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Thread: "Invincible Marines"
01-14-04, 06:46 PM #1
ROKMC Earned Sobriquet in the Korean War
By LtCol James F. Durand
Founded as the Navy's landing force with only 380 Marines, the Republic of Korea Marine Corps (ROKMC) had little opportunity to train for amphibious warfare before Korean War hostilities began. By the war's end, the Korean Marines had executed daring and difficult landings around the peninsula, including Inchon.
Established without American advisors or equipment, the Korean Marines would forge a relationship with the U.S. Marine Corps that would last through two wars and an armistice. When the armistice agreement was signed, the ROKMC had grown to 27,000 Marines, secured a place among the world's elite military forces and earned international acclaim as the "Ghost-Catching Marines" and "Invincible Marines."
Establishment and Initial Operations
On 19 April 1948, communists within the ROK Army's 14th Regiment mutinied, sparking an uprising in the cities of Yosu and Sunchon. President Syngman Rhee ordered a joint Army-Navy task force to put down the rebellion. After several days of intense fighting, army units drove the rebels back to the port city of Yosu, but were stopped at the ridge surrounding the city. The task force commander ordered an amphibious assault. Four Navy cutters attempted to land, only to be pushed back by the mutineers. The rebels fought for several more days before abandoning the city.
Examining the failed assault, Rear Admiral Son Won Il, Korean Chief of Naval Operations, asked, "If our Navy had a ground combat unit or Marine Corps, wouldn't the results have been different?" On 1 Feb. 1949, RADM Son appointed Commander Shin Hyun Joon, a former infantry officer, to lead the new unit.
CDR Shin quickly assembled officers and staff noncommissioned officers. After selecting the cadre, 300 recruits from the Navy's 13th and 14th Recruit Classes were assigned to the new unit. The ROKMC consisted of 380 Marines assigned to two rifle companies, a support company, a security section and a counterintelligence section. It was established on 15 April 1949 at the Deoksan Air Base in Chinhae, as newly appointed Lieutenant Colonel Shin received the Korean Marine Corps color.
The Marines needed to repair their facilities and acquire equipment. Marines wore an assortment of discarded uniforms, American boots and Japanese helmets. Those issued weapons carried Japanese Arisaka Type 99 rifles. However, the Corps' leaders stressed training and discipline over equipment and materiel. Marines climbed the 1,800-foot Chonja Peak so often that the mountain quickly became a symbol of the new Corps.
As Commandant, LtCol Shin was promoted to colonel on 1 July 1949.
On 29 Aug. 1949, the Korean Marines deployed a battalion-size unit to Jinju. An estimated 1,500 guerrillas operated in the Chiri Mountains, attacking government facilities and plundering villages. The presence of the Marines immediately restored a sense of security to the city. After avoiding the Marine patrols for nearly two months, an estimated 70 guerrillas attacked the Marine camp in the early morning hours of 27 Oct. The Marines inflicted heavy casualties on the guerrillas and forced them to retreat. The rebels never again attacked Jinju.
Because of the success of the Jinju operation, the two-battalion Marine Corps was ordered to Cheju Island on 26 Dec. to take charge of antiguerrilla operations. The Marines were as aggressive in earning the trust of the people as they were in ferreting out remaining guerrillas, assisting farmers with spring planting and arranging free medical care. Reflecting the success of these efforts, more than 3,000 islanders joined the Marine Corps following the North Korean invasion.
The First Battles of the Korean War
As the North Koreans advanced south, the Korean Marines landed a battalion-size unit at Kunsan on 16 July. The ROK Marines fought the 13th Regt for the next four days and successfully delayed its attack south before breaking contact and withdrawing to Yosu.
Reinforcements arrived from Cheju Island; the unit, numbering more than 500 Marines and named for its commander, LtCol Kim Seung Un, fought the North Koreans at Namwon, Unbong and Chinju from 23-31 July. The Korean Marines then were ordered to Chindong-ni. On 3 Aug., the Marines attacked the advancing North Koreans, surprising and defeating an unsuspecting enemy. Upon hearing of the attack, President Rhee directed that all Marines in the Kim Seung Un unit be promoted one rank, the first such distinction of the Korean War.
