holliday said, and the rest would fall into place.5 The influence campaign seemed to pay off. "In a few days we filled all the jails in the district and our soldiers were very happy that they did not have to go out to walk for hours through the hills," he proudly recalled.6 Hostile expressions on the faces of some detainees made Holliday glad he had taken them out of the war without unduly risking the lives of his soldiers.7

Having apparently neutralized the Communist threat in Okcheon-gun, division headquarters later in the month transferred 3rd Battalion to the Chinsan-Gunsan sector south of Daejeon to try its hand at mopping-up a much larger area. The enemy there was markedly different. "We had been trying to capture soldiers who had been defeated and were trying to escape," Holliday later observed of the battalion's old sector.8 While similar transient NKPA remnants were scattered across this new sector, they were not the only threat. The vast 6,500 square-mile southwestern Korea swath assigned to the division's three regimental combat teams, most especially the region encompassing and abutting the Chiri-san Mountain mass, had long been home to some of South Korea's most volatile pro-Communist insurgents. 9 Republic of Korea (ROK) forces, along with their American counterparts of the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG), had enjoyed considerable success in countering the "Red" insurgency by 1949. The sudden invasion of conventional Communist forces into the south the following summer, however, brought guerrillas out of hiding and into power in many villages.10 Even following the Pusan breakout, Korean locals warned American patrols that several thousand Communists still occupied the Chiri-san Mountain area. UNC intelligence reports corroborated the warnings and cautioned that the division's area of responsibility contained pockets of bypassed enemy forces and guerrillas ranging "from a few completely disorganized soldiers to skeleton equipped units of suspected battalion size."11

Upon arrival in the new sector, Holliday's patrols discovered two trenches cut across a road just outside Chinsan intended to block the passage of UNC traffic. Holliday dispatched a road repair team to remedy the problem along with a few soldiers from the battalion intelligence section "to check out the area."12 They never made it. Only a short time later, a few shell-shocked survivors stumbled back into the company command post, prompting Holliday to personally organize a rapid response. Cautiously approaching the ambush site, the quick reaction force "found the trucks burning, but no enemy."13 The Communists were gone and American bodies littered the ground, all with their "shoes removed and [each] had at least two wounds--one always through the back of the head at close range."14


Figure 1


Infuriated and frustrated at the lack of opportunity to exact revenge on the elusive guerrillas, American patrols scoured the hills in search of the lone missing member of the ambushed intelligence team--a personal friend of Holliday's. "We immediately sent patrols to all of the neighboring villages," he remembered, "but no one would admit that they had seen anything or knew who might have staged the ambush."15 Holliday knew full well that "someone from these very villages probably did it. But how do you know? What do you do? What can you do to find the truth?"16 The men canvassed each village looking for "weapons or anything that might have been connected to the ambush. We found nothing."17 Besides the burning wreckage of jeeps in the roadway, the only evidence that guerrillas had ever been present was the body of a Korean man discovered by Holliday's men in the hills overlooking the ambush site. Hanged by the neck from a tree, his big toe had been severed "and a message pinned to his chest . . . written in blood, no doubt from his own toe."18 The crudely scrawled Korean characters warned locals that the victim "was an enemy of the people and he was therefore being killed as an example of what would happen to anyone who did not support the Communists."19 After months of struggling against organized battalions of uniformed North Koreans, Holliday's veteran riflemen had stumbled into a very different kind of war.

From Japan to Gunsan

General Kean's 25th Infantry Division, Tropic Lightning, had been leisurely prosecuting occupation duties on Honshu and Kyushu Islands, Japan, when the Communist tide suddenly swept across the 38th Parallel and into South Korea on 25 June 1950. Alerted by General Douglas MacArthur to prepare the division for combat deployment, Kean's headquarters scrambled to consolidate its regimental combat teams and embark them toward the peninsula.20 Under Kean's direction were Col. John H. Michaelis's 27th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, Lt. Col. John T. Corley's 24th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, and Col. Henry G. Fisher's 35th Infantry Regimental Combat Team. Attached in support were the M24 Chaffee and M4A3E8 Sherman tanks of the 89th Tank Battalion and M24 Chaffee tanks of A Company, 79th Heavy Tank Battalion, along with the division's complement of 105and 155-mm howitzers. With the full panoply of these combined arms assets, the division was well prepared and equipped to conduct large-scale combat operations in defense of South Korea.21

By 18 July, less than a month after the North Korean onslaught, the entire 25th Infantry Division was on the peninsula. Charged with shoring up the rapidly withdrawing South Korean forces and their American 24th Infantry Division counterparts, Tropic Lightning component elements rushed into a defensive line between Taegu and Pohang Dong as they arrived in-country. After violently hurling back successive NKPA assaults against its positions, the division silently pulled out of the northern line on the night of 2 August and rushed 150 miles to the southwest to block 4th and 6th North Korean Divisions threatening to turn the Eighth Army's left flank. The command's adeptly conducted maneuver was one of the most "veritably miraculous" of the war, and earned considerable accolades from both American and ROK governments.22

