General Almond Comments on General O.P. Smith and the Army's History


The following is taken from a letter from General Edward M. Almond, USA (Ret) to General H. C. Pattison, Chief of Military History, U. S. Army dated March 7, 1969. General Almond is commenting on a draft of Volume III of the Army history of the Korean War Policy and Direction.

It has been edited to leave out extraneous references, except where necessary, and to provide some continuity. General Almond's spelling, punctuation and capitalization has been followed as closely as possible. The original can be found in the National Archives. For serious students of the Korean War or those who might be concerned with the way it has been edited I'll be glad to provide a photocopy of the original letter.

The Invasion of North Korea

Reference to the delay in beginning the landing operation of the X CORPS troops after the planned date of 20 October, as stated cm Page 31, this should ire expanded to show that General. Almond, appreciating the rapid advance of the RCK troops to the WONSAN area had moved a small command and communication group from X CORPS by air from KIMPO AIRFIELD to WONSAN AIRFIELD on 15 October and this actually became the X CORPS Advance CP at WONSAN on 20 October when the troop landings was delayed. On 19 October General Almond went by boat from the Mt. McKinley, the Command Ship, to the battleship MISSOURI and from the MISSOURI to WONSAN by helicopter. He took command of all ROK troops in Northeast Korea-, the leading elements of which were then moving on HAMHUNG, and thus acted in consonance with GHQ orders issued on 16 October;

The arrangements between Admiral Struble and Admiral Doyle and General Almond, whereby this new landing site at IWON, for the 7th U. S. Division were agreed upon and executed should be expanded with a description the operation in more detail as illustrating a great lesson in the basic principles of war: COOPERATION. This agreement was a new and justified change in the original plan based on the changed tactical situation on the east coast of KOREA. General Smith of the Marines had nothing to do with the change and the single reference to his "chronicles" is beside the point and of no value. X CORPS records, and my own personal DIARY which is an official publication from my Headquarters and now microfilmed in the U. S. Marine Corps Headquarters, are the correct references for this discussion.

The last sentence on Page 33 is misleading because as CG X CORPS I sent a Radio on 30 October "Personal to MacArthur" stating that: "On this date I have interviewed prisoners captured by ROK troops near the CHOSIN RESERVOIR in the number of 16 Chinese soldiers (of a Mortar and Artillery Unit) which crossed the YALU RIVER near MANPOJIN on 18 October 14 days ago.

The Threshold of Victory

General Smith's estimate ...of what X CORPS thought, namely that the Chinese were volunteers, is directly opposite to what the X CORPS estimate actually did evaluate. On 11 November the X CORPS knew that it was confronted by the 124th and by elements of the 125th and 126th Chinese Divisions General Smith's approval of Orders is beside the point; the X CORPS was complying with Orders from General MacArthur to resume the advance and that is what the Commander intended to do.

[The] record should make this point abundantly clear and not leave to "opinions" of General Smith as the only record of the case and thus to go unchallenged: Example: On 2 November the X CORPS knew that the 7th U. S. Marines, one of General Smith's Regiments, was opposed by Chinese troops of the 370th and 372nd Regiments; that both of these Regiments were from the 124th Chinese Division and that this had occurred at the CHANG-JIN POWER PLANT Northwest of Hamhung. General Smith's charges, on 10 November that the X Corps Commander and his Staff thought that his (Smith's) troops were opposed by Chinese "Volunteers" are totally unfounded and should not even be in this factual history.

General Smith's views...on the X CORPS attitude "Optimism or pessimism without middle ground," and his other views that are "also admirably illustrated," in his letter to General Cates namely, among which can be cited that, "Almond's Orders were wrong, etc.," leave much to be desired in objective historical reporting. General Almond=s orders were issued in execution of GHQ Order Part 2, CX 67291. General Smith, not only on this occasion, showed his objections, but he so often at other times thought that the orders he received were wrong. The periods in which he had feelings, to my certain knowledge, in the order here mentioned

1. In the planning for the INCHON LANDING General Smith thought it was impossible, and certainly impossible of execution in September, and maintained this position until General Almond offered to substitute for the 7th Marine Regiment the 32nd Infantry Regiment, two battalions of which had had amphibious training. This brought General Smith to his senses and he finally decided that the landing might be made after all.

2. There was his objection to the manner of execution of the landing at INCHON.

3. Then came his objection to plans for the capture of SEOUL.

4. He objected to the outloading of Marines on 7 October, among other reasons, stating that his own supplies had to be abandoned and when I questioned what supplies, he referred to he began to describe whereupon I demanded to see what he meant and found a warehouse full of steel clothes lockers which had been brought from Japan for the service of the Marines after the landing, when General Smith, and everyone involved, knew that ship space was at a great premium. In spite of this General Smith brought material useless for the landing operations in the form of steel clothes-lockers.

5. When the Japanese Stevedores struck at WONSAN about 25 October, General Smith objected to using any part of his combat troops to unload his own supplies, in spite of the fact that this was the only possible way to accomplish the operation; he wanted a "written order" before he would comply and he got it!

6. He objected to the advance against the enemy in the vicinity of the CHOSIN Reservoir area in the effort of the X CORPS to comply with Orders from General MacArthur;

7. He had many other objections on numerous other occasions, which an interview with the undersigned could establish

In my opinion, it is most unwise to quote General Smith on such matters as he has been quoted without affording rebuttal opportunities to those in opposition to his estimate, namely, the combat commanders concerned.

Returning to the particular objection of General Smith to push his Division North of Hamhung and toward the CHOSIN RESERVOIR where the enemy was. it is abundantly clear to me, and it was to my Staff, 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 inland."