Desperate to cut off the source of allied reinforcement and resupply, elements of the 7th North Korean People's Army (NKPA) Div captured the city of Tongyoung and prepared for a final assault to seize the port facilities at Masan and Chinhae. RADM Son ordered the Marines to land behind enemy lines and recapture Tongyoung.
On the evening of 17 Aug., seven Navy patrol craft sailed from Chinhae and landed LtCol Kim's Marines on the beaches near Tongyoung. The following morning, the Marines attacked the North Koreans, drove them from the city and established a defensive perimeter. In her account of the battle, New York Herald Tribune reporter Marguerite Higgins wrote, "They might even capture the devil." Translated into Korean and published throughout the country, the "Ghost-Catching Marines" became heroes in the darkest hours of the war.
The Inchon-Seoul Campaign
As the U.S. First Marine Division completed its final plans for the amphibious assault at Inchon, Colonel Edward D. Snedeker, Chief of Staff, proposed substituting the Korean Marines for the ROK Army's 17th Regt. The Far East Command approved the change on 3 Sept., and 3,000 Korean Marinesóorganized into three infantry battalions, a reconnaissance company and a headquarters elementówere attached to the Division, embarked aboard amphibious ships and assigned the mission as the landing force reserve.
On the evening of 15 Sept., the 3d ROKMC Battalion was attached to the 5th Marines, landed on Red Beach and was assigned the mission of clearing Inchon. It quickly destroyed remaining pockets of resistance, allowing the 1st and 5th Marines to continue the attack toward Seoul. Relieved by the 2d ROKMC Bn, the 3d ROKMC Bn moved to rejoin the 5th Marines in its attack toward Kimpo. On 17 Sept., Col Shin brought his headquarters and 1st ROKMC Bn ashore, regained control of the 3d ROKMC Bn and was assigned the mission of clearing enemy on the Kimpo Peninsula. The 2d ROKMC Bn joined the operation on the following day.
By 19 Sept., the Korean Marines had cleared a zone to protect the Division's left flank and secure the Han River crossing site at Kimpo City. Leaving the 3d ROKMC Bn to secure the Division's flank, Major General Oliver P. Smith, commanding the 1stMarDiv, ordered the Korean Marines to cross the Han River on 20 Sept., attaching the 1st ROKMC Bn to the 5th Marines for the assault on Seoul.
In order to advance to Seoul, the 5th Marines needed to secure the hills and ridges surrounding Hill 296 that blocked the western approaches to the capital. Historian Col Robert D. Heinl Jr. noted, "As an exercise in map reading, this ground is confusing and deceptive; for the tactician, it is a nightmare." Positioned between the 2d and 3d battalions of the 5th Marines, the 1st ROKMC Bn began its attack on 22 Sept. and immediately encountered heavy resistance.
Taking advantage of the terrain, the NKPA's 25th Brigade commander had established his main line of resistance (MLR) in the area in which the 1st ROKMC Bn was attempting to advance. The two sides exchanged heavy mortar and artillery fire for two days; Marine aviators flew additional sorties in support of the Korean Marines. While the 1st ROKMC Bn inflicted more than 600 casualties on the communist defenders, the Korean Marines also suffered heavy casualties and were assigned as the regimental reserve on 24 Sept. The 5th Marines captured Hill 296 two days later.
The arrival of the 7th Marines and the Kim Seung Un unit, now designated the 5th ROKMC Bn, reinforced the 1stMarDiv as it began its final assault on Seoul. The Korean Marines, less the 1st and 2d ROKMC battalions, were assigned as the Division reserve and were prepared to occupy Seoul. The 1st and 5th Marines' commanders used their attached ROKMC battalions to clear the area of remaining enemy. The commander of the 1st Marines, Col Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, observed, "They're the only ones who can tell the cowboys from the Indians."
Marines from the 2d ROKMC Bn raised the flag in front of the National Capitol at 0610 on 27 Sept. Accounts of this moved the Korean people in the same manner as Joe Rosenthal's photograph at Iwo Jima inspired Americans.
