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Chinese People's Volunteers (CPV)

The People's Volunteer Army (Chinese People's Volunteers - CPV) was the Chinese term for what the US called the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF)) during the Korean War. The Chinese Communist Army in Manchuria was called the North-East People's Liberation Army (NEPLA). Lin Piao commanded this army, which by the end of 1947 had cut Nationalist lines of communication to Manchuria and isolated that important area from the rest of China. In the spring of 1949 NEPLA was redesignated the Fourth Field Army, incorporating five army groups, the XII through XVI, which in turn comprised the Chinese Communist Forces [CCF] 38th through 58th Armies, a total of 60 divisions of about 10,000 men each. This gave a total of approximately 600,000 men in the Fourth Field Army. The Korean volunteers and Manchurian Korean veterans in this army numbered about 145,000.

Lin Piao's Fourth Field Army played a prominent role in the Chinese Communist Forces' great triumph of wresting control of the China mainland from the Nationalists in 1949. Some elements of his army marched all the way from Manchuria to South China where they made the amphibious attack against Hainan Island in the spring of 1950 and began preparations for a similar attack against Formosa. The Fourth Field Army had fought from Manchuria to Hainan Island in the China Civil War without a major defeat. In June 1950 these elements of the Fourth Field Army marched to Canton and entrained there for An-tung, Manchuria, across the Yalu River from Korea. Lin Piao was now taking them back to the Korean border to stand ready for any eventuality arising from the impending Communist invasion of South Korea. Still other elements of the Fourth Field Army moved during the summer from other points in China back to Manchuria. A part of the army had always remained there.

The Korean War had scarcely started when the US Far East Command began to consider the threat of Chinese Communist Forces [CCF] intervention. On 28 June its daily intelligence summary stated that the possibility existed that North Korea might receive Chinese Communist reinforcements from Manchuria. In early July General MacArthur informed the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington that if Chinese combat forces did become involved in the war the assistance of the Strategic Air Command would be required to destroy communications into and through North Korea from China.

Following on the heels of the Fourth Field Army, elements of the Third Field Army, which consisted of the 20th through the 37th Armies, moved to Manchuria in the late summer and early autumn of 1950. By mid-October the Chinese forces of the Third and Fourth Field Armies had concentrated more than 400,000 troops in Manchuria close to Korea. A Chinese Communist army comprised normally three divisions, although a few of them had four. A full-strength Chinese division had approximately 10,000 soldiers. It was elements of the Fourth Field Army, the best field army of the Chinese Communist Forces, that first intervened in the Korean War.

On 25 October, Col. Percy W. Thompson, G-2 of U.S. I Corps, made special arrangements to transport the first Chinese prisoner, captured that day at Unsan by the ROK 1st Division, to the Eighth Army advanced command post at P'yongyang for interrogation. There could be no doubt that he was Chinese; he spoke neither Korean nor Japanese. His story seemed straightforward and credible. With this first interrogation of a captured Chinese soldier in Korea by U.S. Army intelligence officials began the build-up of a large body of information on Chinese Communist units in Korea. The Chinese Communist prisoners captured in the Eighth Army zone of responsibility grew steadily in number from the 3 captured at Unsan and Onjong on 25 October. By 29 October 10 had been captured; by 20 November, 55; by 20 November, 84; and by 23 November, as Eighth Army assumed its final deployment for the attack designed to reach the Yalu, 96 CCF prisoners had been captured. They identified six Chinese Communist armies-the 38th, 38th, 40th, 42d, 50th, and 66th, of which they were members-as being in Korea. (Each army had three divisions, thus the six totaled eighteen divisions.) Eastward in its zone, X Corps had captured prisoners from the 42d Army. US Eighth Army intelligence officials were skeptical of the stories of large Chinese forces in Korea and, lacking what they believed adequate confirmation, did not accept the substance of the prisoners' accounts.

During the first phase of Chinese intervention the units involved tried to conceal their identity by using code names. This succeeded rather well at first. The 54th Unit, for instance, was not suspected of being in reality the 38th Army, which prisoners said it was, but was accepted as being only a small part of it. Similar evaluations were made of the 55th, 56th, 57th, and 58th Units, each of which represented a CCF army. In point of fact, the 54th Unit was the 38th Army; the 55th Unit, the 38th Army; and the 56th Unit, the 40th Army. This misconception was further deepened by the Chinese use of a battalion code to represent a full division; thus the 1st Battalion, 55th Unit, was actually the 115th Division, 38th Army. Chinese officials maintained from the first the fiction that the Chinese fighting in Korea were volunteers. Thousands of interrogations of Chinese prisoners later and scores of captured Chinese documents proved this contention false.

