review ↠ PDF, DOC, TXT or eBook Õ Hampton SidesHur s great gamble the invasion at Inchon and the subseuent liberation of Seoul In telling this story Mr Sides relates the unreasonable time table MacArthur set Seoul had to liberated by 25 Sep the 3 month anniversary of North Korea s Invasion and how it dictated the Marines tactics The commander of X Corps the 1st Marine Divisions higher H MG Ned Almond s was in complete agreement with it As with most other accounts of Inchon and Chosin Almond comes off badly With the capture of Seoul he is show to be completely in agreement with MacA and when the Marine Commander MG OP Smith objects basically tells him to shut up and soldier His distain for non white troops is also highlighted As the action moves north of the 38th Parallel the X Corp is moved to other side of Korea and the race to the Yalu beginsAs he tells the beginning of the movement north the author does a good ob relating the total disregard the National Command Authority all the way up to Pres Truman had for Mao and his threat to intervene in Korea He also does a good ob of relating the pressure Gen Almond put on Gen Smith to pick up the pace in the race for the YaluThe story really picks up when the Chinese finally come in for real Mr Sides makes excellent use of first hand accounts to tell the story of both the advance to and the retreat from the reservoir during that awful freezing cold NovemberDecember In telling the story of the battle the author focuses on the defense of the pass between the Marines advanced units at Yudam ni the Division H at Hagaru ri the Tokong Pass Part of the story of the defense of pass is the story of the Chinese American Lt Chew Een who led the relief effort of the Marines holding the Pass He led the relief force cross country using a map and compass and dressed himself in aircraft recognition panels as to be easily seen The story of the Tokong pass is horrifying at the same time it is inspiring Marines refused to be evacuated even with injuries that would seem to be fatal In telling this part of the story the author relates probably the only advantage of the extreme cold it literally stopped the bleedingAmong the other stories Mr Sides recounts is the destruction of the Army s Task Force Faith on the eastern side of the reservoir In contrast to the commonly held belief Mr Sides recounts an heroic defense and says that the Task Force really didn t fall apart until their ammunition was almost exhausted and their commander killed that five days The story of Task Force Drysdale when a British Marine Commando led an attempt to reinforce the Division H also figures prominently in the narrative In spite suffering major casualties Drysdale managed to get 300 reinforcements less than 12 of the troops that left Koto ri to the Division H Yet another story in the narrative is the rebuilding of the bridge at the Funchiin Pass allowing the Marines to escape down the MSRWhile telling the story of the bridging of the pass the author tells of the how the Marines AF and Army improvised a method of delivering sections of Baily bridges and when the stress of vehicles moving over the bridge threatened to cause it s collapse how the engineers reinforced the bridge with plywood and other scrap lumber then literally used the frozen bodies of their enemies for ballast to stabilize the bridge While Mr Sides is scathing of MG Almond in the run up to the Chosin he does give credit where credit is due He states that during the retreat Almond did everything possible to aid the MarinesOne of the best and most inspiring of the accounts Mr Sides relates is that of the first African American naval aviator Ens Jesse Brown and his wingman LT Thomas Hudner Ens Brown is shot down and trapped in his ac while providing CAS to the Marines and LT Hunder deliberately crash lands his aircraft near him in an attempt to free him from his ac and rescue him He is unable to extract Brown from his aircraft even when help arrives in a helicopter Hudner stays with Brown until he dies For his efforts he is awarded the Medal of HonorIn summary while the battle was not a strategic or tactical victory it was a moral one The 1st Marine Division destroyed the better part of 10 CCA divisions and manged to get away with their euipment and wounded Mr Sides does an excellent ob of recounting how the Marines arrived in that God Forsaken part of North Korea the devastating cold they faced and importantly how they got out devastating their opponents at the same time This is a fantastic read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in wars or warriors I would rate this a 425 star read This is the best account of the Chosin Reservoir battle I have read Sides is an excellent historian and his exhaustive research shows But than that Sides knows how to weave individual stories into the broad overview and still keep the narrative pace moving smartly alongChosin was the site of the first major engagement between the United Nations coalition force commanded by the smartly alongChosin was the site of the first major engagement between the