INTERVIEW WITH LT. GENERAL EDWARD M. ALMOND

 

 


[Note: The interviewer, Captain Fergusson, is General Almond’s grandson. In reading the interview one should keep in mind that this is twenty five years after the events at Chosin. General Almond is 83 years old and his grasp of details and memories of certain events is not as clear as it might have been earlier. This particular paper has been scanned from a photo copy of the bound interview in the MacArthur Library in Norfolk, Virginia. Scanning a photo copy inevitably necessitates some editing. Aside from possible errors of punctuation and spelling, this is an accurate copy of the original. Any such errors are those of the transcriber.]

This is side #1 of tape #5 of the interviews with Lieutenant General Almond, Interviewer Captain Thomas Fergusson, CGSC student. The date is March 29, 1975. The interview is taking place at the home of General Almond in Anniston, Alabama.

CPT FERGUSSON: General Almond, would you continue your description of your visit to the Yalu River in the 17th Infantry on the 21st of November, 1950?

GENERAL ALMOND: Yes, it was a very pleasant experience for me to be able to fly to the Command Post which was following close to the leading elements of the regiment and in the proximity of the Yalu River and I arrived there the night before the leading battalion of the regiment marched down the hill two miles from the crest, two miles south of the Yalu River and moved freely through the town of Hyesanjin located on the south bank of the Yalu River. The Yalu River was frozen over, the ground was covered over with snow and at this pint, the river was very little of an obstacle to the possibility of an enemy advance across the river from the north side in raiding operations. We had to watch for this but otherwise there was no serious concern. I accompanied General Barr, the division commander, General Hodes, the assistant division commander and General Kieffer, the artilleryman, with the Regimenal Commander, Colonel Powell. We all walked behind the lead company down the road to the river bank. This was the first element of the American forces to reach the Korean-Manchurian border, although earlier elements of the 6th ROK Division with the I American Corps on the west flank, Eighth Army front, attempted to get to the river but did not succeed in remaining there.

CPT FERGUSSON: What about the 1st Marine Division, general Almond? What sort of progress did they make after their deployment northward from Wonsan. Would you also describe their initial encounter with the Chinese Communists Division, the 124th, in early November?

GENERAL ALMOND: Well, the 1st Marine Division having landed at Wonsan moved north with one regiment, the 7th leaning towards the Hamhung area where the 1st ROK Corps had advanced some days earlier. On 2 November, the 7th Marine Regiment relieved the ROK 26th Regiment in an area north of Hamhung and in the direction of the Chosin Reservoir. At the time that the 7th Marines relieved the 26th ROK Regiment, the latter was engaged with a number of detachments of what turned out to be later the 124th CCF Division which was secretly cross the Yalu River at point a good deal to the west of this Chosin Reservoir area. And the Marines from then on in their advance towards the Chosin Reservoir were engaged sporadically with Chinese elements. Following the 7th Marine Regiment to the Chosin Reservoir area was the 5th Marine Regiment. While these two regiments the balance of the division with its artillery and other detachment advanced toward the Chosin Reservoir, the 1st Marine Regiment was occupied in an area about 30 miles south of Wonsan in clearing up guerilla activities. This task was later taken over by the 3rd Division when it arrived for service with the X Corps in the combat area. From this time on, the Marine Division, in moving to and beyond the Reservoir area was engaged in numerous and sporadic fights with Chinese organized element. While some of the attacks by the Chinese were quire fierce, they appeared to be separate and not coordinated attacks and eventually, the Marines were able to advance to the position that they occupied when the Eighth Army attacked later on the 27th of November.

CPT FERGUSSON: But, sir, in the official U. S. Army history of the Korean War in the volume entitled Policy and Direction: The First Year by James F. Schnabel on page 236 after discussing the clash of the 1st Marine Division element with the Chinese Communist the 124th Division in early November, Schnabel says quote: “It was now quite clear that the eventuality so long discussed by American planners, Communist China’ entry on the side of North Korea, was no longer hypothetical. Yet there was great reluctance at Eighth Army and X Corps headquarters, at GHQ in Tokyo and in Washington to accept this intervention at face value.” Would you disagree with Schnabel’s statement? What, at this point, what did you think Chinese intentions to be? Did you become more cautious at this point in deploying your forces farther north?

