Battle of Chosin Reservoir 

US #2152 was based on a photo of US troops retreating from Chosin Reservoir.

On November 27, 1950, the Korean War Battle of Chosin Reservoir began, a fighting withdrawal in the bitter cold.

By November 1950, the United Nations forces had driven the North Korean army back into its own territory.  The Yalu River, the northern border of the peninsula was within reach and many believed the war would be over by Christmas.  American and UN commanders didn’t realize Chinese forces were massing along the border and would soon change the course of the war.

As UN troops advanced, Korea’s Taebaek Mountains divided them.  While the Eighth Army traveled along the western coast, the US X Corps moved north on the eastern coast.  On October 19, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) crossed the border to meet the advancing armies.

US #2152 – Classic First Day Cover.

When the Eighth Army was attacked, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the X Corps to move west in the hopes of getting behind the Chinese and cutting off their supply line.  PVA 42nd Corps was sent to stop the action and destroy the X Corps.

The US 1st Marine Division of the X Corps was the first American unit to encounter the PVA.  The November 2 battle caused heavy Chinese casualties and they were forced to retreat.  This lured the UN forces into the Chosin Reservoir area.

US #3803 – The Korean War Memorial includes 19 seven-foot-tall statues representing the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force.

As X Corps advanced, the 1st Marine Division was ordered to the west of the reservoir, while a portion of the US 7th Infantry Division advanced along the east side.  The 3rd Infantry Division was charged with protecting the left flank and rear areas.  The PVA began their attacks on the night of November 27.  Troops on both sides of the reservoir were ambushed, surrounded, and cut off from their escape route.

US #3803 – Mystic First Day Cover.

Though the Chinese army greatly outnumbered UN forces, they were poorly equipped.  The temperatures fell below -30°F that winter, and PVA soldiers were not issued winter clothes.  They were soon short on ammunition and food as well.  These factors contributed to the enemy’s inability to destroy the X Corps. The surrounded American troops were eventually ordered to make a fighting retreat back to the coast.  Over the next few days, the American troops successfully defended their positions.

The Americans faced some of the toughest terrain and weather conditions seen in the Korean War, with temperatures dropping as low as -35º F as they fought through an icy mountain corridor.  Medical supplies froze and weapons jammed in the extreme cold.  Frostbite became nearly as dangerous as the enemy.  But for two weeks they continued their withdrawal.

US #4822a-23a – 17 soldiers received the Medal of Honor for their bravery during the battle.

Meanwhile, Colonel “Chesty” Puller of the 1st Marine Regiment was ordered to create a task force to open a road for their retreat.  By November 29, his force of 900 men and 140 vehicles was ready.  They were then ambushed along the way in what became known as “Hell Fire Valley.”  With the help of reinforcements, they managed to reach Hagaru-ri.  The surrounded Marines at Chosin then fought their way to Hagaru-ri and met up with Puller’s men.

US #3962 – Puller earned a Navy Cross for his role in the battle.

Over the next several days the Marines brutally fought their way to safety.  At one point, they built a bridge over a 1,500-foot gorge with bridge sections delivered by the Air Force.  The “Frozen Chosin” finally reached the safety of Hungnam on December 11.  Though the Americans were entirely removed from North Korea, they also destroyed about seven Chinese divisions, a major blow to communist plans.

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  1. Thanks Mystic. Compared to WW II we do not hear as much about the sacrifices made by the brave soldiers that fought in Korea.

  2. Mystic Stamps has become an important part of my daily regimen. Each day I learn something new that has previously escaped me. Today’s article is a prime example. I realize I know very little about the Korean War. I was just starting in my teens at the time of the war and did not realize what was happening in that part of the world. I remember very little when studied about it in school. Thank you for bringing the Korean war to the forefront. It is especially relevant in today’s world to have this background and study it further.

  3. My father, then Major John B McClure, Jr., was a member of the 3rd Infantry trapped there and fought his way back when the Marines didn’t tell them they were retreating. He, and what was left of his men, were missing in action for almost a month. He never talked about being a member of the Chosen Frozen or Chosen Few except how much he despised MacArthur. He later fought at Old Baldy, Outpost Harry and Pork Chop Hill and was the lowest ranking person to sing the treaty. He was a real American hero, and it is so sad that the US public knows almost nothing about this war. BTW, I am a 1st Cavalry Vietnam veteran fro ’67/’68 including Tet, Hue, and the I Corps battles that followed, another forgotten war.

  4. It might be a little late, but thank you both for your service and remember this: you are not forgotten, sometimes it just feels that way.

  5. Mystic’s Day in History should go to every high school and college in the United States and Canada. It’s priceless.

  6. Two days after reading the Mystic article I was sent a book called “They called her Reckless” written by Janet Barrett. It is a true story about a truly brave horse who helped the marines considerably during the Korean War. The book explains in easy terms how and why the war started and how a female horse brought such a gift to the men fighting in this war. It is a wonderful read.

  7. This was indeed one of the most heroic and difficult retreats executed in history. Consider having to accomplish this and take out all your dead and wounded in those horrible conditions. Always the enemy roadblocks, the bitter cold and snow, insufficient supplies. I am in awe of the Marines of the Frozen Chosin. But they made it to Hagaru-ri. Thank you for this story, Mystic. The Korean and Vietnam wars were the last wars our country fought where large numbers of casualties occurred. Never forget! Semper Fi!

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