The Battle of Pork Chop Hill comprises a pair of related Korean War infantry battles during the spring and summer of 1953. These were fought while the U.S. and the Communist Chinese and Koreans negotiated an armistice. In the U.S., they were controversial because of the many soldiers killed for terrain of no strategic or tactical value, although the Chinese lost many times the number of UN soldiers killed and wounded. The first battle was described in the eponymous history Pork Chop Hill: The American Fighting Man in Action, Korea, Spring 1953, by S.L.A. Marshall, from which the film Pork Chop Hill was drawn.
The United Nations, primarily supported by the United States, won the first battle when the Chinese broke contact and withdrew after two days of fighting. The second battle involved many more troops on both sides and was bitterly contested for five days before United Nations Command conceded the hill to the Chinese forces by withdrawing behind the main battle line.
The hill, 300 meters (980 ft) high, first was seized by the U.S. 8th Cavalry Regiment in October 1951, again in May 1952 by Item Company of the U.S. 180th Infantry Regiment, then defended by the 21st Thai Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Division (United States) in November 1952. Since December 29, 1952, the outpost was part of the 7th Infantry Division's defensive sector. Pork Chop Hill, itself, was one of several exposed hill outposts in front of the Main Line of Resistance (MLR), defended by a single company or platoon positioned in sand-bagged bunkers connected with trenches.
Opposing the 7th Infantry Division were two divisions of the Chinese Communist Forces: the 141st Division of the 47th Army, and the 67th Division of the 23rd Army. These were veteran, well-trained units expert in night infantry assaults, patrolling, ambushes, and mountain warfare. Both armies (Corps-equivalent units) were part of the 13th Field Army commanded by General Deng Hua, who was also deputy commander of Chinese People's Volunteer Army (PVA) forces in Korea.
The opposing forces in this sector were roughly equal in size, the 7th Division (Major General Arthur Trudeau, commanding) totaling 11 infantry battalions (including attached battalions from Colombia and Ethiopia), a battalion of armor, and 6 battalions of artillery, while the Chinese forces totalled 12 infantry, 10 artillery, and the equivalent of one tank battalion.
Both the United Nations Command and the Chinese had used military operations to gain leverage or make political statements relevant to the armistice negotiations since early 1952. The first battle on Pork Chop Hill occurred near Operation Little Switch, the exchange of ill and injured prisoners-of-war scheduled for April 20. The Chinese command authorized the April attack to demonstrate that agreement in contentious negotiations did not equal unwillingness to continue fighting, if necessary.
First battle in AprilEdit
Loss of the outpostEdit
In a surprise night attack on March 23, 1953, a battalion of the Chinese 423rd regiment, 141st Division seized an outpost near Pork Chop Hill called "Old Baldy" (Hill 266) and quickly overwhelmed B Company of the 31st Infantry's Colombian Battalion, commanded by Lt. Colonel Alberto Ruiz Novoa, during its relief in the Fifth Battle for Old Baldy. The regimental commander, Colonel William B. Kern, had ordered C Company of the Colombian Battalion to relieve B Company despite the Colombian commander's protest. The attack caught both companies amidst the rotation. Two days of stiff resistance by the maimed and battered B and C Companies failed in retaking the hill due to the failure of the 31st Regiment Command to send reinforcements, causing the United Nations Command to order its abandonment. This preliminary fight exposed Pork Chop to three-sided attack, and, for the next three weeks, Chinese patrols probed it nightly.
On the night of April 16, Company E, 31st Infantry (1st Lt. Thomas V. Harrold) manned Pork Chop Hill. Shortly before midnight, an artillery barrage foreshadowed a sudden infantry assault by a battalion of the Chinese 201st regiment; Pork Chop Hill was quickly overrun, although pockets of U.S. soldiers defended isolated bunkers. Elsewhere in the sector, other positions were attacked, pressuring the entire 7th Division.
31st Infantry counterattackEdit
Company K (1st Lt. Joseph G. Clemons, Jr.) and Company L (1st Lt. Forrest J. Crittendon), 31st Infantry, in reserve behind the MLR, were ordered to counterattack and began their attack at 04:30 on April 17. By dawn they reached the main trenches on top of the hill but suffered almost 50% casualties, and half of Company L's troops had not been able to leave the trenches of an adjacent outpost, Hill 200. Lt. Clemons, in tactical command of the assault, requested reinforcement. 2nd Battalion 17th Infantry was already attached to the 31st Infantry and its Company G (1st Lt. Walter B. Russell) was immediately sent forward, linking up with Company K at 08:30. All three companies were subjected to almost continuous shelling by CCF artillery as they cleared bunkers and dug in again.
Through a series of miscommunications between command echelons, Division headquarters ordered Russell's company to withdraw at 15:00 after they too had suffered heavy losses, and did not realize the extent of casualties among the other two companies. By the time the situation was clarified the companies of the 31st Infantry were down to a combined 25 survivors. Maj. Gen. Trudeau, by then on scene, authorized Col. Kern to send in a fresh company to relieve all elements on Hill 255 and placed him in tactical command with both the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 17th Infantry attached and at his direction.
17th Infantry counterattackEdit
Kern sent forward Company F, 17th Infantry (Captain Monroe D. King), which started up the hill at 21:30 under heavy artillery fire but reached the trenches at 22:00, suffering 19 killed in the process. Kern at 23:00 then ordered Company E, 17th infantry (1st Lt. Gorman C. Smith), to move up to reinforce Company F. Smith, to avoid the bulk of the artillery fire, moved around the right flank of the hill and up the side facing the Chinese positions.