United Nations coalition force commanded by the Gen Douglas MacArthur and Mao Zedong s People s Volunteer Army Gen Oliver Smith of the First Marine Division spearheaded the effort North Korea had started the war five months earlier when it invaded the South United Nations forces pushed the North Koreans back beyond the 38th parallel and MacArthur thought he could defeat the North Koreans decisively so as to reunite the country But when the Americans got closer to the Chinese border Mao decided to intervene in a BIG way shifting 300000 troops to the Korean peninsula from a planned engagement with Taiwan These troops were ill prepared for the brutal cold and lacked even sufficient guns Indeed the most common guns were American ones scavenged from the Nationalists who had lost to the CommunistsGen MacArthur completely underestimated the Chinese s fighting prowess and disregarded his own intelligence reports indicating that the Chinese had crossed the Yulu River into North Korea Gen Smith was not so sanguine and did his best to prepare for the worst while still following orders from headuarters Those efforts allowed for one of military history s greatest tactical retreats The battle was fought in extreme cold dipping to 25 degrees Fahrenheit on occasion And as my Marine son said after cold weather training in Canada Hell is not hot it is cold The cold caused the radios to not work properly so communication was dicey The only positive thing that could be said about such cold was that it helped to cauterize woundsThe butcher s bill was huge Casualties totaled 10000 some 4300 of them Marines More than 7000 other Marines suffered noncombat injuries primarily frostbite By contrast the Chinese reported roughly 50000 killed or wounded Highly recommend A Chinese soldier armed with a rifle climbed onto the bed of the truck He came to the first man leveled the barrel between his eyes and fired He moved on to the next Then the nextEd Reeves sat up half out of his sleeping bag and watched as though it were movie He didn t know any of these Americans especially well he d ust shared the bed of a truck with them for a day and a half but he was in awe of them They didn t beg or cry they didn t utter so much as a whimper They looked their executioner in the eye and died with dignityWhen the barrel slid over to Reeves he felt strangely at peace His eyes followed the smooth metal until they found the eyes of the soldier Reeves did not see malice in them He was a kid following horrible orders Possibly
from his point of view it was a mission of mercy get it over with in an instant rather than lethis point of view it was a mission of mercy get it over with in an instant rather than let slowly freeze to death The soldier was standing no than three feet away when he sueezed the trigger The muzzle blast knocked Reeves to the floor Then the barrel swung over to the next man Hampton Sides On Desperate Ground The Marines at the Reservoir the Korean War s Greatest BattleThe Korean War occupies a strange place in American military history sandwiched between World War II the good war and Vietnam the bad war It was fought for nebulous reasons many contemporary accounts from ordinary soldiers stress their uncertainty of purpose and ended in a draw with the North KoreanChinese forces on the one side and the South KoreanUN forces on the other essentially reverting to the status uo ante bellum It is a relatively forgotten conflict or police action whose essential importance has only been demonstrated by the fullness of timeWhile the Korean War in general does not occupy a prominent place in the public consciousness its most famous battle certainly does In November 1950 the North Korean forces were on the run After early stunning successes Douglas MacArthur s landing at Inchon flipped the field and sent them scrambling northward Despite the threat of Chinese intervention MacArthur pursued sending three columns toward the Yalu River In the broken terrain of the Taeback Mountains in the midst of a terrible winter the Chinese forces that MacArthur believed would stay out of the war arrived in force At the Chosin Reservoir the American X Corps including the men of the First Marine Division found themselves surrounded by thousands of Chinese soldiers Over the next seventeen days a brutal fighting retreat ensued comprising one of the great epics in the annals of warfare Hampton Sides On Desperate Ground tells this story in gripping almost cinematic fashion This 337 page book is taut fast paced and novelistic in its details Employing brief chapters Sides provides a broad stripped down overview of the Korean War that sets the stage for the Chosin drama Even if you ve never read a word on the subject Sides ensures that you have enough context to understand what is going on The centerpiece of course is the battle itself and Sides effortlessly deploys his immense storytelling skills There are some limitations though For instance Sides does not attempt to provide a comprehensive account of the fight around the Chosin Reservoir Instead he focuses on General Oliver