Arriving in their new positions just in time, the division counter-attacked alongside other UNC command elements throughout mid-August, pushing back Communist forces along the Nam River near Chinju. After falling back later that month to take up an assigned sector comprising the extreme left of General Walton Walker's "Pusan Perimeter," the division struggled to protect vital UNC supplies on the coast. "As a band of steel, the line held," the division historian later proudly recalled, "withstanding the repeated hammerings of the Reds."23 Sparring with division-sized Communist elements required all of UNC firepower and combined arms assets. On 16 September, these assets were directed against Communist positions in preparation for a massive breakout attempt designed to coincide with General Douglas MacArthur's daring landings at Inchon.24

Punching out of the perimeter along with the rest of IX Corps, Tropic Lightning was backed by deadly close air support. The soldiers plunged through North Korean lines, shattering the Communist divisions that fronted their positions and routing those adjacent to them. In a headlong rush west across the peninsula, they retook Chinju by 25 September. Five days later, advance elements of Kean's command liberated Gunsan on the western coast, effectively isolating all of southwestern Korea from the north. After covering nearly 200 miles of rugged Korean terrain, the division had much to be proud of, but its work had only just begun. Despite the "tremendous wear and tear on all equipment, particularly vehicles, tanks, and tractors" incurred on the slog from Chinju, the men of Tropic Lightning would have little time to rest.25 When follow-on orders arrived from IX Corps headquarters on 5 October, Kean knew his command was in for what one veteran referred to as the "ticklish and unspectacular task" of mopping-up the fragmented and bypassed NKPA remnants strewn across southwestern Korea--in effect, consolidating the battlefield gains they had just won.26

Successfully consolidating IX Corps' gains would require: (1) rounding-up, securing, or neutralizing the remnants of defeated NKPA forces seeking safe passage northward, (2) addressing the humanitarian needs of war-torn Korea's civilian population, rehabilitating regional infrastructure, and reestablishing civil authority--and confidence--in the ROK government, and finally (3) capturing or killing yet-undefeated Communist guerrillas hiding in the densely wooded mountains. These three objectives were intricately interwoven. Scattered remnants of NKPA forces could still harass Korean villages, undermine civilian confidence in the ROK government, and bolster the otherwise limited military capabilities of Communist guerrillas in the region. At the same time, gaining the Korean peoples' trust and assistance would be crucial. Tropic Lightning needed human intelligence to locate and pursue remaining NKPA forces and identify local guerrilla hideouts. Moreover, as the larger political objective of the war was to ensure the ROK government's sovereignty, assisting that government in caring for its embattled population was key to a lasting UNC victory.

Finally, the division's consolidation operations occurred contemporaneously with Eighth Army's ongoing large-scale combat operations to the north, so its southwestern Korea efforts were also crucial for purely operational reasons. Due in large part to the tortuous winding roads and unforgiving terrain of the Korean peninsula, sustaining forward-deployed UNC forces was heavily reliant upon rail supply. At the junction of three major railroads, including the only double-track north-south route in the country, the security of the city of Daejeon--Kean's new headquarters--and its hinterland was central to the secure and dependable supply of Eighth Army from the south.27 Located halfway between Pusan and Seoul along Highway 1, one of Eighth Army's two north-south main supply routes (MSRs), the city represented a critical node within the UNC logistical network.28 Any Communist threat to the network could potentially hamper the sustainment of operations farther north and significantly limit the operational freedom and mobility of UNC forces.

"A Coordinated Sweeping Program"

Despite the US Army's nearly two centuries of experience in counterinsurgency operations, its 1950s doctrine left much to be desired in the way of instruction for a campaign to "mop-up" scattered enemy remnants or hunt down guerrilla groups. Field Manual (FM) 100-5, Field Service Regulations, Operations (1949), paid considerable attention to operations in support of partisan forces like those marshalled against the Japanese during World War II, but only a handful of paragraphs addressed how to combat them. Stressing the importance of employing "native elements" organized into "small mobile constabulary-type units" in conjunction with American forces, FM 100-5 advised "vigorous and bold action by mobile forces" as the "quickest and surest way of defeating enemy bands."29 After penetrating into a guerrilla-infested region and securing the principal villages and strongholds in the sector, these mobile forces were to be "organized as defensive areas, from which highly mobile columns conduct operations against any organized resistance located."30

For the most part, the division's approach to its new mission adhered closely to these prescriptions. After receiving IX Corps's orders for the mop-up, the division left its old post on the coast at Gunsan and officially opened its new Daejeon headquarters at 1400 on 5 October. After each of the command's six infantry battalions reached their various assigned areas of responsibility (AOR), their respective headquarters established command posts and company billets in local schoolhouses and promptly began a thorough reconnaissance in preparation for "a coordinated sweeping program."31 At the same time, battalion commanders met with village leaders to clarify the UNC mission and ascertain the area's most pressing security issues.

