The Breakout Of The 1st Marines From The Chosin Reservoir: An American Epic Of Courage – Part 11

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Chinese attacking Marines at Chosin Reservoir.

Marine positions were attacked in human waves of Chinese solders who seemed heedless of death. Marines present at the fighting during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir have long been convinced that many Chinese solders had taken high doses of stimulants such as Benzedrine before attacking.

Only veteran Marines who had fought the Japanese in World War Two had ever seen suicidal human wave attacks. Other Marines, who had never witnessed such a thing were shocked. To avoid American air attacks and artillery fire, the Chinese usually attacked at night, which required the Marines to constantly fire illumination rounds from their mortars.

US Marines in position to repel Chinese attacks November 1950.

Because the Chinese army had few radios or field telephones, they ordered their men into battle by bugle calls and flares. Once an attack began, the men could not deviate from the plan, upon which they had been thoroughly briefed, because it was impossible for units to communicate with each other or their higher echelon commands. No matter how many Chinese the Marines killed, it didn’t seem to stop them from literally running directly into the hailstorm of Marine bullets. The attacks would only stop with approach of sunrise.

When the sun finally came up, it would reveal bodies in the hundreds, in the thousands, lying frozen in front of the Marine positions. Mao and other many other Chinese leaders did not believe Western soldiers could fight. The US Marines disabused Mao and his henchman of that notion during the first encounter between a unit of Marines and Chinese soldiers on 6 November 1950.

[Sources: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam and Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea, 1950 by Martin Russ. Images courtesy of Chosin Reservoir Photos.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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