Chosin Reservoir

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CHOSIN RESERVOIR. By the end of October 1950, four months after the Korean War began, the U.S. X Corps, composed of the Seventh Infantry Division and the First Marine Division, had nearly reached the Chosin Reservoir, a frozen lake just sixty miles from the Chinese border. General Douglas MacArthur's chief of staff, Major General Edward Almond, commanded X Corps. Almond urged a swift advance, while the commander of the First Marines, General O. P. Smith, preferred to move more cautiously, because he feared an attack by Communist Chinese forces. From 3 to 7 November, marines fought Chinese soldiers of the 124th Division near the icy Chosin Reservoir and forced them to withdraw to the north. Optimists at MacArthur's headquarters concluded that Communist China was unwilling to commit significant forces to Korea. Others, including General Smith, thought the Chinese were likely to spring a trap on the dangerously exposed X Corps.

Nearly three weeks passed without further enemy contact. The First Marine Division occupied positions along the northwestern edge of the Chosin Reservoir. The Seventh Infantry Division had units strung out from the eastern side of the reservoir to a point sixty miles north, nearly reaching the Yalu River on the Chinese border. On November 27, the ten Chinese divisions of the Ninth Army Group, approximately 100,000 soldiers, attacked X Corps along a front of over thirty miles. The marines were reduced to three isolated perimeters but withstood the Chinese onslaught. The exposed Seventh Infantry Division fared less well, as elements of the division were surrounded and overwhelmed while attempting to pull back to join the marines.

On 1 December, the First Marine Division began an orderly fighting withdrawal toward the port of Hungnam, and on 3 December the survivors from the Seventh Infantry Division linked up with the marines. The first elements of X Corps reached Hungnam seven days later, and when the evacuation was complete on 24 December, more than 100,000 American and South Korean troops had been saved. X Corps suffered 705 killed in action, 3,251 wounded in action, and thousands more afflicted with cold weather injuries, as well as 4,779 missing in action. The Chinese may have suffered nearly 72,500 battle and nonbattle casualties in the Chosin Reservoir campaign.


Appleman, Roy Edgar. Escaping the Trap: The U.S. Army X Corps in Northeast Korea, 1950. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1990.

Hastings, Max. The Korean War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

Whelan, Richard. Drawing the Line: The Korean War, 1950–1953. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990.

Erik B.Villard

See alsoKorean War .