Any study of the battle for Pork Chop Hill in Korea in April 1953 provides a report of a confused mish-mash of experienced professionalism versus muddled amateurism, of conflicting high command philosophies, of ill-provided units against worse-provided but better-directed formations, of uneducated élan against civilised apathy and confusion, of incompetence at the highest levels and of political mismanagement. It also provides, of course, a view of men pitted against the fears and uncertainties of battle.
In brief, the saga of Pork Chop Hill gives in miniature a lesson in how not to conduct war.
The Korean war had played its north-south yo-yos for a couple of years and then settled down to tactical stagnation while the United Nations and the Peoples' Republic of Korea (with the People's Republic of China) commenced fruitless peace talks at an obscure place called Panmunjon. The negotiators were due to be there a long, long time.
Meanwhile, the fighting continued, albeit in a strange, formalised style.
After the retreat from the Yalu River following the Chinese entry into the war to save their fellow-Communist North Korean neighbours, the United Nations line had stabilised roughly along the 38th Parallel, the North/South border. President Truman of the USA, directing UN policy by common consent as head of the strongest UN contingent, had stipulated that their forces were not to push the Chinese and North Koreans back to the Yalu, the Koreans' northern border. He said that the purpose of the UN action must be only to restore to South Korea the territory and autonomy that had been theirs before the North Korean invasion. So the UN troops were in the position of having to hold a fixed position without possibility of advancing to destroy Chinese units. It became a war of trenches, of patrols and artillery strikes; a World War 1 veteran would have been familiar with the situation.
But there was a difference. The UN defensive positions were in no way up to the standards of their WW1 predecessors. There seemed to be a studied amateurism in the casual way they were laid out and constructed which invited enfilading fire down the length of trenches, which ignored the need to be able to shoot effectively from them, which supported heavy top cover on inadequate structures, which relied on unprotected access for supply trucks. And which were visible from afar by the glinting of empty ration cans casually thrown out of the trenches by poorly trained troops.
Some of the UN troops had had combat experience in other areas but most were relatively raw. Against that, while some had had lengthy and realistic training, others were sent into action with little idea of their military functions and purposes, still less of how to implement them. It became painfully obvious early in the war that those UN troops with the least training performed the worst.
But it seems that little was done to correct early errors in training standards and the reasons for them, so there was little if any improvement. For the Americans - and to a much lesser extent the other UN units - matters were complicated by the inclusion of Korean soldiers in their ranks; by no means all the Koreans could speak English, making proper integration impossible.
So it was that the men of E Company, 31st Infantry, US Army, the garrison of a peculiar defence feature named (from its topographical shape) Pork Chop Hill, were not well prepared to fight a nasty little defensive action on its summit, nor were those troops of other companies and other battalions in the immediate vicinity who became involved.Pork Chop Hill was a feature whose top was some 235 metres above sea level, about 75 metres above the valley floor. It was dominated by Chinese-held hills around it. It stood about 2/3 mile (1 km) in advance of the nearest American positions and, ever since the Chinese had captured Old Baldy and Chink Baldy some weeks before, it was seriously outflanked. The nearest Chinese-held positions were on a feature to the north-west called Hasakkol, within range of small arms.
The function of Pork Chop and its sister positions at Dale, Westview, Snook, Arsenal, Erie, Uncle, Yoke and so on, was to provide an early warning of - and disruptive bastion against - any Chinese assault towards the main line of resistance (MLR), thus providing a spurious "defence in depth" to the UN line which was, in fact, so under-manned that nowhere could the term be properly applied. In addition, the outposts were to act as listening posts; and, critically, to provide "bait", to invite the Chinese to come across and be killed by the supposedly superior Americans. But it wasn't always the Chinese who were killed.
By 1953 the communist Chinese army had been two and a half years in Korea and had adapted its strategic and tactical thinking to the circumstances, unlike the Americans who tried to adapt the circumstances to suit their preferred way of doing things. Chinese defence works were, as a result, works of art. Their trenches were dug not just at their MLR and immediately behind it but in some cases for a day's march behind it. Their artillery was dug into caves, WW2 Japanese-style.
Chinese soldiers were nearly all conscripts but had been reasonably well-trained and, crucially, did not disappear to go home after a remarkably short time in theatre as did the Americans. As a result, they became wise to all the wrinkles of front-line soldiering, privy to all the tricks and skills, which made them as dangerous a foe as the Americans were ever to know.
