Blog 12/10/2020 - Chosin Reservoir - Retreat Hell!
MHT Blog December 10, 2020 - Chosin Reservoir – North Korea
“Gentlemen, we are not retreating.”
MajGen Oliver P. Smith, Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division (MarDiv) felt LTG Almond, U.S. Army who GEN McArthur had given the X Corps of which 1st MarDiv was too aggressive as the Marines were sure about the large numbers of Communist Chinese Forces in North Korea when Almond agreed with Army Headquarters in Tokyo who was telling them that no Chinese threat existed. Almond ordered the Marines and soldiers to go north to the Yalu River as fast as possible. Smith continuously slowed the division's march north to the point of near insubordination as he built up supply dumps and established temporary airfields at Hagaru-ri & Koto-ri.
When the Communist Chinese 9th Army surrounded the 1st MarDiv & Regimental Combat Team (RCT) 31 at the Chosin Reservoir, he directed the breakout and subsequent 70 miles march to the seaport of Hungnam. In the end his careful and well supported march north and ability to keep his division together saved it—and quite possibly the entire X Corps—from total destruction which RCT 31 faced. As the Marines, sailors, soldiers, British Commandos and ROK soldiers fought their way out, the US Air Force Far East Combat Cargo Command achieved the impressive feat of airdropping 200 tons of provisions for each day to resupply the UN forces that were stuck in the Chosin Reservoir area. To ease the critical situation, Air Force C-119s dropped supplies to the retreating forces while USAF and Marine C-47s landed supplies and flew out thousands of wounded soldiers from the rough strips at Hagaru-ri and Koto-ri. During the fighting withdrawal from Chosin Reservoir, USAF aircraft airdropped or airlanded about 1,700 tons of supplies and ammunition.
The performance of the 1st MarDiv in such desperate circumstances had commanded the attention of the America media, so hungry for heroic news at a moment when there was so little to be had with the simultaneous collapse of the 8th Army's lines to the west. O.P. Smith captured headlines all over the country when he told correspondents who were flown into Hagaru-ri on December 4th, “Gentlemen, we are not retreating. We are merely advancing in another direction.” His remark was interpreted as a magnificent defiance of the reality of his situation with the bulk of the 1st MarDiv trapped. Yet, as he said afterward, it was also tactically accurate, “Slam (nickname for acknowledge military historian S. L. A. Marshall) was the only one who understood that what we were doing really was attacking in another direction, because you couldn’t withdraw when you were completely surrounded,” said Smith.
The quote was heroized by local paper headline writers to “Retreat, Hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction” a combination of General Smith's quote and the WWI quote "Retreat Hell! We just got here!" by U.S. Marine Capt Lloyd Williams when told by a French Army Colonel to pull back.
Other notable quotes now famous to all Marines:
LtCol Raymond L. Murray, CO 5th Marine Regiment who was awarded his second Navy Cross said "We are coming out with our dead, our wounded and our equipment, we are coming out as Marines or we are not coming out at all."
Col Lewis "Chesty" Puller, CO 1st Marine Regiment who was awarded his 5th Navy Cross said "We've been looking for the enemy for some time now. We've finally found him. We're surrounded. That simplifies things." He may have said these but they are now and forever Marine Corps canons: "We're surrounded. That simplifies our problem of getting to these people and killing them. Now we can fire in any direction, those bastards won't get away this time!"; “There are not enough chinamen (sic) in the world to stop a fully armed Marine Regiment from going where ever they want to go.”; “Don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!” and “Those poor bastards, they’ve got us right where we want ’em. We can shoot in every direction now.”