Company K, 31st Infantry had incurred 125 casualties, including 18 killed, of its original 135 men. After twenty hours of steady combat the remaining seven members started off the hill singly just after midnight of April 17–18 and withdrew without further losses. Several of Company L's survivors remained with the relief troops to familiarize them with the layout of the hill defenses.
During the early morning of April 18, the Chinese 201st Regiment renewed its attack at 01:30 and again inflicted heavy losses on the defenders, nearly overrunning Company F in battalion strength. The timely counterattack by Company E, 17th Infantry caught the Chinese by surprise on their flank and ended the organized assault. The 141st Division renewed attacks in company strength at 03:20 and 04:20 but did not gain further ground.
At dawn on April 18, an additional U.S. rifle company (Company A, 17th Infantry) climbed the hill to reinforce the 2nd battalion companies. Together the three companies spent the bulk of the day clearing the trenches and bunkers of all hiding Chinese and securing the hilltop. The battle ended that afternoon.
UN artillery had fired over 77,000 rounds in support of the three outposts attacked, including nearly 40,000 on Pork Chop Hill alone on April 18; the Chinese expended a similar amount.
Tactics and lossesEdit
Both the Chinese and U.S. infantry assaulted the hill initially under cover of a moonless night. Each used a heavy preparatory artillery barrage to force the defenders to take cover in bunkers and to screen the approach of the attacking troops. Chinese forces used rapid movement and infiltration tactics to close quickly on the trenches and surprise the defenders, while the US forces used grazing fire (small arms fire placed approximately 1–2 feet above the ground surface) to limit defensive small arms fire, then maneuvered systematically up the hillsides under shellfire. Neither side employed supporting fire from tanks or armored personnel carriers (APC) to protect attacking troops.
Once inside the trench line, troops of both forces were forced to eliminate bunkers individually, using hand grenades, explosive charges, and occasionally flame throwers, resulting in heavy casualties to the attackers. For the UN forces, infiltration of cleared bunkers by bypassed Chinese was a problem throughout the battle and hand-to-hand combat was a frequent occurrence.
Evacuation of casualties was made hazardous by almost continuous artillery fires from both sides. The 7th Division made extensive use of tracked M-39 APCs to evacuate casualties and to protect troops involved in the resupply of water, rations, and ammunition, losing one during the battle. In addition the UN forces employed on-call, pre-registered defensive fires called flash fire to defend its outposts, in which artillery laid down an almost continuous box barrage in a horseshoe-shaped pattern around the outpost to cover all approaches from the Chinese side of the main line of resistance.
U.S. losses were 104 dead, including 63 in the 31st Infantry, 31 in the 17th Infantry and 10 among engineers and artillery observers, and 373 wounded. Chinese losses were unknown.
A 1959 movie, Pork Chop Hill, based on S.L.A. Marshall's account of the battle, presented a semi-fictional account of the engagement, in which Lt. Clemons was portrayed by Gregory Peck and Lt. Russell by Rip Torn.
Second battle in JulyEdit
Rebuilding the defensesEdit
The 7th Division rebuilt its defenses on Pork Chop Hill in May and June 1953, during a lull in major combat. Final agreements for an armistice were being hammered out and the UN continued its defensive posture all along the MLR, anticipating a cease-fire in place.
Night surprise attackEdit
On the night of July 6, using tactics identical to those in the April assault, the Chinese again attacked Pork Chop. The hill was now held by Company A, 17th Infantry, under the temporary command of 1st Lt. Richard T. Shea, Jr, its executive officer. Company B of the same regiment, in ready reserve behind the adjacent Hill 200, was immediately ordered to assist, but within an hour, Company A reported hand-to-hand combat in the trenches. A major battle was brewing and division headquarters ordered a third company to move up. The battle was fought in a persistent monsoon rain for the first three days, making both resupply and evacuation of casualties difficult. The battle is notable for its extensive use of armored personnel carriers in both these missions.
On the second night, the Chinese made a new push to take the hill, forcing the 7th Division to again reinforce. Parts of four companies defended Pork Chop under a storm of artillery fire from both sides. At dawn of July 8, the rain temporarily ended and the initial defenders were withdrawn. A fresh battalion, the 2nd Battalion of the 17th, counter-attacked and re-took the hill, setting up a night defensive perimeter.
7th Division counterattacksEdit
On both July 9 and July 10, the two sides attacked and counter-attacked. A large part of both Chinese divisions were committed to the battle, and ultimately five battalions of the 17th and 32nd Infantry Regiments were engaged, making nine counter-attacks over four days. On the morning of July 11, the commander of the U.S. I Corps decided to abandon Pork Chop Hill to the Chinese and the 7th Division withdrew under fire.
Results and lossesEdit
Four of the thirteen U.S. company commanders were killed. Total U.S. casualties were 243 killed, 916 wounded, and nine captured. 163 of the dead were never recovered. Of the Republic of Korea troops ("KATUSA") attached to the 7th, approximately 15 were killed and 120 wounded. Chinese casualties were estimated at 1,500 dead and 4,000 wounded.
Less than three weeks after the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed by the United Nations Command (Korea), Chinese Peoples Liberation Army, and North Korean Peoples Army, ending the hostilities.