For the Chinese, serving for long periods in their positions, also got to know every inch of the territory around them - including details of the UN positions. And the Chinese commanders did not worry too much about their men sustaining casualties, provided the planned results were achieved.
As a result of these factors, in the strange war along the Korean front line in 1953 the Chinese often achieved their aims. This gave them military satisfaction, of course, but it was driven by political necessity. At Panmunjon, their negotiators from time to time needed to show the UN delegates that the Chinese were "top dogs", to make the Americans (in particular) "lose face"; a little victory along the front somewhere was the way they showed it. Chinese soldiers, then, were sacrificed to political need.
And, because their commander-in-chief had put them into a purely defensive posture without adequate means of conducting that defence, so were American soldiers. Such as those in Easy Company, 31st Infantry.
Pork Chop Hill was provided with 44 assorted bunkers plus one where the ration truck dumped the food brought from battalion kitchens, called the "chow bunker". They were interconnected by a series of trenches, revetted with timber and/or sandbags and provided in many sections with overhead cover of earth or sandbags on timber roofing. The Chinese artillery and especially mortar fire was plentiful and accurate and the overhead cover gave the garrison troops shelter during "stonks" and also protection from their own artillery's defensive VT (air-burst) fire if and when Chinese attackers got in amongst the infantry's positions; on those occasions the American artillery fired directly onto the position, the VT munitions being lethal to men above ground but caused no damage to the bunkers or those in them.
Easy Company would normally have had around 150 men in the place, including a small section of engineers for repairs and maintenance, cooks and so on. But Lieutenant Thomas V Harrold, their commander, was short-handed. He had on Pork Chop only half his company, 1st and 3rd platoons, as the company had only started to move in on relief that day, 16 April, and the rest had yet to arrive. All told, he commanded 96 men, of whom only 76 were his own infantrymen.
That might not have been too bad for the task ahead, but Harrold had been ordered to send out a patrol to ambush the valley in front; he was so short of men that he had to borrow five men from Fox Company to make up a ten-man patrol. Easy itself was now down to a total of 71 men still on the hill.
But, after dusk, Harrold also had out eleven listening posts, placed in a semi-circle around his main position, at the foot of the hill beyond the barbed wire. Easy was down to 46 riflemen actually on the position - or roughly one man per defensive bunker. As a result, because obviously he could not deploy them like that, much fewer than half of Harrold's bunkers were defended.
Harrold had been informed during his pre-move-in briefing that - according to an intelligence report - the Chinese were due to assault that night: hence the valley patrol. But the attack was supposed to be against another sector, so he wasn't too bothered, certainly not enough to ask permission to call off the patrol.
Accordingly, at about 2000 hours, the five-man patrol walked out of the defended area, through the barbed wire and on down into the darkness of the valley. The five-man support group was to go only part way, to provide back-up in case the ambush group met trouble.
As it turned out, trouble was exactly what the five men met, in the form of fifty Chinese soldiers going in the opposite direction - directly towards Pork Chop. The ambush group had already lost touch with their support team, and had been nicely pin-pointed for the Chinese by an unfortunate random illumination of the valley behind them by mortar-fired American flares from the MLR.
It wasn't long before they were in a small fire-fight with nearby Chinese soldiers, after which they started to withdraw. Their commander, Sergeant Pidgeon of F Coy, had no communication with Harrold as his radio was masked and the telephone line he had been trailing was cut by Chinese grenades, so his move was based on common sense, not orders.
At this point, American mortar flares having exposed them, American artillery impacted between Pidgeon's men and Pork Chop, driving them into cover. It also had the same effect on the support group. Finally, of the ten men in the two parts of the original patrol, only six made it back to their lines, some of them wounded and having had to leave two badly-wounded men behind in the valley. They didn't survive.
Meanwhile, the outpost line had disappeared under the weight of the Chinese attack. There were only seven survivors of the original 21 men, so nothing is really known of the way the others died, nor why the out-guards gave no warning of any sort to Harrold in his command post bunker. Two things, however, are clear: the communications between the men on duty as out-guards and their commander, Harrold, were totally ineffective; and some of the men, in their haste to escape, threw away their weapons. One American, hanging on to his machine-gun, was so slowed down that he was caught and killed while actually on the top of the hill.