Prince Smith and the First Marines Undoubtedly this will further stoke inter service rivalries as the plight of the Army with the exception of a brief interlude with Task Forth Faith is mostly ignored Further Sides is interested in the experiences of the men rather than the tactical ebb and flow of the battle If you want to know about every single maneuver or desire an extensive recounting of the positioning of troops down to the last platoon you are not going to find that here Sides gives you the basics but that s all Instead he follows individuals providing engrossing mini arcs of men under impossible duress battling the enemy and the cold And that is the beating heart of On Desperate Ground This is a grunt s eye view of ferocious combat that often became hand to hand and face to face There is for example Lieutenant John Yancey of Company E charged with defending Hill 1282 against waves of Chinese troops In the midst of this action a Chinese attacker armed with a Thompson submachine gun moved in close and sueezed a burst into Yancey s face One of the bullets entered Yancey s cheek ust below his eye and angled down through his sinus cavities coming to rest in the back of his neck near the base of his skull Luckily it had missed his spine but along the way the projectile had fractured his cheekbone The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started theLongest War in American History jarred loose numerous teeth and dislocated hisaw Worst of all the bullet pried Yancey s right eye from the socket The ball dangling by a cord of nerves and fibers rested high on his cheekbone Yet somehow Yancey was still functioning He picked himself up from the snow and with his good eye spied his assailant reloading his Thompson Reflexively Yancey snatched his45 pistol from its holsterand fired two rounds into the enemy soldier s abdomen killing him Then Yancey horrified but not knowing what else to do cradled his eyeball and gently mashed it back into its ragged hole On Desperate Ground is a technically flawless book It is popular history at its best rousing entertaining informative It never bogs down never gets tangled in minutiae Indeed it seems designed for mass appeal with the Marine centric narrative the bite sized chapters and the brutal evocations of combat This is an unabashed tale of heroism and sacrifice of men against fire and cold This is one of those books I feel comfortable guaranteeing If you pick this up you will not regret it And yet I have to add that I am mildly disappointed Somewhere my wife is shaking her head knowing that I live most of my life in a state of mild disappointment Hampton Sides is at his absolute best when he is working with unknown stories from a daring POW rescue in Ghost Soldiers to the doom of the Navajos in Blood and Thunder to the tragic Arctic expedition of the USS Jeanette in In the Kingdom of Ice He has a knack for digging deeper for illuminating some of the small corners of history that tend to get lost in shadow He does not get a chance to put those skills to use here The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir is not an unknown story To the contrary it has been told and retold numerous times Sides provides a beautiful presentation but does not reveal anything new Certainly he has done his ob in interviewing participants However at this late date I do not know how much these interviews add to what we already know Most of the stories featured prominently in On Desperate Ground have been covered before extensively Just recently an entire book was released about Fox Company s bloody hilltop stand The Last Stand of Fox Company Likewise with Jesse LeRoy Brown a black Corsair pilot shot down while providing air cover Devotion More than that Sides does not really have anything to say about the battle other than that it was an extreme test of endurance He is content to repeat the conclusions found in other secondary sources especially Martin Russ Breakout This is an exceptional example of narrative nonfiction done right Yet I cannot help wishing that Sides had used his
considerable talents as both a historian and a writer to highlight some othertalents as both a historian and a writer to highlight some other of the Korean War The men of the Frozen Chosin especially the Marines have their monuments Almost seventy years after Kim Il Sung s legions poured over the 38th Parallel we have a better idea of what a North Korean victory in 1950 might have meant That knowledge adds considerably to the deeds of the South Korean US and UN troops that held the line Sides would have been doing a valuable historical service if he had looked a little harder for the unsung heroes. The enemy forces with ferocity ingenuity and nearly unimaginable courage Hampton Sides's superb account of the battle relies on years of archival research and interviews with scores of Marines and Koreans who survived the siege While expertly chronicling the follies of the American leaders this is an immediate grunt's eye view of history enthralling in its narrative pace and powerful in its portrayal