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Task Force Smith

July 5, 1950

On June 25, 1950, communist North Korea invaded their southern neighbor, the Republic of Korea.  After their artificial separation following World War II, both nations had contemplated reunification by way of invasion, and border clashes were common.  Knowing this and underestimating the North Korean army, the United States refused to supply the South with heavy weapons, including tanks and artillery.  The ROK Army initially offered stiff resistance, but it lost vital battles north of Seoul and lost many men and important equipment when a bridge over the Han was prematurely blown in Seoul.

US defense spending had reached a modern day low after World War.  The military was ill-prepared and those in authority embaced questionable doctrines.  The usefulness of the tank in World War II had been lost to those in charge, and the Army had only a single armored division.  The weaponry of World War II had not been significantly improved upon.  Aircraft carriers and amphibious warfare were thought obsolete in the nuclear age, and the A-Bomb was seen as a serious deterent to ANY enemy aggression.

In Japan, US occupation forces were prepared for quick shipment to Korea.  A 540 man battalion sized task force of the 24th Infantry Division under Lt. Col. Charles Smith was rushed to Korea on transport planes and moved north through hordes of refugees and retreating ROK Army units to block the enemy advance.  They were told the communists would flee at the sight of American soldiers.

Early on the morning of July 5th, Task Force Smith took up position a mile long just north of Osan on ridge 300 feet above the plain to the north.  A platoon of B Company occupied a knob to the west of the road while the other two platoons as well as the two platoons of C Company occupied the ridge to the east.  Two mortar platoons were 400 yards to the rear and five 105 mm howitzers were 2,000 yards to the rear.  

At around 7:00 AM the approaching enemy was sighted, and at 8:16 the artillery began firing on the advancing enemy.  Leading the North Korean advance was the 107th Armored Brigade equipped with T-34 tanks.  Not bothering to deploy, the tanks advanced straight up the road toward the American position.  Fire from two American 75 mm recoilless rifles did not damage the advancing T-34s.  No anti-tank mines had been brought along, and anti-tank guns, a vital part of World War II armies, were no longer used.  As the tanks continued, the Americans opened up with the 2.36 inch bazookas.  These weapons were quickly obsolete in World War II and predictably could not penetrate the T-34s' frontal armor.  They were even of questionable use against the weaker areas of the tanks.  One of the 105 mm howitzers fired HEAT rounds as the tanks crested the ridge, and the front two tanks were disabled.  The remaining 33 tanks continued down the road, firing as they went.  The tanks tore up the communications wire as they went and bypassed the howitzers, whose rounds stopped only three of the T-34s.  

Before noon, 1,000 men in two regiments of the North Korean 4th Division supported by three tanks deployed to attack the ridge.  The Americans held off attacks to their front, but the enemy began moving around both flanks.  At 12:30 PM, the North Koreans occupied a hill overlooking the American position west of the road, so the American platoon fell back to the east side.  Running low on ammunition and with the enemy around both flanks, Smith ordered a withdrawal at 2:30.  The retreat was confused and the guns were abandoned.  Although they had inflicted 127 casualties, the task force suffered 181 casualties and was so scattered it would be largely ineffective.  Over the coming months, additional US troops were sent to Korea, and the battlelines finally stabilized at the Pusan Perimeter, where UN troops fought off desperate human wave attacks.  In September, landings at Inchon would turn the tide in favor of the UN.

The battle at Osan is a low point in American history.  It symbolizes the price in blood our troops pay for ill preparedness and  inadequate defense spending.  Has America learned this lesson?  Other than Korean War veterans, how many people have heard of Task Force Smith?



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