Independent Operations and Return to the First Marine Division
American and Korean Marines parted company after the Inchon-Seoul campaign. The 2d ROKMC Bn was ordered to Mokpo, where it would support antiguerrilla operations from 10 Oct. to 23 Nov. The Corps' headquarters and the other three battalions moved to the East Coast of North Korea, fighting at Wonsan, Kosong and Hamhung from 27 Oct. to 15 Dec. Following the withdrawal of United Nations Command forces from Hamhung, the Korean Marines consolidated their units at the port city of Chinhae. The 1st ROKMC Regt was established on 20 Dec., consisting of the 1st, 2d and 3d battalions.
01-14-04, 06:47 PM #2
Attached to the 1stMarDiv from 21 Jan. to support mop-up operations in the Pohang area, the 1st ROKMC Regt and 5th Bn operated in the Young Deok region from 26 Jan. to 15 Feb. The Marines were redeployed to counter Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) advances in the central area. The 1stMarDiv moved to Chungju and was assigned to IX Corps. The 1st ROKMC Regt deployed to Samchok for duty with the ROK Capitol Div, and the 5th ROKMC Bn was assigned to defend the Kimpo Peninsula. The 1stMarDiv and 1st ROKMC Regt were reunited for a third and final time on 20 March.
Fighting on the Central Front
The Korean Marines continued their attack north and occupied Hwachon on 21 April, only to withdraw two days later when the 5th CCF offensive began. The strategy proved effective. The 1stMarDiv began its attack north on 23 May, quickly advancing in the initial days of the counterattack. The Division's advance slowed as the terrain became increasingly difficult, and the North Koreans concentrated their defenses in a desperate attempt to save the CCF from annihilation.
On 4 June the 1st ROKMC Regt took its place in the center of the 1stMarDiv line with orders to seize Hill 1148. The 12th and 32d divisions of the North Korean Army's 5th Corps defended the hill and the approaching ridge lines with orders to "stand or die." Supported by U.S. Marine artillery and an attached engineer platoon, the 1st ROKMC Regt began its attack on 4 June. In the early hours of 11 June, the Korean Marines began a series of night attacks, destroying enemy strong points and reaching the Kansas Line after three more days of intense fighting. The 1st ROKMC Regt continued its attack north. On 24 June the ROK Marines reached the Badger Line and secured the road between Yanggu and Inje, strategic terrain on the central front.
The 1st ROKMC Regt's actions from 4-24 June became known as the Battle for Mount Do Sol. During the fighting, the Korean Marines seized 24 objectives, killed 2,620 enemy soldiers and captured 53 prisoners and 75 crew-served weapons. The battle was the costliest of the war for the ROK Marines: 181 Korean Marines were killed and 647 wounded during the fighting.
MajGen Gerald C. Thomas, Commanding General, 1stMarDiv, described the 1st ROKMC Regt's valor: "Congratulations to the KMC on a difficult job well done. Your seizure of objectives on the Kansas Line from a determined enemy was a magnificent dash of courage and endurance. Your courageous and aggressive actions justify our pride in the Korean Marines."
However, South Korean President Syngman Rhee provided the most poignant and enduring tribute to the Korean Marines when he visited the battlefield to award the Presidential Unit Citation. Deeply moved by the account of the battle, the President went to a nearby table, picked up a calligraphy brush and wrote the characters Mu Chuk Hae Byung, "Invincible Marines."
The summer of 1951 alternated between intense combat and periods of uncertainty as the truce talks began in Panmunjom. In early July, the Korean Marines suffered 222 casualties in an attempt to capture the 4,000-foot Mount Taewoo, a mission that ultimately required the commitment of the Army's 2d Infantry Div. Shortly thereafter, the 1stMarDiv took advantage of its time as the X Corps reserve to send training teams to the 1st ROKMC Regt, the first opportunity that American and Korean Marines had to focus on training outside of combat. This training paid immediate dividends when the Division began its attack toward the Punch Bowl.