of what ordinary men are capable of in the most extreme circumstanc. Andor surroundedAnd of course the Chinese were in the area and they did attack The Marines about 13000 men were cut off and surrounded by 120000 Chinese troops The battle was fought in extremely brutal weather that saw temperatures dip to 20 degrees below zero or at times even lowerAt the mess tent a cup of scalding coffee would accumulate a skim of ice within minutes Canteens and C rations froze solid Fingers stuck to metal It had a cauterizing effect on wounds Blood from bullet holes or shrapnel tears simply froze to the skin and stopped flowing It is estimated that the Chinese suffered an estimated 30000 killed in action and about 12000 wounded The Marine casualties included 750 dead with 3000 wounded and about 200 missingHow the division escaped is a remarkable feat a successful retreat that was made possible by a general who unlike MacArthur and Almond took nothing for granted Yeah this is the book There aren t many authors who can keep my bedside lamp burning until 0300 hrs on a workday but that s what happened to this one Any good war story has to have a mixture of brass officers strategy planning and balls grunts action blood and guts brotherhood Hampton Sides has mixed these ingredients in ust the right combination which is about one part brass to three parts ballsSides spends a bit of time explaining what we already knew that MacArthur was as crazy as a shithouse rat an officer who loved to be in the rear with the gear surrounded by sycophants His real effort is expended in relating the heroic battles of the USMC against overwhelming Chinese forces in the battle for the Chosin Reservoir commonly called the Frozen Chosin I m not going to relate any exploits here Sides has already done that for you in his What a treat to have Sides create a narrative for us on a tough ob our soldiers had in Korea and gather in some lessons relevant to our precarious position today in that part of the world I ve had nothing but 5 star reads with this talented storyteller and history sleuth and this one continues that tradition His major focus here is on a critical campaign that almost started World War 3 namely MacArthur s initiative after landing at Inchon and retaking Seoul to invade North Korea and win the war with a drive to the Yalu River boundary with China This triggered People s Republic of China s deployment of than 200000 troops across the Manchurian border About 120000 of these soldiers surrounded the 20 thousand or so American Marine and Army troops around the Choisin Reservoir properly Changjin These men had been sent to the austere mountainous region with a fragile supply line in the form of a 78 mile stretch of two lane road back to the port of Hungnam with many vulnerable choke points and a critical bridge From the perspective of key officers and enlisted men Sides delivers a well crafted and harrowing story of how the Marine and Army troops held up to being surrounded and assaulted by overwhelming forces and boldly pulled off a successful fighting retreat Along the way he covers enough of the whole war and antecedent events to provide a good context to this major turning pointIn addition to excessive enemies the trapped UN forces faced the extreme challenges of the terrain and the winter weather As can be seen below the Choisin Reservoir region is rough country for the logistics of combat and few soldiers beset there had any alpine warfare training or experience And winter in high country there meant temperatures that often got to 20F It s hard to convey the personal impact of such cold better than the following face You could imagine the difficulties of digging a foxhole in such weather the constant threat of frostbite and challenges of treating the wounded Despite these challenges advantages the UN forces included better clothing and weapons than the Chinese and Communist Koreans and in clear weather total dominance of the skies for air strikes and supply drops The following map can provide some geographical perspective and illustrate the main phases of the war In the bottom right you can see how far the North Korean army had pushed the South Korean and occupying UN forces by September 1950 to a small region around Pusan The brutal urban warfare leading to the loss of Seoul and desperate retreat to the south was well covered in another comprehensive book about the war David Halberstam s masterful The Coldest Winter America and the Korean War You can see how the invasion of Inchon opened the door for an effective assault on the flank and supply lines of the invaders MacArthur from his command site in Japan couldn t resist following up the successful retaking of South Korea with an attempt to defeat the North once and for all Truman warned him to pull back at any sign of engagement in the war by the Chinese but the Joint Chiefs gave him plenty of latitude to push as hard he wanted He was aware of lots of Chinese troops over the border in Manchuria but he was blind to the possibility of their willingness to defend their client state and