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Korean War - Bloody and Heartbreak Ridges

By the end of May 1951, the battle lines were established where today's Demilitarized Zone exists -- northwestward from the Han River Estuary in the west, less than 30 miles from Seoul, to the north of the 38th Parallel on the east coast. The war had definitely entered a new phase. The fighting continued, but there would be no further large-unit ground operations involving dramatic advances and withdrawals up and down the length of the peninsula. Whereas maneuver and a fluid battlefield defined the initial phase of the Korean War, the remainder of the war was characterized by stalemate reminiscent of World War I trench warfare. Instead of a conflict that had as its purpose (for both opposing armies) the reunification of Korea, the war became a holding action. The issue of achieving a decisive military victory was no longer paramount and neither side had any desire to expand the scope of the conflict. As such, prospects of achieving a military armistice appeared promising.

With the appearance in late 1950 of the MiG-15 jet fighter the air war entered a new phase. It was apparent that the MiG-15 was superior to any aircraft then in the American inventory. The MiG pilots were also very good, being (for the most part) veteran Russian fliers. But a counter to the MiG-15 soon emered in the superb F-86A (and later, F-86E/F) Sabre. Many of the Sabre pilots were veterans of World War II and their expertise showed. Soon the Sabres and MiGs were mixing it up over northwest Korea, an area that became known as "MiG Alley." While the war turned into a stalemate on the ground, MiG Alley remained a hot spot throughout the war. For a time the B-29s continued bombing targets in northwest Korea by day, but when MiG-15s shot down five Superfortresses in a week in October 1951, the big bombers began attacking only at night. Air Force bombers kept Chinese airfields in North Korea out of action, while F-86 Sabres succeeded in downing so many MiG-15 jet fighters in "MiG Alley" that American forces further south were free of enemy air attack.

Armistice negotiations began at Kaesong in July 1951. But late in August 1951, after the truce negotiations had been suspended, the UN resumed the offensive in order to drive the enemy farther back from the Hwachon Reservoir (Seoul's source of water and electric power) and away from the Chorwon-Seoul railroad. Success in each of these enterprises would straighten, shorten and give greater security to the the UN front line, and inflict damage on the enemy. The UN put a major effort in the X Corps zone, using all five divisions in that corps to prosecute ridge-top and mountain actions. The US 1st Marine Division, with ROK marine units attached, opened a drive against the northern portion of the Punchbowl August 31.

Two days later the 2nd Division attacked northward against Bloody and Heartbreak Ridges in the vicinity of the Punchbowl's western edge and Taeu-san. Both assaults, delivered uphill by burdened, straining infantrymen, met with initial success. The 2nd Division, on Bloody and Heartbreak Ridges west of the Punchbowl, was engaged in the fiercest action since spring. The 2nd Division infantrymen crawled hand-over-hand up towering, knife-crested ridges to assault the hard-fighting enemy who would yield a ridge only in desperation, then strike back in vigorous counterattack. The same crest often changed hands several times each day.

Bloody Ridge consists of three hills 983, 940 and 773 and their connecting ridges. The maze of enemy trenches on the ridges made it appear to air observers that Bloody Ridge had been plowed. The trenches connected many bunkers which the enemy had built strong enough to withstand artillery fire and air strikes. The August 1951 fighting for Bloody Ridge took place while cease-fire negotiations droned on at the Kaesong armistice conferences. On Bloody Ridge infantrymen had to go forward with flame throwers and grenades after all supporting weapons had failed to dislodge the enemy. After weeks of combat, North Korean forces moved north to strengthen positions on the next prominent terrain feature in that area: Heartbreak Ridge.

In late September and early October 1951 a month-long battle focused on the complex structure of enemy defensive positions protecting the seven-mile-long hill mass that became known as Heartbreak Ridge. Responsibility for seizing this are had passed from Eighth Army to X Corps, to the 2d Infantry Division. North Korean soldiers in bunkers effectively slowed the American advance, throwing fragmentation and concussion grenades. Close infantry action is brutal, dirty, fear-inspiring work. The battle raged until 14 October, when the enemy seemed to be willing to reopen the truce talks and the last ridge was secured.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 14:05:28 ZULU