GENERAL ALMOND: at this point, the estimate of how many Chinese and if they were organized Chinese forces rather than volunteer forces was difficult to determine and nobody had a definite answer to the question. That made everyone more conscious and more desirous of determining just what force we were confronted with and for that reason our operations zone was of an offensive nature because to determine the exact power of the enemy confronted required offensive action rather than surmises. For that reason, the Marines as well as the 7th Division were directed to continue efforts toward the front. We realized that guerilla and North Korean opposition on the right of the X Corps was minor compared to the Chinese regular units that were being run in through the front, left front or the Marine front of the X Corps and the entire front of the Eighth Army

CPT FERGUSSON: Were you concerned at this point sir about being able to support particularly the Marine Division logistially as they go further and further north, away from their base at Wonsan.

GENERAL ALMOND: Well, I relaized the danger of a large number of troops flowing around the Marine front as it was established from point to point and effecting [sic] our lines of communication fromt he Chosin Reservoir and Hagaru-ri southeast to Hungnam and Hamhung. For that reason, the 31s Regiment of the 7th Division was order to be transplanted from the 7th Division zone into the Chosin Reservoir area to protect the line south of Hagaru-r, the logistics line I mean.

CPT FERGUSSON: Back at GHQ in Tokyo on the 10th of November, the G-2, General Willoughby, mad an intelligence report to the Department of the Army which stated that the Chinese Communists offensive potential had been greatly strengthened in the past week and he particularly cited a Chinese build-up posed a serious threat to your forces not only in the immediate area but also in the coastal area along the northeast shoreline of Korea. Wer you aware of General Willoughby’s opinion at this point and if so, did you disagree with him?

GENERAL ALMOND: No, I didn’t disagree with him because in general, what he said had to be true. We were making contacts along the X Corps left front or western portion of this line that the Marines occupied. The Eighth Army was making contact with the organized units of the CCF and we had to be alert to the possibility of a build-up. But we had to continue operations in the area because if you think the enemy’s in an area, you don’t withdraw. My orders were to move to protect the right flank of the Eighth Army and to protect my own front and to use my judgement as the build-up was confirmed that Willoughby had been fearful of. To surmise a military situation and to accept it completely are two different things.
CPT FERGUSSON: After the clash in early November between the CCF 124th Division and the Marines, the actual contacts greatly diminished and apparently, this had something...this had some effect on General MacArthur and on yourself as well in the decision to renew the advance northward. on 11 November, you having received new orders from General MacArthur, again directed the Marines to advance to the north. At about this same time you had some fairly serious disagreements with the Marine Division Commander, General Smith, about the orders to move this elements farther to the north. He apparently had greater fear than you of the danger of the Chinese Communist forces cutting his lines of communication and attacking him on his own left flank. In fact, during a visit with Rear Admiral Albert K. Morehouse on the 15th of November, Smith, feeling that he was talking “within the family,” expressed frank concern over what he considered you unrealistic planning and tendency to ignore enemy capabilities when you wanted a rapid advance, and then he further back this up with a person letter to the Marine Corps Commandant, General Cates, on the same day. He felt that your orders were wrong and that he, as Marine Commander in Korea, was not going to press his own troops forward to their possible destruction. What are your comments on General Smith’s opinions at this point and your own feelings.

GENERAL ALMOND: My general comment is that General Smith, ever since the beginning of the Inchon landing and the preparation phase, was overly cautious of executing any order that he ever received. While he never refused to obey an order in the final analysis, he many times was over cautious and in that way, delayed the execution of some order. The case that your mentioned, the Chosin Reservoir, is one of them. My orders from GHQ were to press forward and determine what, if any, and how much Chinese forces there was in my front that might threaten the Eighth Army’s right flank. This I was doing and my instructions to the 7th Division and Marine Division were based on my opinion that offensive action was the best way to determine the threat that existed in that situation

CPT FERGUSSON: But did not events prove General Smith was right in that a part of his division was cut off and practically annihilated at the Chosin Reservoir?