for a long time ignored plenty of evidence that regular Chinese army troops were present in force one soldier complained If you are shot and killed by an enemy that isn t there are you still alive You can see how the Choisin Reservoir area was effectively the tip of the spear for whole military campaign The book doesn t delve much into the tough fighting by the 7th Army Infantry Division to the east of the Reservoir region or UN troop battles in northwestern Korea Fortunately General Oliver Smith Commander of the First Marine Division was assigned to lead the advance through the Chosin region He had experience with MacArthur s overreaching in the Pacific theater of World War 2 where he fought with the First Marines in their useless slaughter in the taking of the island Pelieu 6500 casualties He had reason to believe that many Chinse troops had already infiltrated into North Korea and that they were advancing into a trap His idiot supervisor as X Corps Commander and MacArthur acolyte Major General Edward Almond constantly pressing him to recklessly advance ahead Smith slowed their advance and left supply caches along the way He wisely took the initiative to build up the mining town at the southern tip of the Reservoir Hagaru ri into a stronghold and direct his brilliant chief engineer Col John Partridge to direct work around the clock to construct a landing strip suitable for C47 cargo planes for supply and evacuation of the wounded Major General Oliver Smith commander of the 1st Marine Division accompanies MacArthur on a tour after taking InchonIn the next map the print will be too small but it usefully illustrates the encirclement of the Marine positions to the west of the reservoir and of the Army task force on the east side Lt Colonel Faith s story of holding in the face of mass attacks and then leading his Army units on a breakout is so tragic in its details His column was effectively cut in half at one bottleneck and only 1000 of 2500 made it to the relative safety of Hagaru a few hundred as individuals walking across the ice wounded and freezing To the west the survivors of the embattled outpost Yudam took enough hills by fierce combat to enable them to break through multiple roadblocks and ambushes on the road to Hagaru Another dangerous bottleneck to surmount was Tonktong Pass which the particularly brave Fox Company led a colorful Captain William Barber had lost most of its men guarding for days from a strategic hill With consolidation of his forces at Hagaru Smith eventually got the message through to command that retreat was necessary to prevent total obliteration he famously preserved morale of his troops by exclaiming Retreat hell We re not retreating we re ust advancing in a different direction The fighting retreat down the road toward the port of Hungnam was brilliantly orchestrated by Smith against tall odds With Setting Them Straight: You CAN Do Something About Bigotry and Homophobia in Your Life just enough trucks to cram his wounded in he made the sad decisions to execute their dying prisoners and to bury 117 of their dead in a mass graves Many refugees followed in the convoy s wake on foot The convoy came to a dead stop at high point called Funchilin Pass due to a large span of the bridge there having being blown out by the Chinese Calling again for the magic of Partridge s engineering skills led to the unusual plan of having the Air Force deliver by parachute eight massive girders of 2900 pounds each to repair the breach Evacuation of the survivors of whole expeditionary force and 14000 refugees to boot at Hungnam was a massive and successful effort involving nearly 200 ships A sad but necessary breah of the Marine principle to not leave fallen comrades behind the burial of 117 Marines Army soldiers and Royal British Commandos on the evacuation road south of ChoisinThe outcome of the Battle of Choisin Reservoir was a complete turnaround in the war All of MacArthur s claimust weeks earlier to be close to ending the war was ashes in his mouth as he realized the impossibility of defeating China s vast forces and armaments supplied by the Soviet Union When he was called on the carpet by Truman for getting him in very hot water with his electorate and inspiring Sen Joe McCarthy to call for his impeachment MacArthur claimed to have intended to force China s commitment to their imperialist Commie designs Before the war was finally over and back to the permanent standoff across the 38th parallel both men supposedly considered use of nuclear weapons The result of the Korean War was a return to a standoff between two Koreas across the 38th parallel which was supposed to be a temporary division between Soviet and Allied occupation zones after the ouster of Imperial Japan from the peninsula toward the end of World War 2 Compared to long wars like Vietnam and Afghanistan the three years of fighting was relatively short But the casualties were very high making it a shame how it has become a forgotten war by many According to Wikipedia the US suffered about 34000 battle deaths South Korea about 138000 North