Similar to its sister battalions across the division, 1st Battalion, 24th RCT, established its headquarters in Anseong, forty-five miles north of Daejeon, on 10 October then subdivided its area into smaller company zones assigned to each of its subordinate commands. Several at battalion headquarters worried that it would be impossible for the single rifle battalion's fewer than 650 available soldiers to secure the expansive area of responsibility completely.32 In the spirit of FM 100-5 instructions, the command team decided instead to "let the ROK police locate the enemy and then our units would eliminate them."33 Two days later, the battalion commander held a meeting with Anseong's local authorities, "defining the mission of our unit and the aims of the United Nations Army in Korea."34 During the meeting, the parties discussed "the local communists [sic] problems and also the steps to be taken by all in accomplishment of our mission."35 Col. John Michaelis' 27th RCT, assigned to the Chongju area, was spared the challenge of patrolling its entire sector when the regiment fortuitously recovered an enemy operations plan during an early reconnaissance patrol. The document, which included prescribed escape routes for Communist forces in the area, allowed Michaelis's Wolfhounds to employ Korean civilians as scouts-- much in the manner as the 24th RCT used ROK police--to help spot fruitful positions to ambush enemy contingents.36 Meanwhile, Col. Henry Fisher's 35th RCT patrolled together with local Korean police and relied heavily upon intelligence gleaned from Communist detainees regarding its three battalion sectors. On the same day the division arrived at Daejeon, IX Corps Headquarters temporarily transferred control of the 9th ROK Regiment and Puerto Rican 65th Regimental Combat Team to Kean. Both commands deployed east of Daejeon and commenced blocking and patrolling their own respective AORs.37

With only 14,722 effectives present for duty on 1 October (just over 75 percent of the command's authorized strength), Kean's division was responsible for more than 6,500 square miles of rugged mountainous terrain.38 This was, as the 27th RCT's war diarist observed, "an area greater than the now-famous Pusan-Perimeter."39 The division's battalions were scattered over vast distances, which necessitated tight coordination between commands. All battalions maintained a schedule of regular motorized or foot patrols to their boundaries in order to keep close contact with adjacent units. Sensing this vulnerability, Communist guerrillas did their best to habitually threaten UNC communications. Almost as soon as it was established, the division's VHF station near Daejeon received harassing small arms fire from an invisible enemy in the surrounding hills. Responding patrols failed to discover the source. 40

Rounding-up the Defeated

By far the easiest of the division's assigned tasks involved finding and securing scattered NKPA remnants shaken by their recent defeat during the breakout offensive. Although bypassed, surrounded, and nominally defeated, lingering enemy elements across the division's zone of responsibility still proved elusive and dangerous foes. While many had no arms or ammunition, some were armed and forced Kean's patrols to remain perpetually alert.

According to NKPA prisoners, fugitive groups were primarily nocturnal, moving northward under cover of darkness in large contingents so as to simplify navigation. During the dangerous daylight hours, they typically fragmented into smaller groups of four or five in search of food and water.41 Civilians informed 27th RCT patrols that these groups "dressed as civilians" and were covertly scouting UNC positions "to enable several sizeable enemy units to bypass them without contact."42 They often posted lookouts near rice paddies while others hurriedly reaped a modest harvest before fleeing back into the hills. Others brazenly made their way into villages and demanded sustenance, the division war diary reported, "even if [they] had to murder to satisfy [their] needs."43 Many threatened locals with ominous warnings about thousands of nearby Communist comrades who would "come into the village and wipe them out" if they refused to provide aid.44 As night came on, these scattered groups reconsolidated with others at prominent landmarks and continued the march north.45


Figure 2


In order to "give the North Korean troops every opportunity to surrender without fighting," the division leaned heavily upon influence operations to encourage the most disheartened to surrender.46 Throughout the month, flights of B-29s armed with loudspeakers cut across the skies over the division's zone announcing that all capitulating Communists should promptly congregate "in open spaces without arms, . . . build a white cross on the ground, and notify the nearest UN Forces of their desire to surrender."47 While this merciful tactic initially bore some fruit, the daily haul of willing prisoners plateaued. Interrogation teams eager to understand the flagging effectiveness of the broadcasts asked detainees whether had heard and understood the messages and if the information affected their decision to surrender. Teams posed similar questions about a contemporaneous leaflet campaign.48 The answers proved disconcerting. One North Korean captain reported the broadcasts were usually inaudible from the ground: "Either the volume is too low or usually the plane is too high."49

