Marines at Yudam-Ni
Douglas McArthur fell into a trap engineered by Mao Tse Tung and his combat planners. The Korean War began on the 25th of June 1950 and ended on July 27th 1953. It was a bloody back and forth struggle between local, poor and mostly uneducated masses and the United Nations combined force of English, Australians, French and mostly Americans. The UN/US force was out numbered 2 to 1; 972,000 UN troops ( 20 nations) versus 1,600,000 North Korean, and Chinese troops.
Millions were killed or wounded on both sides. And in particular, the US and British, fresh from bombing campaigns all over Western Europe, were more than up to the task of devastating North Korea in another strategic bombing campaign. The campaign was so effective that virtually any modern standing building was useless rubble. It was a wasteland without schools, hospitals or government. In late 1952, the bombing was pared down because it was difficult to find suitable targets. It was noted by historians that naval jet bombers were coming in with bombs attached to the undercarriage of the planes that had to be jettisoned because cable capture. With non targets, there was nothing to drop a bomb on.
This was the first global war that had the threat of nuclear weaponry hanging over its head for the duration of the war. Truman was ready to pull the trigger seeing as how fast it seemed to him the Japanese folded, although they were finished already. The Korean war wildly gyrated back and forth until January 1951. From then until the armistice, it was a huge stalemate, a modern UN army on one side versus a mostly dug in infantry force, refusing to yield. Tanks and aircraft and bombs on one side, rifles and grenades on the other. Curtis Le May, the US Air Force Commander said: “we went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another, and some in South Korea, too.”
In the first few months of the war, the South Korean/UN force destroyed 2/3rds of the 130 aircraft the North had. So from an air superiority POV, this was the friendly skies for a while. Until the Russians stated flying the new nimble MIG 15 that fired two 23 mm cannons and a single 37mm cannon. The F-86 fired six .50 caliber machine guns. The likely exchange rate 1.3 to 1 in favor the USAF. So this was one of the first wars where the major air to air engagement was among jet powered fighters.
North Korean Communist zealots murdered virtually every college educated man or woman in a purge of intelligentsia who could lead a resistance to the North. On the retreat from Seoul to the north thousands of academics and engineers were captured perhaps to give North Korea competency in areas where it was drastically needed.
Fighting in mid 1950 looked promising as MacArthur pursued an evasive and amorphous force of mostly infantry that hit hard and then evanesced into the forests. He moved the 5th, 7th and 11th Marines to encampments at Yudam-Ni west of the Chosin reservoir. He placed a UN regimental Combat Team north of the reservoir and the 1st and 3rd Marines in to Hagaru-ri. He wanted to go to the Yalu River and claim all of North Korea as a prize. The Chinese. Had around 150,000 troops that walked in on footpaths at night and surrounded the UN forces. The UN forces had 100,000. UN forces had to fight their way out of the pocket and 17,000 were captured, killed or wounded. The Chinese may have experienced as many as 60,000 casualties.
Many of the casualties were caused by the cold. A wounded soldier that was asleep or too motionless would simply freeze. Surrounded troops would make fortifications from frozen carcasses, piling dead Korean, Chinese or American cadavers like cordwood.