On 30 Aug., the Division ordered the 1st ROKMC Regt to seize Hills 924 and 1026. Named Kim Il Sung and Mao Tse-tung hills by soldiers of the NKPA 3d Infantry Regt, the North Koreans used minefields, mortars and machine guns to defend the approaches to the hills and connecting ridge line. The 1st and 3d ROKMC battalions advanced slowly up Kim Il Sung Hill. Desperate to hold the terrain, the North Koreans reinforced the 3d Infantry Regt throughout the battle. The Korean Marines captured the hill and turned back the final North Korean counterattack on 2 Sept. From Kim Il Sung Hill, the 2d ROKMC Bn attacked along the ridge line, destroying the remnants of the 3d Infantry Regt. The 1st ROKMC Regt secured Mao Tse-tung Hill on 4 Sept. and was commended by the Minister of National Defense.
New Missions and Units
To support training requirements, the Marine School was established on 1 April 1951 in Chinhae. The school would become the Marine Education Command, overseeing training programs for recruits, staff noncommissioned officers and officers.
U.S. Marine Advisory Groups were established at ROKMC Headquarters located in Pusan and the Education Command on 1 March 1952. The Marines assigned as advisors assisted the Korean Marines in developing new capabilities and units. An artillery battalion and companies of armor, combat engineers and coastal engineers were formed during 1951 and early 1952.
Fighting on the Western Main Line of Resistance
The 1stMarDiv was ordered to the westernmost sector of the MLR in March 1952 to strengthen the defenses of the Kaesong-Munsan corridor, the enemy avenue of approach closest to Seoul. As part of Operation Mixmaster, the 1st ROKMC Regt led the move to the west and established its new defensive positions along the Jamestown Line, the MLR. Across the Han River, the 5th ROKMC Bn defended the northern areas of the Kimpo Peninsula. When the remainder of the Division arrived, the Kimpo Provisional Regt was established and additional units assigned to better protect the port at Inchon, the logistics complex at Ascom City and Kimpo Airfield. The 5th Bn's mission and area of operations remained the same, and it continued to defend along the MLR.
The change in location brought about significant changes in the enemy, terrain and tactics. The Korean Marines fought soldiers from the Chinese Peoples' Volunteers in relatively flat terrain. More significantly, the United Nations Command directed a policy of limited offensive in late 1951 in order to facilitate the sporadic truce negotiations. Thus began what historian Lee Ballenger wrote about in his book titled "The Outpost War." Operations were characterized by company- and platoon-size attacks on combat outposts forward of the MLR.
The Outpost War started slowly for the Korean Marines: Dense fog and heavy rains limited Chinese actions during the spring and summer. During this time the 1st ROKMC Regt received additional forces and capabilities and was designated the 1st Marine Combat Group on 1 Oct. 1952, composed of four infantry battalions, single battalions of artillery, armor and engineers, and heavy weapons and headquarters companies. The new organization would be tested at the Battle of Changdan.
At 2200 on 31 Oct., eight CCF infantry companies attacked four Korean Marine outposts in an attempt to seize key terrain on the left flank of the 1stMarDiv. The outposts supported the defenses anchored on Hill 155, which was critical to the Division's defensive plan and overlooked both enemy avenues of approach and the friendly corridor leading to Panmunjom, the site of truce talks since October 1951. Although the Chinese possessed a 4-1 advantage in each attack, the regiment's artillery battalion, 4.2-inch mortar company and artillery of the U.S. Marines' 11th Marine Regt provided accurate and continuous fire support to the companies, platoons and squads defending the outposts.
The battle continued throughout the night, with CCF soldiers seizing outposts, withdrawing under pressure from Korean Marine counterattacks and supporting fire, then attacking again. By the time the last Chinese units withdrew at 0600, the Korean Marines had killed 295 CCF soldiers, captured nine prisoners and inflicted more than 460 casualties while suffering 50 dead and 86 wounded in the heaviest fighting in the final year of the war. The 1st Marine Combat Group received the Korean Presidential Unit Citation for its actions during the Battle of Changdan, the second time it was awarded to a KMC unit during the Korean War.
01-14-04, 06:48 PM #3
The Legacy of the Korean War
The Korean War would shape the ROKMC's roles and missions for the next 50 years. The amphibious landings at Tongyoung, Inchon and on the islands proved the value of a readily deployable force. The 1st ROKMC Div was established in 1955 as the nation's strategic reserve. Korean Marines have defended the Kimpo Peninsula and island outposts since the end of the war, with the 2d ROKMC Div and 6th ROKMC Brigade continuing these missions today.