On the very day that General Smith was doubting the CORPS Commander=s judgment and leadership, by exposing his Division to the enemy unduly, and pushing beyond the flank of the Eighth Army, the Third U.S. Infantry Army Division was beginning to arrive at WONSAN for the purpose of supporting X CORPS and protecting its left flank where the gap was, and where Smith feared the worst, "That he would be out on a limb." The Third Division was the force that was to be in echelon and on the left (West) side. to the rear, the open flank side, of the Marine Division, for the purpose of protecting the gap of the exposed left of X CORPS, which General Smith SO loudly condemns.

General. Smith also fails to indicate that when the Marines withdrew From, the RESERVOIR area, early in December, that this same 3rd Division (U.S.Army) was in place and backed up this withdrawal and provided the wedge that moved to SUDONG and opened the avenue through which General Smith withdrew and at the same time that he issued his supposedly famous statement "Retreat hell - we're just attacking in another direction." It appears that the Marine General=s statements very decidedly appealed to the chronicler of this Chapter and also to the exclusion of all other aspects and other persons views of the operations under consideration.

It should be noted that in several places in the Chapter the impression is created that liaison ordered between the Eighth Army and the X CORPS' had not been made, prior to 14 November. This is entirely inadequate and is thoroughly covered by Appleman in his, "SOUTH TO THE NAKTONG: NORTH TO THE YALU," record of events.

[With reference to the plan to attack west] it appears entirely unfair to infer that JSPOG [Joint Strategic Plans and Operations Group of the Far Eastern Command headquarters] was influenced in its strategic ,judgment partly due to the fact that General Almond was still the Chief of Staff. This is not only unfair to General Almond, but to the officers who composed the JSPOG organization. This whole page of analysis deserves a. complete re-analysis and the clarification that X CORPS was executing the Orders of GHQ as the military situation was being developed, and everyone knows the situation was rapidly changing; furthermore, that General Almond and his Staff were making revised estimates as well. as General Smith and JSPOG.

There is some attempt to accommodate the foregoing by quoting from General Almond's letter to General Wright on the situation ..., but the damage by inference to which objection is raised here has already been done in expressing the "charm of General Smith's views." Twenty-twenty hindsight always intrigues the historiographer, and this occasion provides no exception. Example: How would the Chinese force be determined except by moving into it and developing its strength which was unknown, as is admitted in all references that I have so far had the privilege of reading. General Almond's letter to Wright gives the reasons for this developing action and the road net on X CORPS' West Flank with the gap, as has been so abundantly described. The very presence of the Marines and the X CORPS on the East Flank of the Eighth Army, and in spite of the gap, was to prevent the envelopment of the Eighth Army East Flank, and as a matter of history, no one can dispute the fact that the utilization of this so-called gap privilege by the Chinese never occurred.

The Chinese Take a Hand

The remarks in this Chapter are snide, when they refer to, "the somewhat less than prophetic note" in General Almond's message to Barr, "...I am confident that you will hold it." This seems to show an unfair attitude towards the X CORPS. General Barr did hold it until he was ordered to withdraw from it as the situation changed on the Eighth Army Front and the X CORPS West Left Flank due to the Chinese force being developed there, and eventually amounting to seven or eight Chinese divisions which even the cautious Marine Commander, General Smith, had not visualized!

It would seem that there would be some virtue in X CORPS having, by opposing these Chinese Divisions, furnished some opposition to their having moved against Eighth Army's East Flank, which they never did. This aspect appears to have escaped the "objective" analysis being made here.

As to the number of lives saved by General Smith's cautious delays, such inferences are subtle criticisms of an aggressive commander who was attempting to operate in accordance with his Orders and certainly to the best interest, under the circumstances, of the troops that he commanded.

It is difficult to rationalize the account of X CORPS leadership as set forth in Army official records, "SOUTH TO THE NAKTONG - NORTH TO THE YALU" with this "Marine interpreted" version in this manuscript. I refer to Pages 741-747 of "SOUTH TO THE NAKTONG - NORTH TO 771E YALU," to show the difference between the two versions of the operations. The first describes what actually happened, and the latter, this manuscript, is casting aspersions on GHQ and X CORPS leadership in a hazy fluctuating situation that no one really understood, and the only development of which was that which occurred under pressure from both the Eighth Army and X CORPS.

A Strong Dilema

In commenting on the disposition of the Eighth Army and X CORPS on 10 December it should be made clear that:

a. The enemy had apparently withdrawn

b. The lack of roads between the two forces and the rugged terrain in the gap area, was within itself a degree of protection to rapid enemy movements in that area.

c. That the Marine Division was in itself the forward flanking protection of the X CORPS, and that the 3d U. S. (Army) Division was the left flank. X CORPS protected, echeloned to the left rear of the 1st Marine Division.

d. That in the arrangement of Left (West) Flank protection, one (26th ROK) Regiment of the 3rd Division was opposite HAMHUNG, and another Regiment, the 65th of the 3rd Division, was located opposite YONGHUNG on the West Flank; that another Regiment, the 15th of the 3rd Division, was at WONSAN and the 7th Regiment was in 3rd Division Reserve.

e. Finally, this gap between Eighth Army and X CORPS was never entered by the Chinese, principally because of the difficulty of terrain and lack of a road system. Reference here is found on Page 746, in "SOUTH TO THE NAKTONG -NORTH TO THE YALU." This reference gives a very thorough description of the importance of the gap and whether or not it was taken advantage of.

The evident urge, which constantly appears in these Chapters concerning X CORPS operations in Northeast Korea, seems to be to find fault with leadership of the commanders in KOREA from General MacArthur on down. The real objective should be to set forth aspects of terrain and the troop operations as they took place.

[This is the end of the discussions about Chosin. This letter had additional material commenting on the Hungnam withdrawal and operations in the spring.]

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