Pork Chop was split into two commanding hillocks, east and west, with a shallow re-entrant pushed into the reverse slope between them. Harrold's CP was on the reverse slope to the western side of the re-entrant. From that position he was not personally able to see either the ground around Pork Chop, nor even the whole of his own position, as many of the bunkers and trenches were over the crest-line. He was, therefore, totally reliant upon radios, telephones and runners; many of these means, too, proved not to work, the radios and telephones because they had not been properly maintained and the runners because the Chinese killed them. Yet he was effectively tied to the CP, as in it was installed his only means of communication to the rear, a radio which actually worked.
The Chinese assault reached 1st Platoon's position first and broke up and over the trench line and bunkers. Many defenders were killed or wounded in their bunkers by Chinese grenades being thrown through either the doors or the firing slits, as they were too few in number to watch every way in. Some survived by blocking the holes with spare sandbags or ammo boxes, at least one by using the bodies of dead Chinese soldiers as extra material. Yet for all the savagery of the fight, the Americans managed to hold on for a while.
There was a very good reason for this ability. Chinese artillery, now that their assault infantry had reached the top of Pork Chop, had commenced to pound its slopes. This had the effect of not only preventing American reinforcement but also of preventing Chinese reinforcement. Thus the Chinese soldiers who had made it to the top were without support. The battle became one between two companies of Chinese against two platoons of Americans.
Eventually numbers won, exactly as they are supposed to do. The American defences were down to just a handful of men, some in the CP with Harrold and a few dotted about in barricaded bunkers, plus two or three who had the inspiration to fake death and outwit the Chinese who milled about.
Harrold had been able to warn battalion HQ about the predicament, asking for artillery fire and - critically - reinforcements. Most of the requested artillery strikes came in as requested and flayed the bare ground, driving American and China-man underground. But reinforcements were a different matter.
Lieutenant Colonel John Davis, CO of the battalion, ordered 3rd Platoon of L under 2 Lieutenant Earle Denton, to "reinforce" E. Denton's platoon was mortared on its approach march and lost time. Having got his men together again, Denton was advised that at Hill 200 - the last feature before Pork Chop - he would join with F Company.
Denton never saw F. Instead, at about 0200 hours he led his men in column towards the area he was ordered to reinforce. And, 50 paces from the chow bunker, they walked straight into machine-gun fire. He collected his men, led them back through artillery fire and up onto Pork Chop again but once more they were chased off by mortar and machine-gun fire. Denton collected his surviving men and returned, through mortar and artillery fire to Hill 200 again. L Company's commander, Lieutenant Forrest Crittenden, reported the new circumstances to Davis.
(An embarrassing feature of this failure was that the machine-gun which had repulsed Denton's platoon was actually on top of Harrold's CP bunker.)
The platoon of F - it wasn't the full company Denton had been told about - never got to Pork Chop, but became lost somewhere in the Korean night. Thus ended Davis's first attempt to re-take Pork Chop.
Eventually, Davis relayed the information he had to regiment, commanded by Colonel William B Kern. By this time, of course, E had effectively ceased to exist but neither Kern nor his staff nor those of battalion HQ had read the signs and reports properly.
The next attempt to grab back Pork Chop from its new tenants was made by two platoons each from K and L Companies. K was to assault up the reverse slope directly towards the chow bunker and CP, while L was to move westwards along the ridge towards the eastern end of the position. American artillery, which had been firing VT continuously to keep the Chinese defenders' heads down, lifted as K began their assault up the slope.
They might have expected Chinese artillery fire to impact on them as soon as the American fire ended - for that was a sure give-away that an infantry assault was going in. But the K platoons, under Lieutenant Joseph Clemons Jr, started up the hill at a run and the Chinese shells burst a good 100 metres behind them. However, their exertions meant that the men of K were totally winded by the time they reached the trenches and bunkers.
Exhausted or not, they found there were still a lot of Chinese on the hill and another nasty little series of battles began, just as it had for E. Eventually, K men made contact with Harrold and the few men with him in the CP - a surprise for both groups as neither realised the others were there; Davis had neglected to inform Harrold of K and L coming to the rescue nor had properly briefed the rescuers, as we shall shortly see. Anyway, Harrold and his CP party were evacuated and so K, under Clemons, had theoretically effected a relief.