While pilots flew high to avoid ground fire, such precautions were mostly unnecessary as Communist fugitives were fearful about giving away their positions. Similarly, UN leaflets promising "good food--and good treatment" were ignored.50 In fact, the offer may have done more harm than good. "NKPA personnel are prone to feel that this is all false bait," one division report read. "They do not expect 'good' food and 'good' treatment so believe such promises to be false."51 Even if such statements were true, the ideologically hostile and intensely wary foe had to believe the message. Instead, prisoners suggested that leaflets and loudspeaker announcements should have offered "more clear-cut pictures of POW enclosures" and emphasized the separation between the "average soldier" and the Communist officials ultimately responsible for the war.52 "Average soldier is being sacrificed by communists," one intelligence report suggested, highlighting class and even ideological divisions within the enemy ranks.53

The same detainee who shed light on the shortcomings of the aerial broadcasts shared an insightful story with interrogators. Just before surrendering to UNC forces in late October, the officer had discussed the relative efficacy of surrender with others in his wandering band. Of the nine officers in the contingent, seven openly said they planned to surrender at the earliest opportunity "even if it cost them their lives."54 The other two trusted that either China or the Soviet Union would soon enter the conflict "and save the present situation."55 They ignored counter-arguments made by their fellow officers that the Chinese could never successfully combat "the UN armies with their superior weapons," and that the Soviets "were not ready to wage a long war with the United States."56 Communist influence operations helped bolster their conviction. After flushing a pocket of enemy guerrillas from a bivouac in late October, one 35th RCT patrol discovered an enemy leaflet addressed "To All Guerrilla Troops, Men and Women." The document asserted that ROK and UNC forces were "killing our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters everywhere," requiring all Communists to "sacrifice our blood for our country, for the purpose of the emancipation of our country and to kill the slaughterers of our fathers and mothers." Further, it noted that in their campaign to "cut down and destroy railroads, bridges, [and] communications that is [sic] being used in the enemy rear area and to attack important enemy headquarters," the guerrillas were not alone--at least in spirit. "Our friends, the Soviet Union, Red China, and other Peoples' Republics are giving moral support to bring the final victory."57

Where influence operations fell short, daily foot and motorized combat patrols had to pick up the slack. The division's aerial reconnaissance assets provided invaluable support in the hunt for scattered NKPA. Pilots kept eyes on roving enemy contingents, frequently warning American patrols of potential ambushes. Kean insisted on "prompt aggressive action" against identified enemy pockets "in order that opportunities for them to escape would be minimized."58 Often with the help of aerial observation, the division's far-flung platoons occasionally stumbled upon large groups of NKPA fugitives. On 10 October, elements of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th RCT discovered approximately 100 Communists bivouacked in their sector. In the ensuing ambush, Golf Company killed seventy-five, scattered the remainder, and captured a lieutenant who provided a detailed description of enemy evasion tactics. The large group, he alleged, was part of a much larger body of nearly 800 camped nearby.59 Three days earlier, 35th RCT elements had caught up with another battalion-sized Communist element and killed more than 300 with a combination of small arms and well-directed artillery fire before they could escape.60

Interrogation teams pressed detainees to gain basic information about the capabilities and capacity of these enemy remnant forces: how much ammunition did they have? Had their equipment been destroyed? Who commanded their unit? What was their parent organization? What was the exact name of their organization? Anxious prisoners revealed on 7 October that the remainder of the battered 7th North Korean Division--still somewhere near 4,000 strong--was carefully and quietly picking its way northward through the division's zone. The North Korean general officers, the detainees confessed, "will not permit surrender;" yet the detainees' surrender suggested some insubordination in the Communist ranks.61 Other high-ranking prisoners divulged the location of three entire regiments of fugitives along with their intended routes northward.62

While the brunt of the work to hunt down and destroy NKPA pockets was left to independent company patrols, the division prosecuted multiple-battalion "hammer-and-anvil" clearance across the southern portion of its AOR between 17 and 19 October. First, Colonel Michaelis's 27th RCT, along with attached UNC and ROK commands, established a blocking position in the Koesan-Chinsan area. Then the 1st and 3rd Battalions of Colonel Fisher's 35th RCT assaulted northward to drive NKPA remnants into the 27th RCT's anvil. Sweeping over rugged hillsides and through meandering valleys during terrible weather, the regiment killed or wounded nearly 150 NKPA fighters and captured 60. Meanwhile, Michaelis's Wolfhounds observed hundreds of enemy troops fleeing northward from the 35th's line of advance and dispersed or destroyed many more with artillery and tank fire. At the conclusion of the operation, the regiment reported taking more than 200 prisoners.63

