War is devastating. It is a dirty and bloody business. Unfortunately it has plagued the Korean peninsula for hundreds of years. No greater shame of war can be when two families take up arms against one another. Just over 60 years ago, such a conflict arose, bringing forward an unprecedented wave of destruction on this soil. What many do not know about this war, is the small town of Osan played a pivotal role in the war’s early days, which ultimately lead to the Republic of Korea’s victory over North Korea. What follows is an account of this early firefight.
The early morning of June 25th, 1950 saw 89,000 North Korean troops launch a full-scale invasion of the newly created Republic of Korea. This unprecedented attack caught South Korea by surprise and revealed how unprepared and unorganized the nation’s status truly was. In short order, the North Korean forces overpowered the South Korean military and took Seoul by June 28th, forcing ROK forces further south.
To prevent a complete failure, the United Nations voted to provide military aid and both the United States and United Kingdom sent ships from their fleet. While this naval blockade formed, the UN forces were unable to prevent North Korea from advancing south, and the UN ordered troops onto Korean soil to slow the attackers. With depleted resources since the end of World War II, the United States Army suffered from budget cuts, low numbers, outdated equipment, and lack of combat experience. Nonetheless, the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division was deemed the closest and most combat ready; therefore, they were ordered into the theater of battle.
Task Force Smith
Task Force Smith, named for its commander, consisted of 406 men of the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, as well as 134 men of A Battery, 52nd Field Artillery Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Miller O. Perry (Wikipedia). These troops were grossly understrength, as they contained only half the required numbers for such units. To make matters worse, they were sent into battle with outdated and ineffective weapons against the advancing North Korean army. for example, the Task Force had six (6) tank busing shells. With luck, they could eliminate six enemy armored units, but that would be all.
They arrived in Korea by July 1 and headquartered in Daejeon. It was decided that Osan would be the stage of their defensive line and dug in on two hills straddling the road north of Osan, 6 miles (9.7 km) south of Suwon and about 25 miles (40 km) south of Seoul (Wikipedia). Their mission was simple, keep North Korean troops as far away from Busan as possible.
The Battle of Osan
At 7:30am, a column of eight North Korean Tanks were spotted. 45 minutes later, the Task Force’s artillery batteries fired their first rounds. Several tanks were hit, but because of the outdated and ineffective munitions, the armored unites were unaffected. Thankfully, the Task Force’s position had yet to be discovered and the tanks fired recklessly. When the tanks reached the infantry line, the 24th began firing rockets, hoping to pierce the rear armor plating of the massive machines. Unfortunately, that did not work. It was not until the massive tank busting, HEAT shells, were fired that any damage was inflicted. This also raised the stakes of the firefight, and resulted in casualties on both sides.
Another wave of 25 North Korean tanks approached about an hour later. This time, the North Koreans were able to zero in on the artillery installations the Americans had dug in and began destroying them. American soldiers, fearing for their life, began deserting their posts. 52nd Field Artillery Battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Miller O. Perry, convinced them to return.
Around 11am, three more tanks approached with a massive contingent of North Korean forces stretching 6 miles (9.7km) into the distance. Task Force Smith, with its 500 or so soldiers were about to face over 5,000 North Korean troops. Thankfully, this advancing division didn’t appear to be in contact with the armored units that had already passed, so the Americans’ presence was unknown.
Defeat was inevitable against those staggering odds and at 2:30pm Smith gave the order to withdraw. North Korean forces were already advancing on both flanks and from the rear, and little could be served by continuing to fight. Smith ordered a unit by unit withdraw, but 2nd Platoon, B Company never received those instructions. When they discovered they were alone on the battlefield, it was too late for an orderly withdraw. They left most of their equipment. Wounded that couldn’t be moved were left with one attending medic. These wounded soldiers were later found tied and shot to death in their litters. The medic was never seen again.
The retreat quickly broke down into a confused and disorganized mess. Task Force Smith suffered its highest casualties during this withdrawal as its soldiers were exposed to enemy fire. By nightfall, troops began mustering at the rally point near Cheonan. Five days later, only 30 minutes before the arrival of North Korean forces, the last of Task Force Smith arrived. Roughly 40% of the members of Task Force Smith had been killed, injured, or captured.
Victory in Defeat
Though defeated, Task Force Smith accomplished its mission of delaying North Korean forces from advancing for several hours. The North Koreans, overwhelming U.S. forces time and again, were able to push the Eighth Army all the way back to Busan, where the Battle of the Busan Perimeter would culminate in the eventual defeat of the North Korean Army. Three months later, on September 19, Osan would be the location where the U.S. and U.N. forces under the command of the Eighth Army, advancing from the south, would meet up with forces of X Corps, advancing from the north after having recently surprised the North Koreans with the Inchon Landings. The efforts of these two forces culminated in a complete defeat of the North Korean Army.
In the years following the Korean War, the U.S. Army used the areas in Japan where Task Force Smith had trained as a memorial. A monument to Task Force Smith was also established on the Osan battlefield, where an annual commemoration of the Battle of Osan is held by the Eighth Army, which is still headquartered in South Korea. On July 16, 2010, 60 years after the Battle of Osan, Eighth Army leaders, in conjunction with government officials of Osan, held another ceremony, speaking of Task Force Smith and describing the engagement as “the opening shots of a war of ideas that exists even today.” (Wikipedia)
Now that the anniversary is upon us once more, lest we never forget the sacrifices made by all the brave men and women to gallantly protect us all. If it were not for them, we would not be free. To visit the memorial, take Line 1 to Sema Station. The UN Memorial Park is located about 10 minutes by foot from the station.