On the hill top, a tragedy was only averted by some poor shooting, which, at night, was perhaps excusable. For the men from L were also headed for the same area as K, neither company being aware of the other's involvement; the situation had all the makings of a classic "blue-on-blue" incident. Machine-gun fire from L, directed towards a group of "Chinese" on top of the hill, was actually received by the first men from K to get there. Fortunately, matters were soon sorted out and Clemons was able to take stock.
The two platoons of L had had a most traumatic experience. They had been almost wiped out in the fight for the heights, all bar a few men who during the climb had decided that discretion was the better part of valour and had departed back to the relative safety of Hill 200.
As the dawn came, it and Clemons found K worn out. Clemons had had his half-company reduced by enemy action to just 35 tired men. L contributed a bare 10 to Pork Chop's defence and they were stragglers from L's ill-fated attack, who had been rounded up by Lieutenant Arthur Marshall, an officer from M, who brought them up onto the hill and stayed to fight. Amazingly, even E provided 12 shattered survivors. It was a far-too-small, totally exhausted garrison for Pork Chop, just 57 weary grunts.
The combined force was, moreover, reduced to hiding in bunkers and shell-holes, as were the Chinese atop Pork Chop, because of the persistent artillery fire from across the valley. On the credit side, Clemons had got effective communications, both radio and telephone.
At around 0800 hours, as American artillery ceased fire onto the hill to allow the move, reinforcements came in from G Company of 17th Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Walter Russell, by a strange coincidence Clemons's brother-in-law. Russell's instructions were to "assist K in the mop-up." Obviously, somebody at higher command level was still not reading the situation correctly, not listening to the reports.
Matters were made more difficult for Clemons as a fresh Chinese company appeared on the skyline at the same time as G - but the Chinese were quicker to grab whatever bunkers and trenches were available and to skirmish forward. Far from assisting K in mopping-up a few Chinese survivors, G was now in a desperate fight for survival, just as K and E before them had been. Added to which the Chinese artillery opened up again to flay the whole hill-top.
Clemons, the senior officer present, decided to place the 10 L survivors and a platoon from G on the western hillock, while Russell took the rest of G to the eastern end. K's survivors were grouped in the centre as a sort of reserve and also acted as a block to any Chinese attempt to enter by the back door. The moves, tidying the deployment, were carried out under fire and were attended by more casualties. Again Clemons asked for help.
At 1100 hours some Korean bearers reached the chow bunker with rations and water, but without the ammunition re-supply he had requested. In effect, the Pork Chop garrison was virtually toothless; they had fired almost all their ammunition. It seems the ration re-supply was routine, not the result of a special request from Clemons; his requests were ignored.
Worse was to come. Clemons's CO, Davis, sent an order by the hand of a staff officer for any survivors of E and F to be sent back at once and for G to follow them as soon as the situation had stabilised. That would leave Pork Chop to be defended by Clemons and the 45 men from K and L. He reacted by sending a very clear message back by the same means warning that the hill could not realistically be held if the ordered moves were carried out and requesting instead that reinforcements be sent at once.
The message was acknowledged but no action was taken. So at 1500 hours Russell, in the absence of any other instructions, obeyed the order and took off the hill the half of G that had survived. Clemons had no option but to gather his few men together as one group and then placed them on the highest point at the western end of Pork Chop while he and a couple of men went back to the CP to man the communications.
The defenders then were treated to the most vicious artillery barrage of the battle and were completely pinned down. They lay and suffered for almost four hours. Then, finally, Clemons sent the message that he had only 20 men left still able to fight - and requested withdrawal.
The problems for his superiors, of course, were not only one of fighting a battle but also one of politics. Should Pork Chop be retained regardless of casualties? Or should it be ceded to the Chinese, with commensurate loss of face at Panmunjon? Just how many men's lives was Pork Chop worth, anyway? Davis passed the buck to Kern, Kern passed it on to Major General Arthur G Trudeau. He ordered that K should be given no more help until he had instructions from above. "Never reinforce failure" - but was there failure on Pork Chop?
Pending the final decision, reinforcement at last came to Clemons in a strange way.
Davis told the waiting Denton that he was now in command of L - what was left of it, anyway - to replace Crittenden, and that he was to get onto Pork Chop and defend it as soon as he could manage. Not counting the 10 who had been taken up the hill by Marshall, L now consisted of just 56 men instead of the 187 with which it had started the day.