GENERAL ALMOND: Now that is not exactly right. We had determined the strength of the enemy in front of us by moving into the area that the enemy was supposed to be in. When we learned this, that fact alone determined General MacArthur’s action in withdrawing the Marine Division. Our position would be to protect our line of communication and to engage the enemy in contact with us in every possible manner. General Smith had objected to the advance against the enemy int he vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir area when the effort of the X Corps was to comply with order from General MacArthur to determine the enemy on our front which would threaten either the front of the X Corps or the front and right flank of the Eighth Army. General Smith met the enemy and it was determined that it was too strong to withstand. General MacArthur had the good judgement to order a change in the orders of the operations of the X Corps and the Eighth Army accordingly. As a matter of fact, the full determination of the threat to the Marines was not forthcoming until the day of the Eighth Army’s intended advance, the 27th of November. On that day, I was in the midst of the Marine’s operation and was at the command post of the 7th Marine Regiment before General Smith was. I was personally present and when I learned the extend of the threat that eventually plagued the Marines in their withdrawal, I could report to General MacArthur that the possibility of further advance and the possibility of retaining the position of the Chosin Reservoir area was rather grim. As a matter of fact, on the other side of the Chosin Reservoir area, two battalions of the 7th Division were engaged with the enemy which was trying to move around to the northeast of our line of communication from Hamhung to the Chosin area. There, the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry had a serious engagement with the enemy which is rell recorded history and about which I have written. (In my opinion, it is most unwise to accept General smith’s statement on these matter without regard to the opinions of other combat commanders who were intimately involved in the Chosin situation.) Returning to the particulary objections of General Smith to push his division north of Hamhung and towards the Chosin Reservoir where the enemy was, it is abundantly clear to me and it was to my staff in Korea, that what General Smith was really complaining about was the fact that his division happened to be the division used to push into the forward area and meet an unknown force that would determine the strength of that force. On the very day that General Smith was doubting the X Corps Commander’s judgement and leadership by exposing his division to the enemy unduly and pushing forward to the flank to protect the right flank of the Eight Army, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division was beginning to arrive in Wonsan for the purpose of supporting the X Corps and protecting the left flank where the gap was, and where General Smith feared the worst, that he would be out on a limb. The 3rd Division was the force that was to be in echelon on the left o the west side of the Corps Zone, an echelon to the rear of the open flank side of the Marine Division where General Smith claimed that he had no protection. And, as a matter of fact, he had the protection of three regiments, echeloned in depth on his left rear. He had to protect his own left flank. Unfortunately the enemy was in such great numbers that in his withdrawal they flowed in all directions as they flowed around th Eighth Army at Kunu-ri.

CPT FERGUSSON: General MacArthur later wrote that at the time...that about the time the full ptential of the Chinese Communists forces crossing the Yalu was recognized at his headquarter he saw three possible course of action for the United Nations forces. They could go forward, remain immobile, or withdraw. In discussing the course of action of going forward his thinking was that if he went forward and found the Chinese in force, his strategy would be to immediately break contact and withdraw rapidly so as to lengthen and expose the enemy supply line. “This would result in a pyramiding of logistical difficulties of the Reds and an almost astronomical increase in the destructiveness of our air power. Every step forward his strength would decrease as compared with mine until the degree of parity would be reached between opposing forces. I would then rely upon maneuver with my objective — his supply line.” General Almond did you in the days before the Chinese struck in force in the very last part of November, understand this to be the overall strategy? Did you realize that General MacArthur expected to fight this type of an action to withdraw in the face of Chinese forces, overwhelming Chinese forces and attempt to take advantage of our air power to destroy them?

GENERAL ALMOND: No, I didn’t because I didn’t attempt to interpret the various aspects of planning at GHQ when I had my own problems in controlling the activities at the X Corps. I would carry out the orders as they stood at the time and continued to do so and I’ve always done as a leader on any occasion. My ideas were that there were several courses of action open but I didn’t attempt to influence General MacArthur’s planning except to the degree where my opinion was asked. These plans that you have just cited or possible plans had not been presented to me in the form that you have stated. As I say, I was concerned with the immediate operations and operated under the orders that were at hand.