American and Korean Marines have trained and served together for more than half a century. The phrase "Ghost-Catching Marines" remains in use, and President Rhee's elegant calligraphy adorns all ROKMC buildings, telling visitors that they are among the "Invincible Marines."
Editor's note: LtCol Durand is an intelligence officer who served for five years in Korea, including assignments with the Special U.S. Liaison Advisor, Korea and U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Korea. He graduated from Marine Corps Course, Korean Naval War College in 1998 and currently is a student at the Defense Language Institute. He will attend Japan's National Institute for Defense Studies next year.
01-14-04, 10:53 PM #4yellowwingGuest Free Member
Excellent article! My Korean store owner buddy told me he was in their Air Force. I looked behind him to his nephew and said, "He looks like he would have made a good Marine." Mr. Sung told me, "Yes he was in the Marines!" It's funny how you can tell that look we have. Now I have more to ask his nephew.
01-15-04, 04:07 AM #5
The Outpost War in Korea-!952
I'm delighted Sgt Lee Ballenger's book[s] received a mention in the above posts...he also published, "The Crucible:US Marines in Korea-1953"...his literary acumen tells of the "other Korean War"...after the Frozen Chosin battle...Brassey's, his publisher, so impressed with the two  books...has Lee working on,"US Marines in Korea-1951" to be released later in 2004...I met Lee at the 1st Marine Div Assoc reunion in San Deigo ...as he sought my services with Chapter 3 in his first book...Lee's trilogy of books define the Korean War in a more comprehensive coverage of the total maximun effort by the US Marine Corps' mission in Korea...the Korean War did not end after the fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir [Dec 1950]...far from it...thanks, to Sgt Lee Ballenger-USMC [Recon/1st Tanks]. Semper Fi
01-15-04, 06:46 AM #6
Excellent post, drifter. My son has had the opportunity to train with the ROKs, and is impressed with their spirit and skill.
They have also served beside American troops in the Central Highlands, Quan Ngai and were known as "The Blue Dragons" - South Korean Marines arrived in South VIet Nam in 1965 and operated in sevral areas.
My husband's comment - glad they are on our side.
01-15-04, 10:08 AM #7
Got a lot of funny, and not so funny storiies about ROK Marines in RVN, and CONUS. Their in-country R&R center was just down the beach from 5th Comm HQ, and I was TAD, for a short period of time, to a hill guarded by a company of ROKs .
Don't know about now, but back then, a large percentage of them were openly homosexual (That is "only" an observation! Not a criticism. That "lifestyle" is more accepted over there). Talked to a Chu Hoi scout/interpreter, who claimed that both NVA and VC feared ROKs much more than any other military force in RVN.
They were definately no nonsense, bad assed warriors!!
01-15-04, 10:42 AM #8firstsgtmikeGuest Free Member
They had a base next to ours in Vietnam. We both got hit one night. We bunkered down. They chased the VC for three days and nights until they caught up with them.
They were never hit again.
But we were.
01-15-04, 02:03 PM #9
That is definetly one unit, I would not want to go against in battle.
01-15-04, 04:53 PM #10
Soon we will be serving with the "Invincible Marines."
Some 1,500 combatants to be included in ROK's new contingent to Iraq
A total of 1,460 combatants will be included in South Korea's new contingent of 3,000 troops to be deployed in northern Iraq city of Kirkuk next April, according to a report submitted by South Korean Defense Ministry to the National Assembly on Friday.
A total of 1,460 combatants will be included in South Korea's new contingent of 3,000 troops to be deployed in northern Iraq city of Kirkuk next April, according to a report submitted by South Korean Defense Ministry to the National Assembly on Friday.
South Korea last week officially decided to send an additional unit of 3,000 troops toc to join the 466 army engineers and medics already operating there, but its exact composition has not been disclosed.
The number of security forces has been a hot-button topic, because of arguments by anti-war activists that its prominent presence will make South Koreans in the Arab country more vulnerable to Iraqi insurgent attacks.
In the report to parliament, the Defense Ministry said the security forces will focus on keeping order in the area of their responsibility and guard their fellow soldiers against possible terrorist attacks.
The report did not say what specific units will form the security forces, but ministry officials earlier said Marines, special warfare commandos and ordinary infantry troops will be included.