A word should be said about the CCF march discipline and capabilities, which in large part accounted for the secrecy with which the Chinese Communists entered and deployed in North Korea. This march capability and performance equaled the best examples of antiquity. In Xenophon's account of the retreat of the 10,000 Greeks, a day's march on the average came to a little less than 24 miles. The Roman military pace was set to cover 20 miles in 5 hours, the usual day's march for a Roman legion. In normal training exercises the Roman legions had to make three such marches every month. On occasion the legions were required to march 24 miles in 5 hours. When Caesar besieged Gergovia in Gaul, he marched 50 miles in 24 hours.

In a well-documented instance, a CCF army of three divisions marched on foot from An-tung in Manchuria, on the north side of the Yalu River, 286 miles to its assembly area in North Korea, in the combat zone, in a period ranging from 16 to 19 days. One division of this army, marching at night over circuitous mountain roads, averaged 18 miles a day for 18 days. The day's march began after dark at 1900 and ended at 0300 the next morning. Defense measures against aircraft were to be completed before 0530. Every man, animal, and piece of equipment were to be concealed and camouflaged. During daylight only bivouac scouting parties moved ahead to select the next day's bivouac area. When CCF units were compelled for any reason to march by day, they were under standing orders for every man to stop in his tracks and remain motionless if aircraft appeared overhead. Officers were empowered to shoot down immediately any man who violated this order.

These practices, especially the march and bivouac discipline, explain why United Nations aerial observation never discovered the CCF deployment into Korea. The Chinese Communist Forces moved 300,000 men into position in October and November and none of them was ever discovered by the U.N. Command prior to actual contact. While the planes were overhead searching for possible Chinese movement into Korea, the Chinese, perfectly camouflaged, lay hidden below. The aerial observers did not see them nor did the aerial photographs reveal their presence.

Only a fraction of the Chinese People's Liberation Army entered Korea in 1950. Field armies, or "tactical field forces," which were the elite of the organization's combat strength, numbered somewhere between two and three million men. Local garrison armies, which were second-line troops, numbered between one and two million more. In addition, a militia, from which the People's Liberation Army drew recruits, had a strength of five million. The fraction of the Chinese Army in Korea, however, was not the 70,000 given in the latest UNC intelligence estimate. Over four times that number were massed in the mountains.

Some 200,000 Chinese constituting the XIII Army Group of the Fourth Field Army faced the Eighth Army in western North Korea. With six armies, each with three infantry divisions and a total of about 30,000 men, two artillery divisions and the bulk of a third, a cavalry regiment, and two truck regiments, the XIII Army Group had entered Korea during the last half of October, crossing the Yalu at Sinuiju and Manp'ojin. Forces from four of its armies had fought the Eighth Army and X Corps in what the Chinese called their First Phase Offensive between 25 October and 6 November.11 The air attacks on Yalu bridges opened by General MacArthur on 8 November obviously had no chance to interdict the group's movement across the river.

The IX Army Group, part of the Third Field Army, entered Korea with three armies during the first half of November. The leading army had crossed the Yalu at Manp'ojin, the other two at Lin-chiang on a big bend in the river about sixty miles northeast of Manp'ojin. Far East Air Forces planners had not selected the highway bridge at Lin-chiang as a target for the Yalu bombings, judging it less important than the crossings at Hyesanjin and over the lower reaches of the river. With the Manp'ojin crossings (a highway bridge and a railway bridge) standing despite the bombing and with the Lin-chiang bridge untouched, the IX Army Group had crossed the river with little difficulty, then moved southeast to the Changjin Reservoir in the X Corps zone. Although a Chinese army normally comprised three divisions, each in the IX Army Group had been reinforced by a fourth, giving it about 40,000 men, and the group a strength approaching 120,000. The total Chinese commitment in Korea by 23 November thus had risen above 300,000 men.

The units committed included the best in the People's Liberation Army. The Fourth Field Army, commanded by Lin Piao, was the strongest, and its XIII Army Group included armies honored for past achievements with the title of "iron" troops. The Third Field Army, commanded by Chen Yi, was not particularly strong as a whole, but its IX Army Group included at least one army considered to be a crack unit. But however highly rated by People's Liberation Army standards, the two groups essentially constituted a mass of infantry with little artillery support, no armor or air support, and primitive, haphazard logistical support. They were, characteristically, poorly equipped. Individual and crew-served weapons, from company to army, were a collection of diverse makes and calibers; other equipment was equally mixed; and both weapons and equipment were in short supply, small arms to such a degree that as many as two-thirds of some infantry units lacked them.