The division's Civil Liaison section at Daejeon was responsible for the care and evacuation of the many thousands of enemy prisoners collected by Tropic Lightning. By 21 October, the sheer volume of detainees in the division's custody had grown to an almost unmanageable extent. In Daejeon, a makeshift enclosure for Communist prisoners consolidated from battalion POW cages across the division zone was quickly running out of space. Caring for the medical and sustenance needs of the prisoners proved an especially vexing challenge. "All of the POWs, when taken prisoner, have only the clothing on their back," one division report read. "This may consist of remnants of uniforms, Korean type wrap around trousers and cotton undershirts, [but] most of them are with out [sic] footgear and blankets." Officers coordinated with the Eighth Army quartermaster's office to remedy the problem.64

The evacuation of detainees to secure facilities farther south also presented a problem. Fortunately, Eighth Army provided assistance with this as well. When the 27th RCT's prisoner holding area started to overflow, the regimental S-4 was incapable of securing sufficient transportation to evacuate the detainees. One call to division headquarters, however, brought a train to within ten miles--"the nearest point . . . because of bombed bridges."65 The prisoners were marched from regimental headquarters to the train then embarked for more secure areas to the south.66

Restoration and Rehabilitation

Responsibility for coordinating the division's response to the humanitarian crisis that plagued southwestern Korea in the aftermath of the NKPA invasion and breakout offensive fell to Civil Liaison Sections (the equivalent of modern S9/G9 sections) at the division and regimental levels. Upon arrival in Daejeon on 5 October, the division's Civil Liaison Section established a labor office at City Hall and gathered more than 200 police under the leadership of a former provincial police chief. These officers manned twenty-four-hour security checkpoints scattered across the city. Similar steps were taken for each regimental area of responsibility. Taking the police chief's word that ROK authorities had screened the approximately 130,000 Daejeon citizens for Communist sympathies prior to the division's arrival, the section settled into its primary missions: "Restoration and maintenance of civil law and order within the area in cooperation with ROK National Police . . . [and] collecting and safeguarding of arms, ammunition, and other munitions now scattered in the areas."67 These tasks required close coordination with local law enforcement and the assistance of the civilian population--referred to colloquially as "PIWs" or "People in White" after their traditional Korean garments.68 Unfortunately, even with reestablished police forces, many villages still lacked arms, transportation, or communications capabilities. These handicaps significantly limited their ability to help hunt down NKPA fugitives or area guerrillas; this task was often left to UNC troops.69

Reestablishing ROK authority in South Korean villages was high on the division's list of priorities. Many newly installed mayors and police harbored Communist sympathies, so replacements needed to be carefully screened. The process of identifying strong candidates was further complicated because during the recent NKPA invasion, many villages had been abandoned by those with the most fervent anti-Communist sentiments. Many of these individuals still hid in the surrounding hills, afraid of returning to yet-unsecured communities. UNC forces had difficulty finding these individuals and convincing them to return to help stabilize their villages.70 Moreover, even after reliable and legitimate authorities were returned to power, the leaders could only be encouraged to assist UNC forces. "We are not allowed to order the local government to do these things," one division memorandum lamented about meager support from reestablished Korean authorities. Still, "frequent conferences with them will often accomplish the same purpose through the method of suggestion."71

The Civil Liaison sections established arms and ammunition collection points throughout the division zone, each under constant guard and in direct communication with the division ordnance officer. This officer also collated daily reports on the "quantity, type and location of ammunition and arms located for the period" and secured at each collection point.72 Disposing of the voluminous stores of captured (or, in many cases, re-captured) weaponry and equipment proved "a large problem."73 Worse, fleeing Communist forces and local guerrillas caught on to the division's efforts to find, collect, and destroy dropped or cached war materiel; they "booby-trapped" weapons and explosives. These caches required careful handling by specially trained technicians arranged through the division ordnance officer at headquarters. Patrols requesting assistance with explosives disposal were advised to provide precise "locations and nature of the hazard to be reduced."74

The repair, maintenance, and security of all railroads within the division sector was one of the Civil Liaison section's most important responsibilities. The rail nexus at Daejeon was strategically vital to ensure a maximally robust logistical network to support Eighth Army operations farther north. Crews needed to repair the track as well as power lines and tunnels knocked out by bombing and shelling in support of the Pusan breakout.75 Sustaining the static division itself as well as making these repairs frequently presented a challenge. "The use of retaken rail lines was complicated by the numerous blown rail bridges and tunnels along with the lack of vital rolling stock," the division war diary noted.76 Bombed-out stations and depots, targeted by UNC air forces in an effort to cripple NKPA logistics, became "a grave problem of team work to rebuild for immediate use."77 Engineers of the 65th Engineer Battalion and 77th Engineer Company attached to Kean's headquarters toiled "around-the-clock," working "to minimize the delay" in getting things up and running again.78