Denton divided them into three very weak platoons and ordered a double load of ammunition; experience is a wonderful teacher. By 1630 hours he was again at the chow bunker without losing a man - this time Denton had moved them out individually at two-minute intervals, thus offering a hopeless target to the Chinese gunners although they were in plain sight from Chink Baldy.
Denton pressed on to the CP, met Clemons and discussed tactics. They agreed that Denton's L should put two platoons forward and one in rear, all facing roughly north, so that the open ground in the middle of the perimeter would be dominated by American small-arms fire. It wasn't perfect, but it was all that could be managed with the numbers available. However, it began to look as though Pork Chop might be held after all.
Trudeau, meanwhile, had received assurance from 1 Corps that, if he spent more men's lives getting Pork Chop totally under American control, then it would not be evacuated later. So he attached 2nd Battalion 17th Infantry to 31st to do the job. What he didn't do was allocate 1/17th to Kern - he kept that battalion up his own sleeve.
But 2/17th had already had Russell's G Company mauled in the battle, so Kern was left with just two full companies to finish the work. Taking his cue from Trudeau, Kern kept 2/17th's E as his reserve and allocated the task of re-taking Pork Chop to F, commanded by Captain King.
Having been tasked at about 1800 hours, King spent a while getting organised. So did the Chinese.
Men from F of 2/17th got onto Pork Chop at around 2130 hours and a platoon was at once deployed into the broken trenches while their officers talked with Clemons. King, however, was personally much further back and out of touch with them when suddenly a merciless Chinese artillery shoot burst upon both the F men in the trenches and the followers still on the slopes. Such was the effect that it took King another three hours to get his men onto the hill and part-way organised; in fact, they never did get into a proper deployment which had any defensive sense. But they were still welcome additions to the numbers, despite having lost nineteen of their number to the Chinese guns.
Denton and Clemons had some difficulty in getting King, as senior officer, to assume command of the hill's defences so they could get their men off. Denton, in particular, had been very active in the defence and King saw him as the local expert, whereas the young officer had actually seen only a small portion of the hill. Eventually, then, when Clemons led his tattered band away it was Denton who stayed - attended by a small number of his men who refused to leave him.
Their adventures were not over. Denton and his band, together with King and his, had to fight fiercely for their position and in defence of some wounded men on the CP's bunks, as small groups of Chinese infiltrators made determined attacks.
Fire from some supporting quad-fifties - four M2 .5 inch (12.7 mm) heavy machine-guns on a multiple mounting - was called for but the gunners could not identify the correct bunker. Denton fired a flare; it identified his position for the American gunners but also signalled to the Chinese that the occupants of the bunker were in distress. They swarmed forward.
And then the miracle occurred. Kern had finally released E Company 2/17th and, wasting no time, these fresh men under Lieutenant Gorman Smith had arrived on Pork Chop in the nick of time, approaching from the north, the valley on the Chinese side of Pork Chop. Some Chinese died, some fled, but a large number simply dived underground again.
So perhaps it was not a wholly accurate report when Kern received the message: "Pork Chop is under full control", for the fighting on the hill lasted several more days until the last remnants of Chinese infiltration had been winkled out.
Three months later the Americans evacuated Pork Chop permanently.
The over-riding mistake made by the Americans in the battle of Pork Chop Hill (and elsewhere) was to forget that the primary task was to kill the enemy. Instead, they let the method of doing that - hold this hill, take that village, defend that bridge - dictate the way they fought. The concept of the continuous "line", the MLR, with outposts to provide an illusion of depth, was thus flawed; if you try to defend everywhere you become too weak to defend anywhere. What was needed in the circumstances was a realistic defence for vital points, with a combination of defended "boxes" and sizeable mobile forces to counter infiltration between them. American artillery at the time of the Korean War was plentiful and of excellent quality, well able to reach out into the gaps and render them untenable - even for the elusive and capable Chinese.
Before we come to the actual events of the battle, then, let us look at some other aspects of the Korean War which are highlighted by the Pork Chop saga.