CPT FERGUSSON: General Almond, would you describe a visit you made , the last visit you made to the forward Marine elements just prior to the last November Communists-Chinese offensive?

GENERAL ALMOND: Yes, I left my Command Post at Hamhung on the morning of the 27th of November at 10 o’clock by jeep, accompanied by an aide and G-3 representative of my own headquarters. I drove to the 7th Marine Regimental CP fifteen miles northwest of Hagaru-ri. Hagaru-ri, it will be recalled, was a southern portion of the of the Chosin Reservoir. The road that I traveled was jammed with convoys of the 1st Marine Division moving troops and supplies to the Hagaru-ri rear area and delayed m arrival to the 7th Marine headquarters somewhat. At the CP of the 7th Regiment of Marines, I found the executive officer; the commander was out inspecting some of his units in action. He explained the disposition of the regiment and the enemy situation.
The 7th Infantry Regiment hade made strong contact with the enemy to the north, to the west and to the south. I, as Corps commander, presented some dispatches and several medals to officers and several enlisted men and departed 7th Marine CP at 1650, returning the Hamhung. The trip required some four hours and forty minutes due to the traffic congested along the road. The situation along the MSR was aggravated b inadequate control stations and conveys disregarding to some extent normal convoy discipline. The weather was bitterly cold throughout the day but particularly in the mountains and on the plateau surrounding Chosin Lake. This reconnaissance of the front lines convinced me that the strength of the enemy (by my personal inspection and the front line reports was considerable and a re-examination was needed of the disposition of the Marines. This I reported probably to GHQ and I’m sure it had some influence in the changing of the situation which was in fact worse on the Eighth Army front. The Eighth Army’s attack that had been expected to be launched on the 27th of November and the offensive plans for X Corps had to be changed drastically and rapidly, which resulted in a withdrawal of the X Corps units in the Chosin Reservoir area, both marine elements and the 7th Division elements that I referred to before.

CPT FERGUSSON: You mean you made the decision to begin the withdrawal at that point, sir? Or was that from higher headquarters (GHQ)?

GENERAL ALMOND: No.

CPT FERGUSSON: Or was that a few days later?

GENERAL ALMOND: I made a report on the situation to the GHQ and General MacArthur made the decision to withdraw.

CPT FERGUSSON: You’ve described your own visit to the Marine on the 27th of November. What then happened on the 28th of November, General Almond?

GENERAL ALMOND: On the 28th of November early in the day, I departed by helicopter to go towards the front again and visit the units that I thought most needed and inspection. I had a conference on the east bank of the Hagaru-ri area in the Chosin Reservoir position with Colonel MacLean, the CO of the 31st Regiment, who later that day was killed by an enemy patrol. I proceeded to visit the BCOF Commander who had gotten to our headquarters and was leaving. This BCOF Commander was General Robertson who was a part of the occupation force visiting Korea and I wanted to see in in a general way because of his interest in our operations there. I departed for Yong-Po to see General Robertson and after that was accomplished I returned to my own CP in Hamhung. When I arrived there at 1700 I found that General MacArthur had requested my return to Tokyo for a conference at GHQ and that General Walker would be present. I knew that this was a very important conference for the commanders of both forces, the X Corps and the Eighth Army, to have been called back to discuss the situation with General MacArthur. He felt that it was urgent and we responded accordingly. I, therefore at 1700 departed the airfield in a C-54 plane for Tokyo, accompanied by Colonel McCaffrey, Colonel Glass, both of the G-2 and G-3 sections and Major Ladd, my aide. Arriving in Haneda at 2130, I was informed that I should proceed directly to General MacArthur’s home, the American Embassy in Tokyo. Arriving there at 2150, we conferred with the command-in-Chief for the next two hours on the situation that was confronting the Eighth Army and X Corps in Korea. Present at this conference was General Walker, Command of the eighth Army; General Hickey, acting Chief of Staff of GHQ; General Willougby, G-2 of GHQ; General Whitney, government section of the occupation; and General Wright, the G-3 of GHQ and myself. This was a very important conference and would be a historical story in itself. This conference confirmed General MacArthur’s decision to readjust his front by withdrawing from the contact with the enemy until it was cleared to all concerned the extent of the invasion. This developed in the next successive days and was the beginning of the withdrawal of the X Corps from its then existing front lines to the evacuation that occurred later on.