A government bill on the troop dispatch is now waiting the approval of the National Assembly. Although the bill is unpopular with the public, the main opposition Grand National Party, which controls the one-house parliament, already has voiced support for it.
The ministry also said in the report that the government will bear all expenses related to the troop dispatch, estimated at around 229 billion won (191 million US dollars) a year.
Glad there on our side in this war on terrorism.
PS They never forget that we were there for them in the 50's.
01-15-04, 05:07 PM #11
In the beginning the KMCs....
[1950 -1953] were not "invincible"rather, an undisciplined lot in the art/tactics of war...USMC combat troops in Reserve off n on...would train the fledgling KMCs..they were completely loyal to all USMC units and it remains that way to this precise minute...to a man, the KMCs only fretted that someday the USA may forsake them...well, that hasn't happened in 53 years...assisdious corporal punishment was rampant throughout their enlisted ranks...brutal/bloody at times to "discipline" the unruly ones..those of us who were there watched...and our officers never let us interfere, regardless...afterall, Korea was always a feudal country oppressed since time immemorial,by the Mongols, Chinese, Russians and most of all, the Imperial Japanese Army since 1905 to 1945... during the War, ROK troops had the buggout moniker and no USMC line Company ever wanted them on our flank[s]...hell...we didn't want the US Army on our flanks either...under direct fire the ROKs hauled @ss in total fear and panic, not ever, the KMCs, they never withdrew, unless ordered to...they grasped that inherent tenent...immediately from the USMC virulent training of the KMCs...they were resolute warriors and we loved having them on our flanks...I [we], took great pride in teaching them in Armor tactics and battlefield firefights...my tank unit worked hand-in-hand with the only KMCs Tank Company on the Western Front in the Sachon and Samichon valleys about 50 miles north of Seoul...even after the shooting died down we had the entire KMCs doing Marlex operations to make them the best in amphibious warfare, it still is being carried out...yes, indeed, the KMCs are a world-wide proven Force of Arms and eagerly aided us in Vietnam and now in Iraq...as good as they may seem to be...I still say the USMC is still the best on the field of battle...KMCs will never forsake us and so it will remain...Korea is our staunchest Ally in the Far East...."Kampai",to the ROKMCs. Semper Fi
01-15-04, 05:48 PM #12
It has been over twenty years since I last was in Korea, but
I hope that the Korea people's feelings toward us have not
changed. As an active duty Marine in uniform in Korea in 1981
and 1982, I was treated like an honored guest everywhere
that I went. The Korean people loved the Marine Corps, and
I think that we should always support them. Semper Fidelis,
10-28-07, 06:19 PM #13
It has been three years since the last post on this thread, and I've only recently joined the "hangout." But nearing the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Tet offensive, consider the following:
Korean Marines in Vietnam
I had the honor of serving with the 2nd ROK Marine Brigade from 04OCT67 until 24OCT68. If you ever doubted that ROK Marines were our brothers, consider the following:
Korean troops participated in the Vietnam war in 1964-1973.
Total number of soldiers figured approximately 300,000.
Following statistics originated from the Ministry of Defense, Republic of Korea:
Total Troops : 266,363+
Total Casualties : 15,172+ (KIA:4,891+, WIA:10,281+)
Korean Marine Corps
Total Troops : 37,340
Total Casualties : 4,106 (KIA:1,202, WIA:2,904)
NOTE: 4106/37340 = 11% casualties, and this includes all the Marines in rear positions. By the first month of Tet, after four months in-country, I estimated that I had medivaced out an equivalent of half a company.
CONSIDER ALSO: as with all Marines, the kill ratio was outstanding. The only documention I can find is found on a Korean Vietnam veteran's website. http://cafe3.ktdom.com/vietvet/us/trabinh.htm
This is maintained by a Korean Army veteran, but it includes an account of the ROKMC's most famous battle at Tra Binh Dong. I joined 11th Company some nine months later at this famous hill in the Binhson area, and I heard some of the details from the ANGLICO Marine I replaced. However, at the time I had no idea then, that this would become historically significant.
Whenever you honor the US Marines who served in Vietnam, please remember our brothers from Korea who fought side by side.
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