In the first place, there is overwhelming evidence that the experience (not the quality) of the young US officers commanding the actual fighting units was terrifyingly low. In the Commonwealth armies, it was the practice for a platoon to be commanded by a lieutenant or second-lieutenant, for a company to be led by a major with a captain as 2ic, and a battalion by a lieutenant-colonel with a major as 2ic; colonels were banished to become staff officers and a brigade - equivalent to an American regiment - was commanded by a brigadier (a one-star general). Thus where the fighting was done there was in the leadership of units a wealth of experience and the know-how that stems from it. The American practice of lieutenants commanding companies and majors battalions suggests a lack of understanding of the realities of command. (It might be ungallant to also suggest that as these ranks are paid less than higher ones, the policy was governed by economy.)
So, why? The answer goes right back to Washington and the desk of chairman of the joint chiefs of staff: General Omar Bradley. Bradley was a good army man but a very mediocre soldier; indeed, had he been a good soldier instead of a politician-in-uniform it is doubtful if he could have achieved his lofty office. When the man at the very top doesn't understand the actual nuts and bolts too well, it is almost inevitable that the organisation he controls will suffer. And it cannot be argued that Bradley was restricted by Congress. Certainly Congress was its usual unhelpful self, but that was no cause for Bradley's lack of positive action in preparing the American forces for a war - any war, anywhere. Even a halfway-effective soldier would find a way round Congress's nonsense, even if it had to be by way of a very public resignation accompanied by the other chiefs of staff acting in support.
Lower down the chain of command, it is amazing that a relatively simple decision on the exact deployment of a company or two was referred by a battalion commander and then even a regimental commander to their divisional commander - and he even went higher. The problem was not a political one at that level - it was a matter that Davis, Kern and Trudeau didn't understand the elements of their trade. And that because their superiors had not trained them properly.
Let's look at some norms. When a unit attacks a fixed defensive position it will usually do so with at least three times the strength of the defenders - not always, but usually. So it would be reasonable to assume that, if a Chinese force were to attack Pork Chop's defending "company", it would do so in battalion strength. That being the likely scenario, what on earth were Davis and Kern thinking about when they sent a platoon to reinforce or a company to re-capture Pork Chop? The reality is that by sending in a succession of small attacks/reinforcements, they were actually sending their men to die uselessly. The possibility of sending too many only exists if there is not enough cover (against artillery fire) for them all when they got into their objective; against opposing infantry there are almost never "too many".
A further criticism which might, perhaps, be levelled at Davis and Kern is their apparently haphazard way of allocating reinforcing units. Why, for instance, were not Harrold's two other platoons involved? Why was it deemed proper to send five F men under Sergeant Pidgeon to bulk out E's patrol into the valley? Surely, if it was possible to whistle up help from all and sundry, it should have been possible to get the rest of E into play. All that Davis and Kern succeeded in doing was in confusing everybody at a time when there was a dire need for clear understanding. Evidence of the confusion is typified by the fact that L fired on K, not knowing they were there.
Indeed, it is necessary to ask why a move-in by E had been ordered to go ahead on 16 Apr when there was the intelligence report warning of an attack on that very day. True, it was supposed to be on another section of the line - but might it not have been prudent to delay the move until the attack was over, just in case the predicted location was wrong? And why, on the very day of a suspected attack, was the transfer in of E not done in one company-sized move? It was surely asking for trouble to replace one complete company with just two platoons, even if only for a relatively short period.
In all areas, then, one is led to question the overall competence of the battalion and regimental commanders involved.
What of their junior officers? Harrold displayed little imagination, had no particularly apparent "feel" for battle. His decision to occupy as his CP the self-same bunker as his predecessors had done ensured that he had no direct command of his little battle, and that in turn suggests he was lacking in training and experience. One cannot criticise his courage; the decision to stay on the hill after he had the opportunity, with his (enlarged) CP party, to move off, showed a fine loyalty to those of his men who could not move off Pork Chop and a steadiness quite remarkable for a young man under the pressure of battle.
Clemons, too, displayed the same fine sense of duty, with perhaps a little more flair. Denton was outstanding, a "natural" soldier with all the lateral thinking and dash which characterises a man who has the talent for battle. The fact that some of their men stayed with these two officers when they could have moved off the hill to safety speaks volumes; soldiers are rarely bad judges of their officers' characters.