Their strongest points were experience and morale. Most of the troops were veterans of the recent civil war, and virtually all senior officers had fought the Japanese during World War II. Their high morale presumably was the result of effective political indoctrination, notwithstanding that former Nationalist Army members constituted much of the strength of the intervention force. It was on a combination of morale and guerrilla warfare tactics that Chinese leaders had long depended to compensate for inferiority in weapons and equipment. Supporting the efficacy of this "man-over-weapons" doctrine were successes against the Japanese and Nationalist Chinese, and most recently against the United Nations Command.

Upon leaving their parent field armies in China, the two army groups had come under Headquarters, Chinese People's Volunteers, specially organized for operations in Korea. Under the command of Lin Piao, the special headquarters was located in Mukden, Manchuria. It was Lin in Mukden, not Kim Il Sung at Combined Headquarters in Kanggye, who made the basic tactical decisions, including those affecting the operations of North Korean forces. But publicizing the Kanggye headquarters under the North Korean premier as controlling all military operations lent support to claims made by both Chinese and North Korean officials that the Chinese presence in Korea was simply the result of individuals and units having volunteered to assist the North Koreans.

According to a former highranking Communist Party member, concern that Chinese forces might be defeated in Korea, that American forces might invade the Chinese mainland, and that the United States might employ the atomic bomb had permeated deliberations leading to the decision to enter the war. Intervention had been stoutly opposed by a number of Peking authorities, including some People's Liberation Army officials. They had argued that the newly established regime needed peace so that. it could concentrate on national reconstruction and that China, in any case, could not afford to accept the risks of waging war with a first-rate power like the United States.22 Officials in favor of entering the war had insisted that the threat to China posed by a UNC victory in North Korea made it necessary to accept the risks. The principal and winning argument for intervention may have been that China needed a friendly buffer state along its Manchurian border. A minimal Chinese goal in entering the war, then, was to maintain a Democratic People's Republic of Korea, but not necessarily to restore its 38th parallel border.

That the Chinese believed they could make important political gains but were uncertain of achieving any grand-scale military success is perceptible in a retrospective explanation of China's decision for war attributed to Premier Mao Tse-tung. A victory, according to Mao, would immediately raise China's international status, a stalemate between backward China and a power like the United States would amount to a victory for China, and a defeat would simply require that China engage in a war of resistance as it had done against Japan. Evidencing concern that People's Liberation Army forces might be defeated in Korea and that the UN Command might carry the war into China, Foreign Minister Chou En-lai in reporting the international situation to a group of government officials soon after China's intervention announced, "We are prepared to withdraw, if necessary, from the coastal provinces to the hinterland, and build up the Northwest and the Southwest provinces as bases for a long-drawn-out war." The Chinese did in fact remove machinery and other material, including the huge furnaces of an important steelworks, from the coastal provinces. Thus is appears that the Chinese entered the war not confidently, but gingerly.


XIII Army Group IX Army Group

38th Army

112th Div (334th, 335th, 336th Regts)
113th Div (337th, 338th, 339th Regts)
114th Div (340th, 341st, 342d Regts)

20th Army

58th Div (172d, 173d, 174th Regts)
59th Div (175th, 176th, 177th Regts)
60th Div (178th, 179th, 180th Regts)
89th Div (265th, 266th, 267th Regts)a

39th Army

115th Div (343d, 344th, 345th Regts)
116th Div (346th, 347th, 348th Regts)
117th Div (349th, 350th, 351st Regts)

26th Army

76th Div (226th, 227th, 228th Regts)
77th Div (229th, 230th, 231st Regts)
78th Div (232d, 233d, 234th, Regts)
88th Div (262d, 263d, 264th Regts)a

40th Army

118th Div (352d, 353d, 354th Regts)
119th Div (355th, 356th, 357th Regts)
120th Div (358th, 359th, 360th Regts)

27th Army

79th Div (235th, 236th, 237th Regts)
80th Div (238th, 239th, 240th Regts)
81st Div (241st, 242d, 243d Regts)
90th Div (268th, 269th, 270th Regts)a

42d Army

124th Div (370th, 371st, 372d Regts)
125th Div (373d, 374th, 375th Regts)
126th Div (376th, 377th, 378th Regts)


50th Army

148th Div (442d, 443d, 444th Regts)
149th Div (445th, 446th, 447th Regts)
150th Div (448th, 449th, 450th Regis)


66th Army

196th Div (586th, 587th, 588th Regts)
197th Div (589th, 590th, 591st Regts)
198th Div (592d, 593d, 594th Regts)


Approximate Strengths

Army 21,000-30,000
Division 8,000-10,000
Regiment 3,000

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Page last modified: 28-06-2013 19:37:43 ZULU