The Western Pacific D+11 (20 July, 1987) Part I

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On the Korean Peninsula all of the major fighting took place north of the Han River on D+11. The North Korean first echelon divisions continued to drive south, seeking to create a hole in the Combined Forces lines for the mechanized infantry and tank divisions waiting behind the lines to exploit. The North Koreans were strict disciples of Soviet land doctrine and tactics. The first echelon divisions orders were to push south until a breach was created. The armor and mech infantry would speed forward, pour through and create a major breakthrough. If the lead NK divisions were depleted before this was achieved, second echelon divisions would take their place and resume the steamroller tactics.

The Combined Forces divisions north of the Han delayed the North Koreans considerably through most of the day, but paid a heavy price in men, ammunition, and materials. Casualties were high on both sides, but the North Koreans had far more troops, tanks, APCs, and artillery tubes at their disposal. As was the case in Europe, quantity had a quality all its own south of the DMZ.

At Munsan, a mid-morning NK attempt to cross the Imjin River was defeated. A second attack later in the day proved to be too much for the defending ROK 15th Infantry Regiment to contend with. The regiment pulled back south of Munsan and established a new defensive line. With the enemy now on the south bank of the Imjin South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan demanded an immediate counterattack. The Combined Forces commander declined. Chun considered going over General Menetrey’s head until he was briefed in depth on the situation north of the Han, as well as the Combined Forces overall defensive plan. Afterward,  the former general understood why a limited counterattack wasn’t going to be very productive at present and relented.

The other main attack in the west was materializing on Highway 3 down the Uijongbu corridor. This one was centered on the NK Fifth Corps, and was heavily reinforced.  Fighting was especially heavy in this area. ROK reserve units were being fed into the battle here faster than expected in order to keep the NKs as far north as possible to give the ROKs time to strengthen the defensive lines north of Uijongbu. For the majority of D+11 the ROK II Corps forward divisions kept the enemy north of Tongduchon until the pressure became too great. Under a blanket of close air support and artillery the 27th Infantry Division managed to disengage  and pull back from Tongduchon, ceding the city yet avoiding imminent encirclement by the North Koreans.

General Menetrey was holding the US 2nd Infantry and 3rd Marine Divisions as the strategic reserve. He would only commit them if a major North Korean breakthrough appeared imminent. Otherwise, he intended to allow the enemy to run itself into the ground north of Seoul before launching a major counteroffensive towards the DMZ using the US divisions, and an assortment of ROK reserve regiments and divisions as the core of his striking force. Menetrey knew he had to be careful in deciding when and where his reserves would be used. He was not confident about the prospect of US-based reinforcements arriving in theater anytime soon. US airlift capabilities were stretched to the limit right now. Even if this weren’t the case, there were only a few divisions stateside that could be committed to Korea. The proverbial cupboard was nearly bare.

In the air fortunes were swinging in the Combined Forces favor. Most of the major US and ROK airbases were back online and able to support heavy air operations. As the day went on USAF and ROKAF fighters regained the upper hand, clearing the skies in the South of North Korean aircraft and opening the door for additional close air support missions at the battle line, and interdiction missions to start north of the DMZ. The two US carriers now operating in the Sea of Japan were also playing a larger role in the air war. Midway and Ranger’s air wings conducted missions ranging from OCA to close air support throughout the day. Midway’s A-6 Intruders were especially valuable in aiding the withdrawal of ROK forces from Tongduchon.

Korea was not the only area in the Western Pacific where fighting was taking place. Things were progressively sliding from bad to worse on the Sino-Soviet frontier, and in the Sea of Japan a tense naval situation threatened to destabilize and spiral out of control at any given moment. Part II will cover these two areas.

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