Smith, commanding E Company 2/17th, was another to whom soldiering was a natural occupation. He, too, displayed a fine ability for lateral thought - his leading of E out into the valley to attack Pork Chop from the Chinese side was military brilliance at its best. If any one man can be singled out as making the clinching contribution to the battle it must surely be Smith, for every other attempt to re-take Pork Chop had failed.
Then there are the bit-part players. Marshall of M collected men of another company (L) who had run away and welded them into a formed body of soldiers who later stayed in action; that exhibited leadership of a high standard. Clark, the artillery lieutenant with Smith, showed a truly professional hand in his control of the fire which masked and protected E's flank and rear while they were in the valley the wrong side of Pork Chop. And a host of enlisted men too numerous to mention who, as individuals, acted the part of heroes in defence of their position or in the attack on Chinese-held posts.
But the sad fact is that far too many men of all companies and platoons held back, hid, threw away their weapons, deliberately got lost, refused to fight even to protect themselves, or otherwise displayed a lamentable lack of intention to earn their pay. How could that happen?
There are perhaps three reasons. The first is that many of the reluctant ones were attached Koreans, whose lack of language skills separated them from their American colleagues. These men had a built-in low-morale capacity due not to their nature but to their circumstance. It is significant that almost all the Koreans who acted with fine military dash could speak English. There was little real attempt to actively teach these "foreign" soldiers to speak the language of their host unit and even where there was the effort, there was rarely the time for them to learn before they were pitched into battle amongst strangers to whom they were just so many "gooks" - in the 1950s, race prejudice was alive and well in the US army.
The second reason is that for many men there had simply been insufficient training of any sort. It was like sending lambs to the slaughter and, for that, one has to point the finger of blame at Bradley for allowing the situation to develop and continue.
And the third reason was that Congressional pressure had resulted in military acquiescence to the votes-motivated idea that "our American boys" should not be placed in harm's way for extended periods, so as to give them a better chance of survival. Hence was born the practice of short-period rotation; it was usual, for example, for soldiers in outposts such as Pork Chop to be relieved after only a few days, so they had no real chance to become thoroughly familiar with their position and its environs. The result was that our American boys gained very little active service experience before it was too late, were usually in a confused state of mind engendered by their being pitch-forked willy-nilly into a platoon of strangers, were physically unfit through lack of hardening - and, critically, had little chance to develop a veteran's aggressive stamina.
In other words, there was virtually zero chance of any platoon or company or battalion developing high group morale.
The problem of training and experience extended, too, to the junior leaders, the corporals and sergeants. Time and again throughout the Pork Chop story - and that battle typified many - one finds that rifles would not fire because they were clogged with dirt. True, the standard weapons being used, the M1 semi-automatic rifle and the automatic carbine, were prone to more stoppages than simpler bolt-action weapons. However, in most cases these weapons were clogged with dirt before the battle started. Their NCOs had failed in their supervisory job - and their platoon commanders and company commanders had failed in theirs. It was simply a matter of rushed and inadequate training.
On the other side of the valley, the Chinese had a similar problem of circumstance, but solved it in different ways. In the first place, the notion of Chinese "volunteers" was believed by nobody, not even the Chinese; their army was composed of a large number of conscripts, true - but they were conscripted regulars. That last word gives the key to their relative success.
While American soldiers were conscripted - "drafted" - the intention was for them to be released from military service just as soon as circumstances permitted. The real American regular army was quite small. The Chinese regular army was huge.
The next factor to be considered was the attitude of the commanders. American commanders were very conscious of their men's lives and tried everything to protect them - even, as we have seen, to the point of allowing them no realistic training and experience. Chinese leaders, being blessed with a virtually inexhaustible supply of manpower and having a callous communist philosophy as regards their employment, were quite content to use their men's lives as casually as they would any other available military resource. Their earlier "human wave" tactics were born of the constant supply of men but shortage of artillery ammunition at the time.
One would be quite wrong, however, to assume that because the Chinese had ample manpower they did not progress technically. Their artillery arm, as Pork Chop proved, became large and efficient - although it did have some funny ideas, such as a regular ten-minute cycle of firing. This habit was to give their infantry opportunity to move without being harassed by their own guns - they had a shortage of tactical radio so relied heavily on pre-ordered programmes and timings instead. Of course, this gave away the game to their opponents, but they had so many men it didn't really matter.
