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The PVA had their first campaign against US forces during Oct. 28 to Nov. 5 1950. The second campaign was from Nov. 25 to Dec. 24 1950.
The man power on both sides were almost equal.
At the time, PLA had 13th Army Group and 9th Army Group in Korea, total of 30 divisions. The 13th Army Group had about 150,000 men and the 9th had about 120,000 men.
US frontal forces consisted of Walker's Eighth Army and Almond's X Corps, totalling around 240,000 men. The Eighth Army's combat forces numbered 118,000 men [Blair], it has: Shrimp Milburns' I Corps which consisted of the 24th division, ROK 1st division and the Commonwealth Brigade(about 5000men); John Coulter's IX Corps which consisted of 25th Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 2d Division and Turkish brigade (about 5000); ROK II Corps which consisted of ROK 7th Division, ROK 8th Division and the ROK 6th Division (mangled in the first PVA campaign with 5000 men left). X Corps was under direct command of MacArthur, its combat strength was about 120,000 men, including: O.P. Smith's 1st Marine Division, 7th Infantry Division, 3d Infantry Division and ROK I Corps.
The first campaign occured when PVA and UN forces marched towards each other. It started on Oct. 25 1950 and ended at Nov.5. PVA inflicted 15,000 UN casualties, including 5268 captures, of which 527 were American. PVA also captured 12 tanks, 650 trucks, 4 aircrafts, 529 artillery pieces and 4530 small arms. PVA's own casualty was also very heavy: 10,000.
In the morning of Oct. 25, the 118th Division of 40th Amry encounterd an infantry battallion of ROK 6th division, it wiped out the ROK unit in a hour. The Oct. 25th marked the first battle of PVA and was later set to be the PVA memorial day.
The main PVA action was done by the 39th army on the western front, which captured Unson on Nov.2. In the process, it destroyed most of the 8th Cavalry, part of the 5th Calvary and a ROK regiment. On the east, the 124th and 126th Divisions of the 42d army checked the attacks of ROK I Corps and US 1st Marine Division for 12 days. The PVA 38th army also performed quite well, it inflicted 4600 casualties on the enemy in one of the battles, but its commander Liang Xingchu was criticized by Peng Dehuai for letting the ROK 8th Division to escape. Xiao Xinhuai's 66th army was also criticized for allowing US 24th Infantry division to withdraw without getting hit.
Although US/UN forces had superior firepower, including ariel bombardment, heavy artellery and tanks, PVA foot soldiers performed very well in this first contact with the modern US army, the UN forces were driven from Yalu back to south of the Chongchon river. PVA gained their first experience and confidence. Furthermore they concealed their strength. US estimate of the PVA strength after the campaign was about 40,000, a big miscalculation.
After the first campaign, PVA broke off contact with the UN forces. The purpose of the disengagement was multifolded: 1) PVA had sent a message to UN forces, the latter might hold its advance 2) Should UN continue to advance, PVA's disengagement could lure the enemy deeper into PVA's traps, around which PVA was taking rest and regaining full strength.
After spending three weeks to reconsider its policy, Washington and MacArthur downplayed the significance of the PVA involvement and ordered the UN forces advance towards Yalu again while US air forces continued their bombardment along the Chinese border, MacArthur hoped "home by Christmas".
Since UN army had over 240,000 men, after the first campaign, Chairman Mao decided to reinforce the PVA by sending Song Shilun's 9th Army Group, which had 4 armies. Mao telegraphed Peng on the detail campaign plan and set the goal to push the front to Pyongyang . In the coming battles, the 13th Army Group was to counter attack the Eighth Army on the west, while the 9th Army Group would attack the X Corps on the eastern front.
At dusk of Nov. 25 1950, PVA forces attacked in force on US 25th and 2d divsions and ROK 7th and 8th divisions. 38th army and 42d army shattered the ROK 7th Division and ROK 8th Division, causing both divisions to collapse and thus expose the right flank of the Eighth Army. On Nov.26, facing encirclement of PVA armies, the Eighth Army north of Chongchon river started to withdraw. On Nov.27, main forces of the 38th army pressed towards 2d Division, after smashing the Turk brigade guarding the flank on Nov. 28, it engaged in fierce fighting with the enemy. In the mean time, its 113th Division penetrated deep into UN line, marching 45 miles in 14 hours on feet, the division captured Samso-ri at 800 hours on Nov.28, cutting off the withdraw route of the UN forces south to Sunchon.
To esacpe the closing encirclement north of Chongchon, the whole Eighth Army started to retreat on Nov. 29. Blocked by PVA 113th Division, US 2d Division fought fiercely to escape south to Sunchon, in the meantime, US 1st Calvary Division and British 29th Brigade attacked north trying to open the block, under sandwiched attacks from superior forces, the 113th Division fought stubbornly despite heavy losses. Although the UN forces on the North and South were merely 1km (0.6 miles) apart, they were unable to remove the 113th Division block and join with each other. Facing the block by PVA 113th, a remaining regiment of 2d Division broke out westward along the withdraw route of 24th and 25th divisions. On Dec.1, UN forces were ordered to retreat to south of 38th parallel.
Since mechanized UN forces retreated very fast, the main PVA forces stopped pursuit, only a small PVA force followed the fleeing UN troops. PVA recovered North Korea capital Pyongyang.