Korea about 215000 and China 114 183000 Other NATO nations such as the UK Canada Turkey and Australia suffered 300 1000 combat deaths As often neglected in the butcher s bill for war civilian deaths dwarf those of the soldiers with 374000 estimated for South Korean and over a million for North Korea The US campaign of massive bombing of all North Korean cities in the war is the major contributor to the huge disparity For every death recorded multiply by 2 or 3 for the injured and maimed Seems hardly worth it to return to the status uo All it proved is that the US with NATO was willing to make sacrifices to block national dominos from falling But in the mind of most enemy soldiers they were defending their homeland and the sense of threat felt by the PRC over American occupation of a land at their borders might be comparable to the US stance if China or Russia were to invade Mexico Regardless of the politics and whether you consider the fateful invasion of North Korea a tragic mistake the contribution and sacrifices of soldiers on both sides should not be forgotten Ironically the civil war never technically ended Amid all the Trumpery involving Korea this year a small step forward was made when the presidents of the two Koreas met at the demilitarized zone in April and pledged to forge a peace treaty within a year s timeIn its excellent balance between coverage of the big picture of a war at the level of generals and politicians while weaving the human story of those in desperate combat this book shares many of the virtues of Sides Ghost Soldiers his previous history of the Battle of Bataan and successful rescue of survivors from a Japanese prison camp by an intrepid group of commandos Sides excels in marshalling all available resources and his own interviews with participants to create a narrative as readable as a good novel Unlike that book he didn t delve much into the actions of the adversaries of the Americans or even into the stories of their allies One exception is the details on the life of a Seoul medical student who was born in the north and eagerly served as a translator for the NATO forces This book was provided for review by Doubleday If you want a bit of a preview check out the excellent PBS documentary film the Battle of Choisin for which Sides served as a consultant and commentator Once again Hampton Sides does not disappoint This was a uniuely engaging in parts riveting and easily accessible slice of military "History Nicely Placed In Time And Place "nicely placed in time and place context seasoned splendidly with ust enough human interest to ramp up the empathy but not distract and as is the case with his just enough human interest to ramp up the empathy but not distract and as is the case with his stuff efficiently written so it feels as if the pages are turning themselvesI m long past the point of being objective about Sides work he s one of my favorite non fiction authors full stop He won me over with Ghost Soldiers and in some ways this felt to be cut from the same cloth even if the underlying story was on the one hand broader yet seemingly less epic This isn t necessa Sides always does a great ob of humanizing conflicts of war by selecting a handful of individuals and focusing on their specific experiences In On Desperate Ground Sides follows historical figures such as General MacArthur and President Truman to provide big picture context but the meat of the book which provides the strongest images of the conflict for the reader follows the Army and Marine grunts on the ground
It is the experiences of these men that bring the ugliness of warfare to light The Chosin Reservoiris the experiences of these men that bring the ugliness of warfare to light The Chosin Reservoir a remarkable battle for multiple reasons In one respect it illuminates the conseuences of hubris particularly on the part of MacArthur and Almond but it also illustrates the pride and valor of the United States Armed Forces This was the United States version of Xenophon s march of the ten thousand something that Sides references multiple times as well and it really is a remarkable readIt is embarrassing how little I knew about the Korean War up to this point On Desperate Ground is a well crafted introduction into the war and its greatest battle Even if you are already familiar with The Chosin Reservoir read this Hampton Sides in one of those authors whose books automatically goes to the top of my TBR list His look at the first 6 months of the Korean War and the Marines escape from the Chosin Reservoir does not disappoint This narrative really begins with MacArt. Rtainty would not intervene in the war As he was speaking 300000 Chinese soldiers began crossing the border Led by the 13000 men of the 1st Marine Division the Americans moved far north into the trap Mao had set for the arrogant MacArthur at the Chosin Reservoir What followed was one of the most heroic and harrowing operations in American military history Faced with annihilation and temperatures plunging to 20 degrees below zero the surrounded Marines fought through.