CPT FERGUSSON: Following the conference in Tokyo on the 28th and the decision of General MacArthur to begin withdrawal of American or United Nations forces, what were your actions as the Corps Commander? What sort of plan for withdrawal did you develop at that time and how soon did units begin to withdraw?

GENERAL ALMOND: I immediately returned to my post in Korea following this conference, leaving Tokyo the next morning at daylight and arriving in the next two hours at my command station. There I directed the G-3 and the other staff officers to begin planning for the discontinuance of the X Corps attack to the northwest and the withdrawal of the Corps forces as a whole to allow for our redeployment in action against the enemy to be decided later by General MacArthur. At 8 o’clock the next morning, with the order practically ready for issue, I assembled the entire staff and explained the new concept of operations based on the Corps being supplied from Hamhung and Hungnam with operations against the enemy whenever possible, consistent with the concentration of the Corps. That afternoon at 1400 I had a conference with the commanders of the main units, namely general Smith, General Barr, General Hodes, both of the 7th Division, General Smith of the Marines of course, Colonel Williams who had to do with the port operations, and Colonel Forney, who was a Marine staff officer on my staff for advice in the use of the Marines or the Navy in any operation that concerned them. I stressed the urgency of withdrawing the 5th and 7th Marines from their present position at Hagaru-ri, and ordered General Barr and General Smith, the two division commanders concerned, to submit a plan for the withdrawal of the elements of the 31st and 32nd Regiment from the position east of the lake into Hagaru-ri and the evacuation of the wounded, both from the Marine and Army units, which we could do from the temporary emergency air strip that we had already established days before at Hagaru-ri. I, by telephone, ordered the Chief of Staff of the X Corps to send an immediate message to Colonel Reedy, commanding a battalion of 7th Division enroute to Koto-ri, to join Colonel Fuller [sic] in anticipation of supporting the advance of the Marines on the attack of the 27th (which had been called off). Colonel Carleton, one of my staff assistants, was ordered to proceed to Hagaru-ri for the purpose of providing airlift supplies and plans for it as desired by the Marine division and arrangement for proper packing and delivering. This included the operations for the day and the commanders that I have mentioned began to function for the purpose of withdrawal of both the 7th Division and the Marine Division as rapidly as possible. In this withdrawal, the 3rd Division, which was on the left flank, in echelon towards the gap with the Eighth Army, provided magnificent support, to the extent even of a task force cutting across enemy trickling towards the direction of our withdrawal along the road system from the Chosin Reservoir to Hamhung.

CPT FERGUSSON: What were your other actions; were you still in control of the ROK Corps at that point and what were your orders to them?

GENERAL ALMOND: Oh, yes. The ROK Corps was ordered to withdraw from the coastal sector so that they could take the right flank where there was no threat from the North Korean forces, or from guerillas. They would occupy the right flank of our line until future operations were fixed upon.

CPT FERGUSSON: In the conduct of the Corps withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir and other areas to the north, did you establish a Corps covering force and also, did you establish successive lines to which the Marine Division and the 7th Infantry Division would withdraw to or did you merely order them to withdraw all the way back to the Hungnam area?

GENERAL ALMOND: Well, first they were ordered to withdraw from their present position to the Hungnam area bringing with them all equipment with which they were supplied rather than destroying it or leaving it for the enemy’s use. In connection with this withdrawal, the front line forces had to protect themselves. There was no protection needed on the right flank of the Corps, along the coast in other words, because the Korean divisions were not pressed by any opponent and they could take care of themselves. However, on the left flank of the Corps, the Marine flank were under great pressure by constantly increasing forces. Realizing the need for a covering force of some size, I had a conference at once, on the 5th of December with General Soule, the Commanding General of the 3rd Division. General Soule was very cooperative in all the demands that I made on his forces, namely to form this covering force under a general officer and to have it include not only infantry but engineers and artillery to use against the enemy if needed or to prepare the route of withdrawal if obstructed by explosive or what not, especially the bridge site. This task force was formed in short order, I would say within 24 hours it was moving to its position. The position to which it was moved was just short of where the rear element of the Marine Division were located at Koto-ri, which was some 10 miles south of Hagaru-ri. This covering force was moved and took position where it could actually cover the withdrawal of the Marines. Also the 31st Regiment withdrawing with them would come under its protection at a point halfway between Hamhung and Hagaru-ri. The commander of this covering force was Brigadier General “Red” Meade who was a fine Infantry officer and a graduate of Fort Benning and the Infantry School and a resident of Columbus, Georgia. We had known him long before and his did a fine job in this mission.

