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Old March 8th, 2013, 06:25 PM   #1

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The Battle of the Pusan Perimeter:


Stand or Die ? 1950 Defense of Korea's Pusan Perimeter

While far too often unjustly overshadowed by Inchon for no better reason than Dugout Doug commanding that assault, the Battle of Pusan is to me the most under-appreciated feat of the VIII Army in Korea. After a sequence of ugly and unncessary defeats at Osan, Taegu, and Wonsan the VIII Army finally consolidated a full bridgehead and a full complement of air support. North Korean troops had spent the previous battles against ROK and UN troops pushing south via headlong attacks relying on straightforward deployment of T-34s and heavy artillery.

This method had primarily worked against inexperienced troops that the rather more experienced KPA was able to repeatedly outflank. That option was lost by the time that the Pusan Perimeter was consolidated. However at the start, the KPA did have numerical superiority relative to the UN forces that it faced. They, however, were no longer facing a frontline they could outflank, instead having to handle a UN force that was building a strong quadrilateral defense line on the Naktong. Walker was intending to conduct a kind of elastic defense, countering individual KPA attacks with using fire brigades whenever he needed to counter a KPA attack. Ironically the KPA went far to help out his strategy by throwing troops into individual sectors of the Perimeter when it was strongest and only belatedly attacking all along the Perimeter after the attrition factor had already worn it down.

The battles on individual sectors included the tenacious defense of the Bowling Alley, named for a particular sound effect produced by the nature of Allied firepower in the terrain, on the Naktong Bulge, and at Pohang-do. In each case the North Koreans attacked against a force vastly superior in firepower, with air superiority, using headlong attacks that were extremely tenacious but only launched against individual sectors of the Front. In terms of the UN forces while these attacks were halted, in each case the individual tactical actions were touch and go, with the Marine CAS system superior by far to the Army's, again ironically. In each case while the KPA forced major, serious, individual actions the combination of artillery and air power and growing UN armored forces proved superior. The KPA in the process slowly exhausted itself and destroyed its own numerical and strategic superiority.

In the course of this fighting the few large armored engagements of the Korean War saw US Pershing tanks defeat the T-34s lopsidedly, but this reflected as much UN air superiority and on poor tactical handling by the KPA as it did on the relative merits of the machines. The KPA's headlong bang-on slugging was not the best method to confront a US force that was growing in total firepower and ability to use it, and in this regard the US victories, while total, reflected the simple rule that those best able to use firepower and machines will prevail handily over those unable to do likewise.

What complicated Walker's efforts here was the Inchon Landing. MacArthur demanded the Marine forces that proved vital to Walker's effort to plug individual holes in his lines, and demanded them regardless of the tactical situation on Walker's front. While Walker's skill ultimately prevented the KPA from being able to exploit this shift, this was a prime example of Douglas MacArthur's appreciation of tactical realities. That the KPA seemed overwhelmingly powerful was the product of the psychological advantages it had scored in the course of its battles with US/UN troops since the Battle of Osan. In terms of the practical reality on the ground, by the time that the KPA was to face the dual combination of the necessity for a single offensive all along the line and Inchon, its military power had already been destroyed in the course of a futile battle.

Inchon in any event, while one of the successful amphibious landings of US military history, did not help the forces at Pusan. The North Koreans did finally and belatedly launch a single attack all along the line, but by this time the UN forces, reinforced quantitatively and qualitatively, and enhanced in terms of firepower were superior to them to the degree that all the ferocity of the KPA troops in terms of willingness to die could not stop or avert the degree of the UN breakout. Ultimately the cumulative effects of sustained combat, against adverse conditions, meant that the UN breakout would be a relatively sluggish one, but once it was launched it proved unstoppable until the debacle on the Yalu.

As a victory for US and UN arms, Pusan stands as one fully deserving of greater plaudits than it's usually given. It is no glorious triumph for the arms of freedom in terms of simplicity or lack of ugliness, but it shows that the skillful use of interior lines and firepower can prove a combination that will overwhelm any enemy foolish enough to substitute the triumph of the will for military reality. The victory on the Naktong also was the battle where the survival of South Korea was ultimately assured.

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Old March 8th, 2013, 08:53 PM   #2

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Nice write up. I've thought it was under appreciated because of it being a defensive action and lacked, in the American mind at least, any audacious allied offensives from World War II
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Old March 8th, 2013, 09:53 PM   #3

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It's actually my favourite action of the Korean conflict (if you can really have such a thing).
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