The division's Civil Liaison sections were also responsible for assisting ROK authorities caring for the legions of homeless refugees who populated southwestern Korea. By mid-October, more than 262,000 refugees had been identified and inoculated against disease at nine separate facilities. After establishing "screening points" at the entry of each village, ROK police and American troops attempted to discern Communist sympathizers from the general population. This delicate task frequently proved impossible, the division war diarist explained, "due to the massive hordes that were seeking new habilitation or their own dwellings."79 Refugees traveling back to their villages were barred from using major roads because they might slow or even block military traffic. Eighth Army transportation officers arranged for two daily trains to help repatriate residents who had fled the region during the fighting. In the first week of October, more than 21,000 refugees returned to their homes.80 Over the course of the month, upwards of 50,000 people returned to Daejeon. The division estimated that more than 80 percent of them were homeless because their dwellings had been destroyed in the heavy fighting that rocked the city.81

Above all else, displaced Koreans assisted the division by providing actionable human intelligence on Communist forces in the area. Although many of the forwarded civilian reports of armed Reds ultimately proved false, cooperation by loyal South Koreans helped UNC and ROK forces neutralize the remaining NKPA in the region.82 Civilian assistance was especially crucial for rooting out "die-hards."

The "Die-Hards"

By the end of October, the division had enjoyed so much success in rounding-up defeated NKPA elements in its sector that the aggressiveness with which troops pursued them occasionally began to flag. After accumulating more than 10,000 Red prisoners in less than thirty days, many soldiers began to wonder how many more could remain in the hills. At one point in late October, prisoners were so abundant that the division employed a particularly risky tactic: sending groups of Communist prisoners "up in the hills to bring others in."83 Frustrated with the minimal return on investment enjoyed by his 35th RCT's daily patrols, along with the constant risk of guerrilla ambush he knew they faced, Col. Henry Fisher quietly informed his subordinates that he wanted "to ensure that we found no more enemy."84 He surmised that most NKPA troops were already captured and--with UNC forces poised to sweep all Communists from the peninsula--the war would soon be over. Captain Holliday recalled Fisher "thought it would be best for us just to manage to leave the insurgents alone."85 There is little evidence of similar instructions in the division's other regiments; if the psychologically defeated elements of uniformed Reds in the area of responsibility had proven relatively easy prey, however, the exact opposite was true of the local die-hards.

As Holliday's company learned the hard way, the most dangerous of the undefeated enemies in the sector were Communist insurgents who had plagued the area for years prior even to the outbreak of conventional warfare. Unlike their shaken NKPA compatriots, most guerrillas in the region remained undefeated in both physical and psychological terms after the Pusan breakout. Ambushing Holliday's engineer and intelligence team upon the company's initial arrival into sector was only the beginning. By the end of the month, the 35th RCT had enjoyed tremendous success rounding up shaken NKPA fugitives, but neither they nor their ROK allies had managed to snuff out a lingering low-grade insurgency in and around Chinsan. The enemy "seemed to be doing a better job of making us look ineffective," Holliday lamented. "Our patrols would wander around the hills finding nothing, only to be ambushed by those that vanished as fast as they appeared."86 Frequent ambushes of UNC convoys led to a strict ban on the passage of lone vehicles down the MSR, especially at night. Railroads had to be vigilantly guarded by Americans first, and later by ROK forces and special police. Several Korean civilians and ROK police were killed in hit-and-run attacks on local villages. The perpetrators disappeared without a trace.87

Desperate guerrillas were the most dangerous. On 16 October, eighteen fighters "blew themselves up with grenades" to avoid capture when cornered by members of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 27th Infantry.88 On other occasions, the Communist insurgents erected crude obstacles at bridges or other chokepoints to logjam jeep and truck convoys before ambushing them, creating frequent headaches for the division's logisticians.89 While the majority of insurgent activity proved little more than an aggravation to UNC operations, occasionally larger-scale coordinated attacks threatened to erode the legitimacy of the ROK government in the region. During the early morning hours of 31 October, two contingents of nearly a hundred fighters assaulted 3rd Battalion, 35th RCT and ROK positions in Chinsan--aiming to capture the police station in the center of town. While the attack was eventually beaten back with heavy Red losses, the spectacle of insurgent military capabilities partly achieved its terroristic purpose.90

The persistent guerrilla war challenged the division's otherwise successful prosecution of its mission. This complication greatly frustrated Colonel Fisher. It vexed him so much, in fact, that toward the end of the month he gave up. Holliday remembered that Fisher quietly told his battalion commander: "I want you to sweep the area for several days, but I do not want you to find any Communists. Send patrols to all those areas where we have had contact, but make sure they don't get into any firefights." Fisher wanted "to see reports that you found no enemy."91 Fisher hoped that after reporting the same to division, his command could be reassigned to a more conventional mission farther north. "The South Koreans are going to have to take care of these people after we leave," he asserted.92 As far as he was concerned, it was no longer an American problem.

