Thoughts on the military and military activities of a diverse nature. Free-ranging and eclectic.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Task Force Smith

This is coolbert:

Much hay has been made recently of the U.S. Army's unpreparedness for the Iraq war. And the stress of the argument has been that vehicles such as the Humvee and resupply trucks are not "armored". These types of vehicles have never been armored in the experience of the Army period. It was felt to be not necessary or excess.

This argument seems small potatoes however, when considering an incident that occurred at the start of the Korean War. An incident that absolutely demonstrated the "unpreparedness" of the U.S. Army.

This incident was the sending into combat of Task Force Smith. The first American unit to engage communist forces in the Korean War.

Task Force Smith, named after the commander of the unit, Lt. Col. Charles Smith, was a unit woefully inadequate for it's task. That task being to halt or delay the advance of the North Korean Army at the beginning of the Korean war, this in July of 1950. So strong was the negative impression created by the deployment of this "ill-starred" unit, that there is a saying in the U.S. Army to this day, "No more Task Force Smiths".

Task force Smith was created and sent into precipitous combat at the behest of the top echelons of command in the U.S. government, both civilian and military. When it was made apparent that South Korean forces were inadequate to the task of stopping the North Korean advance south, President Truman and his advisors felt the only alternative was to have U.S. military forces enter the fray on the ground, and do so as soon as possible.

This desire to send American Army troops into combat as soon as possible was predicated in all likelihood upon the assumption that when contested by American ground forces, the North Korean communists would either halt their advance, or perhaps even withdraw back to their own territory. Just having emerged from World War Two [WW2] as the world's leading power, and having nuclear weapons, American planners just could not believe that little, poverty stricken North Korea would be able to contemplate an all-out war with the U.S.

This assumption was to be proven WRONG!

Several things need to be said about Task Force Smith.

It is described in histories as a battalion. This is not true. The actual manpower strength of the Task Force was two infantry companies, less than half the strength of a fully manned infantry battalion. A normal army Task Force would consists of a fully manned battalion reinforced for the task at hand. Lt. Col. Smith had nothing of the sort at his disposal!!

Not only was the battalion under-strength in a woeful manner, the type of manpower was of poor quality. The officers were trained and experienced [Smith himself was grad of West Point, class of 1939, and had experience from WW2], but the remainder of the troops were just of poor quality. Undermanned, undertrained, underequipped, and lacking unit cohesion that is essential for effective combat. This "battalion" was thrown forward almost as a sacrificial pawn in the game of international machinations. The peacetime occupation army of the U.S. stationed in Japan at the time, represented by the 24th Infantry Division, was an army and unit not prepared for combat in any way. My guess would be that this unit consisted of soldiers that in their wildest dreams never even thought that combat was even a remote possibility. The American soldiers life in post-war Japan probably resembled would can only be best described as "ONE CONTINUOUS HAPPY HOUR". That is my estimation.

These troops under the command of Smith were just not ready for combat period!

Nonetheless, Smith and his battalion were moved from Japan quickly to Korea and in short order were deployed at the "front". With the mission of stopping or delaying the North Korean advance. Smith did select appropriate ground for defense. And Smith was reinforced by a battery [six guns] of artillery. But that was about it. Smith and his men found themselves in an impossible situation, but resolved to do their duty.

Almost immediately, for the first time, the U.S. Army came into contact with and engaged in combat with communist forces.

And, again, almost immediately, several very rude and disturbing trends developed that were a big shock to U.S. combat commanders.

One observation was that U.S. anti-tank weaponry was totally inadequate against the Soviet T-34 tank fielded by the North Koreans. Neither armor piercing rounds fired by artillery, the WW2 bazooka, or the newly developed recoilless rifles wielded by American forces could make a dent on the communist tanks! The T-34 was impervious to U.S. anti-tank weapons!!

[this should not have been a surprise to American soldiers. The T-34 [first developed in 1934], was the standard Soviet tank of WW2. The Germans had a LOT of experience similar to that of the American soldier in Korea. And before them the Japanese at Khalkin-Gol had the same similar experience. The T-34 was an outstanding tank. That the U.S. military was not aware of the inadequacy of U.S. anti-tank weapons vis-a-vis the T-34 is just incomprehensible!! As late as 1976 the T-34 was being used in Angola by Cuban troops with effectiveness].

The second observation made was that the North Korean troops were VERY good.

Experienced, tough, aggressive, well-led, and determined. This was a very big shock to Smith and his men. They had NOT expected this. Not ONLY badly outnumbered, but outfought as well!!

[During the initial stages of the engagement between Task Force Smith and the North Koreans, Smith and his men faced a full regiment of North Korean infantry and a battalions worth of T-34 tanks [about 32 tanks]].

Smith and his men were badly outnumbered, out-gunned, and just plain outfought!!

[it was later determined, much after the fact, that the North Korean troops encountered by Smith and his men were veterans of the Battle of Stalingrad in WW2!! Ethnic Koreans who served in the Soviet Red Army in WW2 and got their experience fighting in one of the worst and toughest battles of all time. Kim Il Sung himself is reputed to have fought at Stalingrad as a Captain in the Red Army and was duly rewarded by being made ruler of North Korea in the aftermath of WW2].

Smith and his unit, even when outnumbered, outgunned, and outfought, did put up a game fight. But, facing a U.S. unit did NOT dissuade the North Koreans to halt their advance or turn back. On the contrary. The North Korea T-34's plowed through Task Force Smith and continued their advance south as if nothing had happened. And Smith found his small unit in real danger of annihilation! Seeing his position as being untenable, Smith ordered his task force to conduct a delaying action south. If Smith DID have a fully strength battalion, reinforced with say U.S. armor and engineers, this MAY have been possible. But Smith did NOT possess such assets. Upon being given the order to move to the rear, Smith's men did so, but not in a coordinated fashion, maintaining unit cohesion [one can say that unit cohesion did not exist in the first place]. Rather the movement to the rear of Task Force Smith resembled a disorderly retreat. This was major defeat and embarrassment for the world's foremost power!! [when an army is "retreating", the question should always be asked by the astute observer, is the "movement to the rear" orderly or disorderly. The former suggests something can be still done, the latter does not!!].

The fate of Lt. Col. Charles Smith was very grim. In the end, Col. Smith was last seen personally manning a machinegun, supported by four enlisted men, as Smith and these four other brave Americans attempted to stop a unit of North Korean tanks. Neither Smith or these men were seen alive again, all being listed as KIA, BNR [killed-in-action, bodies-not-recovered!!].

Unpreparedness can have a very heavy price in war!!




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