Blog 12/01/2020 - Chosin Reservoir - RCT-31

MHT Blog December 1, 2020 - Chosin Reservoir – North Korea

The Desperate Struggle of RCT-31 on the Eastern Side of the Reservoir

The Regimental Combat Team 31 (RCT-31), is a United States Army unit known for its role in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War and was part of the "Chosin Few." RCT-31 primarily consisted of infantry, artillery, and tank units from the 7th Infantry Division (ID) that had been attacking north on the eastern side of the reservoir. The units of RCT-31 positioned at the Chosin Reservoir consisted of 3rd Battalion/31st Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion/32nd Infantry Regiment, A and B Batteries/57th Field Artillery Battalion, D Battery/15th Anti-aircraft Automatic Weapons Battalion and 750 Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) soldiers. Two Communist Chinese Army (CCA) Divisions from the elite 27th Corps surrounded the 7th ID units and attacked them relentlessly for three days and had only survived by bravely resisting against overwhelming numbers aided by massive U.S. Marine and Navy Close Air Support (CAS.) 

COL Allan MacLean & LTC Don Faith

U.S. Army historian in the 1960s began to use the name "Task Force Faith" for LTC Faith, USA who had taken over for the WIA and captured Col MacLean, USA however the unit was not known by that name during the Korean War. The Americans were running low on ammunition with over half their soldiers having been KIA or WIA, including a high proportion of small unit leaders. Faith, realizing he was surrounded, greatly outnumbered and unable to withstand another major attack, decided to attempt a breakout to the south, toward the Marine lines at Hagaru-ri. The situation was so desperate that only a minimum of equipment and sufficient vehicles to carry the wounded were placed in the convoy, freeing more soldiers to fight as infantry. The rest of the equipment was destroyed in place, including the artillery's howitzers after they fired their last rounds.

The breakout began on 1 December, again greatly aided by U.S. Marine F4U Corsairs and Navy Grumman F7F Tigercat fighters which strafed and bombed Chinese positions as the American truck column, carrying hundreds of wounded and under constant attack, made its way south down a gravel road. The march momentum was broken when the Corsairs mistakenly bombed short, spraying the lead platoons of the task force with napalm, demoralizing the task force. As the front of RCT-31 ran into CCA roadblocks and close-range heavy small arms fire the trucks became death traps as enemy fire killed those already in the trucks as well as the drivers who viewed the job as a form of suicide. In the late afternoon, with light fading, LTC Faith got the column moving again until it approached Hill 1221 overlooking the road. Strong CCA defensive positions on the Hill and a roadblock beneath it blocked Faith's retreat. Several units attacked Hill 1221 trying to clear it. As Faith led an assault on the roadblock, he was hit by an enemy grenade and badly wounded.

As darkness closed in, ending the protective Marine CAS protection the Chinese infantry assaults grew bolder, penetrating closer and closer to the convoy. Here is when RCT-31 began to disintegrate as almost all of its officers were dead or seriously wounded. An attack on the hill cleared part of it, but many of the leaderless soldiers, instead of returning to the column, continued out onto the frozen reservoir beyond the hill and walked on the ice south toward the Marine positions seeking safety. At last, the roadblock at the base of the hill was removed and the truck column again crept forward in the dark but was finally halted by yet another Chinese roadblock just north of Hudong. The U.S. troops and tanks that had occupied Hudong and might have saved the remains of the task force, had been controversially ordered back to Hagaru-ri the previous day

Now the Chinese renewed their attack, swarming among the trucks, throwing white phosphorus grenades into vehicles loaded with wounded. LTC Faith, hit again by rifle fire, died of his wounds (he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.) The breakout attempt collapsed as the remaining soldiers abandoned the truck convoy and attempted to escape individually, many crossing onto the ice of the reservoir. The 385 able-bodied survivors of Task Force Faith were formed into a provisional rifle battalion which was attached to the Marines and fought with them in the breakout of the 1st Marine Division during the remainder of the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.