Fortunately for the security of southwestern Korea, ROK authorities did indeed "take care of these people" after the fundamentally LSCO-focused division departed in November. Applying a mixture of political incentives to erode already meager popular support for the insurgency and merciless efforts to exterminate remaining pockets of resistance, South Koreans eventually ended the guerrilla conflict without much American help. Having boldly emerged from hiding in the wake of the NKPA invasion, the remaining Communists in southwestern Korea now had little means of escaping or receiving vital support from the north. Once this became apparent, most simply gave up.93 Unfortunately, the next time Tropic Lightning faced a hybrid conflict simultaneously involving LSCO operations against a uniformed enemy and a nagging insurgency to the rear amid the rice paddies and mountainous jungles of Vietnam, the foe would not be so quick to capitulate.

Between 1 and 31 October, the 25th Infantry Division captured 14,676 Communist soldiers and insurgents across its assigned zone--the equivalent of nearly one and a half full-strength North Korean Army infantry divisions. While exact figures do not survive, aggressive patrolling by the division's RCTs and attached UNC formations resulted in the killing of at least 800 additional Communist fighters during the month.94 The division's efforts materially contributed to ensuring that southwestern Korea would never again fall into Communist hands. Its tireless efforts to consolidate Eighth Army's gains during the fall of 1950 ensured that UNC forces would enjoy unhindered lines of communication across the area for the rest of the war. Had the equivalent of a division and a half of Communist guerrillas remained in the southern mountains at the moment UN forces fell back from the Yalu River later that winter, the already traumatic reversal may have proven an irreversible disaster. Instead, as Allied commands withdrew from North Korea, they retreated toward a comparatively secure rear and supply base capable of fueling a hard-fought defensive stand along the 38th Parallel to preserve a free and democratic Republic of Korea.

At the same time, the primarily LSCO-focused division had struggled to adapt to the novel challenges of counterinsurgency operations, especially after being so recently focused on fighting organized NKPA maneuver forces. Fortunately, the command benefitted from the capabilities of effective local ROK law enforcement and the many strategic missteps of Communist guerrillas. Even so, Tropic Lightning's experiences conducting mop-up operations in October 1950 looked far more like the division's later experiences in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan than the high-intensity large-scale combat operations of the early (and later) phases of the Korean War. Although Korea was usually thought of as a primarily "conventional" war, the challenges that the 25th Infantry Division confronted in southwestern Korea in October 1950 suggest that all the complicated dynamics and frustrations associated with conducting counterinsurgency and stability operations are still a major component of "consolidating gains" behind a LSCO close area. Today's and tomorrow's military leaders will need to be prepared to lead those operations.