CPT FERGUSSON: Did the Marines withdraw then through that covering force?

GENERAL ALMOND: The Marines then moved as rapidly as possible bringing their equipment with them to the Hamhung area and, as I say, when they got halfway to Hamhung from Hagaru-ri they no longer had to furnish their own patrolling but this was taken over by the task force under General Mead. And the Marines completed their movement into the Hungnam area by the 12th of December.

CPT FERGUSSON: Wasn’t there a conversation between you and General Smith at the time you initially ordered the Marines to withdraw from the Chosin Reservoir area in which you offered him the option to leave behind all of his equipment and he said he would bring it out instead. Did you order him to destroy his equipment at one point and then change your mind?

GENERAL ALMOND: No, not at all. I ordered him to withdraw his division and bring out such equipment as he could but not to sacrifice manpower for the sake of equipment. I ordered him to withdraw such equipment as the enemy would permit but if necessary to destroy it rather than trying to protect it at the risk of further casualties.

CPT FERGUSSON: Did you get adequate close air support during this withdrawal operation?

GENERAL ALMOND: I think so. We got all that was available and that we asked for, but this was no answer to the seething, struggling Chinese rifleman who could slip under a bush and avoid much of the air support that our withdrawal was demanding.

CPT FERGUSSON: So to sum up the withdrawal operation, there was no attempt to withdraw to successive lines on the part of the Marines and the 7th Division but instead it was one continuous movement for them to withdraw all the way back to the Hungnam are?

GENERAL ALMOND: That’s correct. And while that was happening, my staff was fixing upon a plan of total defense of the Hungnam area, the port area which was 8 miles distant on the waterfront, (8 miles from Hamhung). We had in our minds in this respect that the Corps CP would be moved down to the Hungnam area, the port area, and that a line of defenses would be established by our 3rd Division, Marine Division and 7th Division to protect the dock area dnd the withdrawal area by ship if and when it was so ordered.

CPT FERGUSSON: How would you characterize the enemy forces pursuit or movement? Did they maintain pressure constantly throughout the entire withdrawal down to Hungnam?

GENERAL ALMOND: They maintained constant pressure but not in a large enough sense to threaten the penetration of our covering force and the coagulation and intense effort of both the 7th Division and the Marine Division to get in hand sufficient number to form a defense line. Our defense line excluded Yong-po airport which was regrettable but was the safest and wisest military procedure to take. We felt no particular threat on our right flank but we did on our left flank and in that area, the 3rd Division and the Marine Division took their place. The 3rd Division engaged in a number of fire fights of company and battalion size wich relieved the other units, the 7th Division and the Marines from battle participation. The Marines were a reserve of the X Corps in order to let them rehabilitate themselves from the strenuous efforts of the Chosin Reservoir.

CPT FERGUSSON: Did you judge the Marine Division at that point to be greatly reduced as an effective fighting force?

GENERAL ALMOND: Well, more mentally were they reduced that they were physically. While there were a number of casualties and disorder during the Chosin Reservoir operation, when the marines got back in hand in the Hungnam area, and re-adjusted themselves to conditions, they were considered combat effective.

CPT FERGUSSON: What about the withdrawal of the 7th Infantry Division?

GENERAL ALMOND: Very well, because they had no pressure particularly. The pressure was on the Marines of the Chosin Reservoir area where two battalions of the 7th Division were also engaged and suffered greatly from Chinese attacks before we could ge them out. The rest of the Division was in hand and in good conditions for our combat operations.

(End of the interview pertaining to Chosin)

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