Their mortars were particularly effective, being quick and accurate. Not so were the "burp" guns (so-called because of their sound when fired) favoured by the Chinese infantry. The weapon itself was as sound a piece of equipment as any hand-held sub-machine gun can be - which means it had very little value at all! - but its use in the assault showed an inadequacy in Chinese training. When any weapon is fired from the hip there is a tendency for it to shoot high; this is not the fault of the weapon but a seemingly natural error on the part of the firer. Many American soldiers on Pork Chop owed their lives to this poor training.
Chinese grenades were used during the battle in colossal numbers. In the main they were less effective than grenades ought to be; again, many Americans were alive after the battle due to the relatively poor lethality of the Chinese "potato-masher" grenades. The problem was one of insufficient power of explosive combined with insignificant weight of fragmentation metal. The Chinese copied many weapons of their enemies and potential enemies; they would have done better to copy the old British No.36 grenade, the original "pineapple" design - and the UN troops can be glad they didn't.
Chinese attacks were pressed home with some commendable courage, to the extent that some observers were sure they were drugged; this was not so. However, their orders were lacking in that when they arrived on an American position, they sometimes did not appear to know what to do next - there are many reports of them simply "milling around". This hides another fact often forgotten. The battle for Pork Chop Hill lasted many days after Lieutenant Smith arrived at the top with his E Company; the Chinese soldiers simply disappeared underground into the old American bunkers, and needed to be winkled out one by one. Experience had told those men what to do. The probable reason, then, for the "milling around" was that some of the Chinese were not veterans - rather like most of the Americans.
Early in the narrative we saw that whereas the Chinese trench system was sophisticated and extensive the American lines were not of the same quality. That was a general statement. To be more particular in our comments, it is necessary to look at exactly what was wrong with the American defences.
The main defences of Pork Chop Hill were the bunkers. They had been conceived as fighting positions with overhead cover to protect the defenders from artillery and mortar fire. In general terms, they did that well; but the men inside had little chance of fighting successfully because the firing slits did not always allow a rifleman to shoot at the ground immediately around the bunker he was defending. Bunkers were sited so that the defenders could shoot at any attackers assaulting the next bunker. But if that bunker was taken by the attackers - or, as in the case of Harrold's part-company, was empty of defenders - then there would be no supporting fire from it. As a result, many Chinese were able to approach right up to American bunkers without being fired at.
The trenches were not really designed as fighting positions, but as protected communication lines. In many cases this protection was such that even a tall man trying to fire from the trench found that the lip was too high.
Now we turn to some relatively minor technical matters which serve, however, to show the general malaise which afflicted American military thinking and practise.
Radio. The hand-held "walkie-talkie" which accompanied the combined patrol of E and F under Pidgeon could not work to provide communication back to Harrold. The device operated on frequencies which tended to provide only "line-of-sight" signals; so the curvature of the hill behind him - and, critically, the position of the CP in a dip on the reverse slope - masked the signal. If Pidgeon's set had been tuned to a CP radio on a neighbouring hill feature, to which the signal would have had a line-of-sight path, his messages could have been easily passed on to either Harrold or battalion HQ. Basic radio training and signals tactics were at fault.
The same can be said about line training. Pidgeon had a telephone with him on the end of a line of tough cable paid out from a dispenser as his patrol moved. The cable was broken by a grenade explosion - and Pidgeon had no means of repairing the break because the man carrying the cable had no pliers with which to cut and strip the wire nor insulating tape to cover the join. A simple omission like failing to carry pliers and tape put Pidgeon out of touch with Harrold at a critical moment.
It is interesting to note that Harrold was out of touch with most of his men on Pork Chop most of the time because his communications failed. That was the fault of the designers, the constructors, and the previous tenants, who had not buried the cables deeply enough, and who had placed the CP in a spot where the hill's commander had no chance of conducting a battle effectively because he could not see. But then, the position had been designed for occupation by a full company, not just the two platoons Harrold led onto the hill; the fact that Harrold's force was too weak to hold every bunker on Pork Chop was the fault of Davis and Kern - Davis for ordering such a casual relief and Kern for not countermanding his orders.
To sum up, the battle of Pork Chop provided a damning indictment of American military attitudes and hence of their skills at a time when they were supposed (according to their own leaders' propaganda) to have been the leaders of the free world. The aptitudes, skills and raw courage of so many gallant individuals became submerged in the general incompetence which was observable from top to bottom of their military machine.