It had been a long day filled with the sounds of
battle. Thousands of frightened young Marines crowded their landing
craft. Only five years earlier most of them had been students finishing
high school and learning world geography from both and accounts of
veterans of the world war in Europe and the Pacific. Despite the broad
expanse of the World War II Theater most of these young men had never
heard of the Asian peninsula of Korea. Probably none could find it on a
Still ringing in the ears of the young Marines of
the 1st Marine Division were the words of the legendary Leatherneck
commander of the first regiment, Colonel Lewis Chesty Puller: "We're
the most fortunate of men. Most times, professional soldiers have to
wait 25 years or more for a war, but here we are, with only five years
wait for this one...We live by the sword, and if necessary we'll be
ready to die by the sword. Good luck. I'll see you ashore."
The day was almost gone as the landing craft
struggled against the treacherous tides to make their way to the shores
at Inchon. Wooden scaling ladders protruded from the front of low
profile barges that transported the Marines towards their destination.
It was an amphibious assault against three enemies: the soldiers of
North Korea, the quickly fading daylight hours, and the infamously
dangerous geography of Korea's west coast. Indeed, the 1st Marine
Division commander Major General Oliver P. Smith had noted, "Half
the problem was getting to Inchon at all."
General Douglas MacArthur's most ardent detractors
will admit that the surprise amphibious assault at Inchon, dubbed
Operation Chromite, was a stroke of military genius. In a matter of days
the highly successful operation broke the back of the North Korean
invasion of the South, and liberated the capitol city of Seoul.
to World War II the Asian peninsula of Korea (Corea) was undivided,
first as an independent kingdom, then as a Protectorate of Japan
(1910-45). Shortly before World War II came to a close the United States
and Russia reached an agreement to divide the peninsula at the 38th
parallel, for the purpose of accepting the surrender of Japanese troops.
When war ended both nations worked hard to promote friendly governments,
Russia suppressing the moderate nationalists and supporting Kim Il Sung
in the North, the United States promoting United Nations supervised
elections in the south. These elections led to the formation of the
Republic of South Korea in August 1948. The following month the
inhabitants north of the 38th parallel responded by establishing the
People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). For the first time in history the
peninsula was divided into NORTH and SOUTH Korea.
On Sunday, June 25, 1950, the North Koreans
attempted to reunite the two nations of the Asian peninsula. At exactly
4:00 A.M. nearly 100,000 DPRK soldiers, supported by tanks and 130
aircraft, attacked across the border. Three days later the capitol of
Seoul, just fifty miles south of the border between the two countries,
had fallen to the North. Within weeks Republic of Korea, U.S., and U.N.
forces had been pushed all the way back to Pusan on the southeast coast.
The NKPA (North Korea People's Army) held most of the peninsula and
appeared close to uniting their land under the banner of Communism.
Throughout the months of July and August the
United States moved quickly to shore up defenses at Pusan with supplies
and an infusion of new troops. Throughout the period, from his
headquarters in Japan, General Douglas MacArthur continued to hammer out
the details for the landing a counterattack, beginning with an invasion
Actually, Operation Chromite was planned and
proposed in early July when the war in Korea was barely a week old. It
was typically MacArthuresque, transporting a large force completely
around the enemy to land behind them, thus blocking supply routes and
cutting off any retreat. The harbor at Inchon afforded all strategic
It was located almost directly opposite Pusan,
far to the enemy's rear flank. A successful invasion would cut off
the NKPA from their command in the north, as well as their supply
According to military intelligence reports the
harbor was only lightly defended. The NKPA had committed the bulk of
their invading force...some seven full divisions, to the effort at
Inchon was located only ten miles from the
Seoul, the South Korean capitol which was now under enemy
The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved MacArthur's
planned invasion early in the war. The course of events in and around
Pusan delayed implementation and changed the schematics of what was
originally planned to commence on July 22nd with an assault by the 1st
U.S. Cavalry. The 1st Cavalry was thrown instead into Korea east of
Taejon, and General MacArthur turned his attention to the 1st and 5th
Regiments of the 1st Marine Division to lead the Inchon invasion, along
with the men of MacArthur's sole reserve unit in Japan, the Army's 7th
D-Day was September 15th. Nearly 70,000 American
soldiers and Marines approached Inchon in a task force of 320 warships
supported by four air craft carriers. At 5:00 A.M. Marine Corsairs
struck the small island of Wolmi-do, followed within an hour by the
initial Marine landing. Half an hour later the small island at the
approach to Inchon was under American control and 108 enemy had been
killed, 136 captured. Marine casualties were light...only seventeen
While the island was the focus of the initial
assault, the bulk of the X Corps assault force pulled back into the
deeper waters of the Kanghwa Bay. The primary assault on Inchon itself
would be much more difficult. General O. P. Smith had been more than
astute in his observation that "Half the problem was getting to
Inchon at all." Despite all of the tactical advantages Inchon posed
for an amphibious assault to turn the tide of war in Korea, all of the
geographical characteristics were negative.
The city of Seoul sits on the Han River, which
runs northwest to spill into Kanghwa Bay and the Yellow Sea. The
infamous coastal tides are among the most dangerous in the world and
have caused sand carried by the Han and numerous smaller rivers, to
create large beds of soft mud. When the high tides are running the swift
currents of two to three knots (and sometimes up to ten knots), make
navigation extremely dangerous. When the tides recede, hundreds of yards
of mud flats extend outward from the shoreline. An invading force
approaching from the sea could quickly sink up to its knees while it
struggled to gain the firmer ground of the peninsula.
The men of the Third Battalion, 5th Marines that
landed at Wolmi-do came in with the high tide, a tide range of 36 feet.
When the tide withdrew the island was surrounded by a sea of mud
separating the American force from the mainland as well as the rest of
the assault force. The main assault planned to return with the high tide
nearly twelve hours later to land on the mainland itself. The timing
meant that their small landing craft would have to struggle against the
currents, negotiate the treacherous rocks and mud flats, reach the
shoreline, and disgorge the Marines. Upon landing, the Marines would
face a 16-foot sea wall, which they planned to scale with the ladders
carried in each LST. There would be only about two hours of daylight to
reach the shore, scale the walls, and set up their defensive positions.
It was a formidable, frightening task, for young men unaccustomed to
war. It was made worse by the fact that the soldiers of the NKPA now
knew the Americans were coming.