Peace talks move forward, troops rest
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 16, 2001) -- As the peace talks moved forward, a battle lull between ground forces ensued, 50 years ago this week in Korea.
Despite the lack of action on the ground, the Air Force continued its bombing attacks deep behind the North Korean lines and experienced one of the fiercest air battles of the war.
Oct. 18-24, 1951 -- Peace talks continue at the liaison level. Gen. Matthew Ridgway, commander of the U.N. Command, is insisting on rules that will prevent or minimize infractions of the neutral area at Panmunjom. One way is to have a much smaller neutral zone rather than the five-mile radius at Kaesong.
The communists will accept nothing less than a five-mile perimeter. The United Nations finally concedes, but also insists that the U.N. camp at Munsan-ni have a similar circle of protection.
The communists then relent on a point and agree that aircraft merely flying through the airspace directly above Panmunjom do not constitute a violation of the neutral zone. The communists do not have aircraft so far south so the only violators would be U.N. aviators. The United Nations agrees to tether barrage balloons over Panmunjom to warn aircraft away.
The United Nations is exempted from responsibility for violations of the neutral zone by partisans, which has happened before. While negotiations are underway, each side can station two military police officers and 15 men armed only with side arms. At all other times each side will have one officer and five men to protect the meeting site.
The communists donate the tent where talks can be held while the United Nations agrees to provide flooring, heating and lights.
Air Force Col. Andrew Kinney informs Col. Chang, the Korean LO, that U.N. troops were taking over the hill east of Panmunjom to prevent an unwanted clash at this stage.
Adm. Turner Joy, lead negotiator, suspects the communists will want to rehash all these details again when the senior negotiators meet. He sends a letter to Gen. Nam, the North Korean who leads the communist team, telling Nam that he has signed the LO agreement, and that negotiations would begin just as soon as he receives Nam's ratification.
Nam signs the document Oct. 24 and the first meeting at Panmunjom is scheduled for the next day. As the U.N. officials assess their situation, they understand that the communists may be ahead of them on propaganda points, but they have hung in with patience and determination and won some major points. In addition, while the talks were in recess, U.N. forces stepped up pressure on the battlefield and the U.S. leaders had more time to think over future options in the Far East.
With resumption of peace talks, a lull settles over the combat front. Gen. James Van Fleet, Eighth Army commander, uses this time to put a couple of fresh divisions on the front line. He moves the 2nd Infantry Division and the attached French Battalion from X Corps to IX Corps where they serve as the corps reserve. He replaces 2nd ID with IX Corps' 7th Infantry Division and an attached Ethiopian Battalion. He swaps the Republic of Korea 5th Division from X Corps to the ROK I Corps reserve for the ROK 3rd Division.
The Far East Air Force finds three 7,000-foot paved runways in a 20-mile radius near the towns of Namsi, Taechon and Saamchon. in northwest Korea, close to MiG Alley.
Until July, FEAF had conducted continuous raids on railroads and bridges in North Korea, trying to knock out the enemy's capability to move troops and weapons to the front. The effort was called Operation Strangle.
When a road or bridge was damaged, large labor gangs of North Koreans were rushed in and repaired the damage in a short time. Spare bridge parts stored near the damaged portions made for quick repairs. The communists also ringed frequent targets with concentrations of antiaircraft batteries, which makes it extremely dangerous for American flight crews.
On Oct.18 a flight of nine B-29s from the 19th Bomb Group attack the airfield near Saamchon and drop more then 19 tons of bombs on target. Nine more B-29s from the 98th Bomb Wing assigned to hit Taechon miss the rendezvous with their fighter escort and fly on to a secondary target.
So far in the Korean War fighter escorts have not really been needed for the big bombers. That's going to change.
On Oct. 22, 24 F-84s escort eight 19th BG B-29s to the Taechon airfield. After the big planes drop their bombs they're hit by 40 MiG-15s. As a result of the shootout, one bomber crashes into the sea. The entire crew is later rescued.
Again on Oct. 23, eight bombers from the 307th Bomb Wing head for Namsi, escorted by 55 /F-84a. They drop their load on the Namsi airfield and are swarmed by 50 MiGs. At the same time, 100 MiGs attack a group of 34 F-86s loitering several miles away, keeping them out of the fight around the bombers.
In the 20-minute battle, three B-29s are shot down. Of the five other bombers, only one escapes major damage. B-29 gunners shoot down three MiGs and the flight escorts get another. An F-84 also shoots down a MiG.
Air Force leaders say it is "one of the most savage and bloody air battles of the Korean War."
Eight B-29s from the 98th Bomb Wing strike railroad bridges near Sunchon on Oct. 24. Again 70 MiGs overwhelm 16 Australian Air Force Meteors and 10 F-84s. Another bomber is lost and all the others are heavily damaged.
Oct. 18 -- President Harry S. Truman replies to Gen. Douglas MacArthur's claim that the general's action kept the Truman Administration from returning Formosa to Red China in exchange for a settlement in Korea. He says the general is wrong and MacArthur knows it.
Oct. 20 -- Soviet Premier Josef Stalin answers North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung's letter of thanks. He wishes the country "success in its heroic struggle for the freedom and independence of its homeland."
Oct. 22 -- Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Air Force chief of staff, says in Washington that radio transmissions among MiGs in Korea are in Russian. "There sure as hell are no Chinese or Red Koreans flying those MiGs," he says.
Also in Washington, Gen. Omar N. Bradley, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the reds are losing about 7,000 trucks a month.
A report from Eighth Army headquarters says that from Oct. 13-19 its soldiers inflicted 29,275 among communist Koreans and Chinese.
Oct. 24 -- The U.S. casualty count as of Oct. 19 is 92,997, with 15,688 dead.
Speaking at a cornerstone-laying ceremony for the D.C. Red Cross building, the president says he hopes the Soviet Union leaders and its satellites "come to see that it is utterly foolish to oppose the united will of all the other peoples of the world for peace and justice.
(Editor's note: Jim Caldwell is a journalist with the Training and Doctrine Command Public Affairs Office, Fort Monroe, Va.)