On the eastern front, Song Shilun requested to postpone the attack by two days to make more preprations, 9th Army Group launched its attack at X Corps on Nov.27. The 9th Army entered Korea in such a haste, most of its soldiers had no winter clothing, and suffered severe casualties due to frostbite. Despite these difficulties, its 20th army successfully divided and encircled large groups of UN forces near the Changjin(Chosin) reservoir, including two regiments of the 22,000 men 1st Marine Division. Although the UN forces broke out the encirclement, 9th Army Group inflicted 13,000 casualties on 1st Marine Division and 7th Infantry division, in particular, completely annihilated Task Force MacLean/Faith. The X Corps retreated to the port of Hungnam. Since the X Corps was concentrated and was considered to be impossible to break up and destroy piecemeal, Peng Dehuai ordered 9th Army Group not to pursue the UN forces, and allowed it to evacuate from the port, western historians regard this as a major technical error on PVA side, since even a few PVA mortar fire could kill a big number of UN forces packed on the beachhead. 105,000 fighting men and 90,000 civilians were evacuated by sea.
PVA inflicted 36,000 UN casualties in the second campaign, with 8943 captures, of which 3375 were American, British and French. Half of the Eighth Army collapsed: 2d Division suffered severe casualty and lost most of its equipment, three ROK divisions and the Turk Brigade disintegrated. PVA recovered most of NK territory.
Peng Dehuai was so impressed with 38th army, that he said: "Long Live 38th Army" (38 Jun Wansui) in his congratulation telegram. Since then, 38th army was often referred to as the "Wansui Jun", in PLA history, 38th was the only one to receive such honor.
In his December 17th telegram, Mao highly praised 9th Army Group for "accomplishing a great strategic task under conditions of extreme difficulty".
After the defeat in the second PVA campaign, UN forces regrouped between the 37th and 38th parallel. Mao decided to cross the 38th parallel to break the UN defense line, if everything went well, PVA would capture the area around Seoul.
By this time, North Korea People's Army (NKPA) had regrouped and had a few combat ready divisions, and they could be put to use. Peng Dehuai, following Mao's guidelines, ordered 6 PLA armies and 3 NK divisions to crack the UN defense line at 38th. On Dec.31 1950, PVA and NKPA forces of 300,000 men launched attacks along a 200km front line, shattered the UN line within a short time. In a week, UN forces retreated to 37th parallel. Concerned about possible UN amphibious assault from rear and PVA logistic difficulties, Peng Dehuai ordered to stop pursuit, and end the campaign on Jan. 8, 1951.
In this campaign, PVA destroyed 19,000 UN troops, with 6334 captures, of which 366 were American. Seoul, capital of South Korea was captured.
After the third campaign, due to stretch of supply line, the main PVA forces were taking rest around 38th parallel, leaving a group of the forces defend the line further south. Feeling the logistic difficulties of the PVA, on Jan 25 of 1951, UN forces launched an attack using 16 divisions, plus 3 brigades and 1 airborne regiment, a total of 230,000 ground force. The UN strategy was using an attrition warfare to "kill the communists" with its superior firepower. At this moment, PVA had not fully recovered from the exhaustion from the previous three campaigns and its battle casualties had not been filled in. In view of this, PVA decided to fight a delaying retreat on the west (where US troops concentrated), lure the UN forces north on the east (where ROK concentrated) and seek to counter attack using forces deployed at the center. The western group consisted of PVA 50th army, 38th army and NKPA 1st divions; the center group consisted of PVA 39th army, 40th army, 42d army, 66th army; the eastern group was NPKA 2d, 3d and 5th divisions.
The first phase of the campaign was from Jan.25 to Feb. 16.
On the west, US 25th Division, 3d Division, 1st calvary Division, 24th Division, British 27th Brigade, 29th Brigade, Turkish Brigade, ROK 1st Division, ROK 8th Division attacked the PVA and NKPA positions. After fierce fighting, the second line of defense of the PVA 50th army and NKPA 1st division was broken, main forces of these two forces retreated to north of Han river, leaving a small force to defend the bridgehead, the 38th army stayed south of Han, to ensure a counter attack at the center section later.
On the east, US 2d Division, 7th Division, 187th Airborne RCT and 5 ROK divisions pushed north. PVA 125th Division of 42d army and NKPA 5th Division carried out a fighting withdraw, luring ROK 8th and 5th Division further north. On Feb. 11, 124th Division of 42d army counter attacked, 117th Division of 39th army spearheaded and cutoff the withdraw route for the ROK forces. On Feb.12, PVA destroyed 3 regiments of ROK 8th Division, destroyed part of US 2d Division and part of ROK 3d and 5th Division, plus 4 artillery battalions. Total UN casualty was 12,000, with 7800 captured. Due to severe losses of X Corps, Ridgway ordered to investigate gen. Almond and threatened to court-martial some of the commanders.
Although PVA succeeded in its defensive actions on the west and counter attack on the eastern front, it failed to check the overall UN offensive. In view of this, Peng Dehuai ordered his forces to begin defensive maneuver starting from Feb. 17 in order to gain two months time, waiting for the second batch of PVA forces, the 3rd Army Group and 19th Army Group to arrive at the 38th parallel.
On Feburary 9, US 1st calvary, 1st Marine Division and two other divisions renewed its attack on PVA center section, after aligning the front on west and east, it initiated another round of all out offensive against PVA, on March 15, UN captured Seoul perimeter. On March 31, PVA and NKPA forces withdrew back to 38th parallel. The fight continued to April 21, by this time, PVA 3d, 19th and 9th Army Groups reached north of the 38 parallel, these fresh troops consisted of 10 armies, about 240,000 men. At the time, UN had about 231,000 non-ROK and 120,000 ROK force at the front line, however, Ridgway felt that it was too risky to mount a major assault, UN forces halted their attacks. PVA 13th army group rotated back to China.
In the 87 days of the 4th campaign, PVA and NKPA destroyed 78,000 UN troops, with 8984 captures, of which 1214 were Americans. PVA and NKPA also suffered substantial casualty, totaled 42,000, however, it gained time for the second batch of PVA forces to arrive and deploy. UN forces advanced 100 km (60 miles) in this campaign.