  1. Sam Holliday, "Up and Down Korea," Korean War Educator, Veterans' Memoirs, accessed 27 January 2020,
  2. Holliday.
  3. Holliday.
  4. Holliday.
  5. Holliday.
  6. Holliday.
  7. Holliday.
  8. Holliday.
  9. Holliday.
  10. Andrew J. Birtle, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine, 1942-1976 (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 2006), 85-102.
  11. "Periodic Intelligence Report #75," 1 October 1950, 25th Infantry Division Historical Report [25 ID HR], Book II, Record Group 407: Army-AG Command Reports, National Archives and Records Administration.
  12. Holliday, "Up and Down Korea."
  13. Holliday.
  14. Holliday.
  15. Holliday.
  16. Holliday.
  17. Holliday.
  18. Holliday.
  19. Holliday.
  20. Allan A. David, ed., Battleground Korea: The Story of the 25th Infantry Division (Nashville: The Battery Press, 1951), 1-10.
  21. Donald W. Boose Jr., US Army Forces in the Korean War 1950-53 (New York: Osprey, 2005), 82-84.
  22. Richard T. Pullen, Robert E. Christensen, and James C. Totten, eds., The Tropic Lightning in Korea (Atlanta: Albert Love Enterprises, 1954), 14-15.
  23. David, Battleground Korea, 10-73.
  24. David, 10-73.
  25. "Daily Activities Report, 1 October 1950," HQ 25 ID, Office of the AC of S, G-4, 25 ID History, Book II.
  26. David, Battleground Korea, 75-95.
  27. James A. Huston, The Sinews of War: Army Logistics, 1775-1953 (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 1997), 642-44.
  28. Lt. Col. Leroy Zimmerman, "Korean War Logistics: Eighth United States Army," US Army War College Special Study, 9 May 1986.
  29. Department of the Army, Field Manual (FM) 100-5, Field Service Regulations, Operations (Washington, DC: 1949), 232.
  30. Department of the Army, 232.
  31. "Activities Report for 1 October 1950," HQ 25 ID, G-3, 25 ID Historical Report, Book II.
  32. "G-1 Daily Summary," 1 October 1950, 25 ID Historical Report, Book II.
  33. 1/24 RCT War Diary, 10 October 1950, 25 ID Historical Report, Book VIII.
  34. 1/24 RCT War Diary.
  35. 1/24 RCT War Diary, 12 October 1950, 25 ID Historical Report, Book VIII.
  36. 27th Infantry Regiment War Diary, 1-31 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book VIII.
  37. 25th Infantry Division War Diary, October 1950, 25 ID Historical Report, Book I.
  38. "G-1 Daily Summary," 1 October 1950. If all supporting elements are included, the division fielded an aggregate total of 21,893 present for duty on 1 October 1950. "Periodic Logistic Report No. 76," 1 October 1950, 25 ID HR Book II.
  39. 27th Infantry Regiment War Diary, 1-31 October 1950.
  40. 25th Infantry Division War Diary, October 1950; "Periodic Intelligence Report #80," HQ 25 ID, 7 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book III.
  41. "Periodic Intelligence Report #83," HQ 25 ID, 10 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book III.
  42. David, Battleground Korea, 102.
  43. 25th Infantry Division War Diary, October 1950.
  44. "Periodic Intelligence Report #87," HQ 25 ID, 14 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book IV.
  45. "Periodic Intelligence Report #83," HQ 25 ID.
  46. 25th Infantry Division War Diary, October 1950.
  47. "Daily Activities Report," Office of the AC of S, G-2, 25 ID, 1 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book II.
  48. "Periodic Intelligence Report," HQ 25 ID, 21 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book V.
  49. "Periodic Intelligence Report #98," HQ 25 ID, 22 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book VI.
  50. "Periodic Intelligence Report #98."
  51. "Periodic Intelligence Report #98."
  52. "Periodic Intelligence Report #98."
  53. "Periodic Intelligence Report #98."
  54. "Periodic Intelligence Report #98."
  55. "Periodic Intelligence Report #98."
  56. "Periodic Intelligence Report #98."
  57. "Annex 1 to P/R #101, Counterintelligence," HQ 25 ID, 28 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book VII.
  58. David, Battleground Korea, 98; and 25th Infantry Division War Diary, October 1950.
  59. "Periodic Intelligence Report #83," HQ 25 ID.
  60. "Periodic Intelligence Report #80," HQ 25 ID.
  61. "Daily Activities Report," HQ 25 ID, G-2, 7 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book III.
  62. "Periodic Intelligence Report #80," HQ 25 ID.
  63. 25th Infantry Division War Diary, 17-19 October 1950, 25 ID Historical Report, Book I; 27th Infantry Regiment War Diary, 1-31 October 1950.
  64. "Daily Activities Report for 17 October 1950," HQ 25 ID, 21 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book V.
  65. 27th Infantry Regiment War Diary, 1-31 October 1950.
  66. 27th Infantry Regiment War Diary, 1-31 October 1950.
  67. "Personnel Periodic Report No. 13," HQ 25 ID, 10 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book III.
  68. "Personnel Periodic Report No. 13."
  69. "Memorandum #51," HQ 25 ID, 15 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book IV.
  70. 25th Infantry Division War Diary, October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book I.
  71. "Memorandum #51," HQ 25 ID.
  72. "Civil Responsibilities of Area Commanders," HQ 25 ID, 10 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book III.
  73. 25th Infantry Division War Diary, October 1950.
  74. "Civil Responsibilities of Area Commanders," HQ 25 ID.
  75. 25th Infantry Division War Diary, October 1950.
  76. 25th Infantry Division War Diary.
  77. 25th Infantry Division War Diary.
  78. 25th Infantry Division War Diary.
  79. 25th Infantry Division War Diary; and "Personnel Periodic Report #13," HQ 25 ID.
  80. 25th Infantry Division War Diary; and "Personnel Periodic Report #13."
  81. 25th Infantry Division War Diary.
  82. David, Battleground Korea, 102.
  83. "Periodic Intelligence Report #82," HQ 25 ID, 9 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book III.
  84. Holliday, "Up and Down Korea."
  85. Holliday.
  86. Holliday.
  87. 25th Infantry Division War Diary, October 1950.
  88. 25th Infantry Division War Diary, 16 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book I.
  89. 25th Infantry Division War Diary, 10 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book I.
  90. 25th Infantry Division War Diary, 31 October 1950, 25 ID HR, Book I; and Holliday, "Up and Down Korea."
  91. Holliday.
  92. Holliday.
  93. Birtle, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine, 1942-1976, 115-16.
  94. "Historical Summary, 1-31 October 1950," 25 ID Historical Report, Book I; and US Army, "History of the North Korean Army" (Washington, DC: Far East Command, Military Intelligence Section, General Staff, 1952), 116.


Back to Top