The Chosin Reservoir is a man-made lake located in the northeast of the Korean peninsula. From the end of November to mid-December 1950, it was the site of one of the most brutal battles between UN and Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) during the Korean War. For approximately seventeen days, roughly 30,000 U.N. soldiers and marines faced an enemy force estimated at around 120,000 over rugged terrain in lethally cold weather.
General Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief, Far East, superseded his orders and advanced his forces north toward the Yalu River to push North Korean forces into China. In late November 1950, the U.S. Eighth Army advanced in northwest Korea and the X Corps advanced along the east side of the Korean peninsula to sever enemy supply lines near the Chosin Reservoir. The U.S. 1st Marine Division, commanded by Major General Oliver P. Smith, advanced up the west side of the Chosin Reservoir while elements of the U.S. 7th Infantry Division, led by Regimental Combat Team 31 (RCT-31), advanced along the east side. The 3rd Infantry Division guarded the Marines’ flanks and a major supply base and airfield was constructed south of the reservoir at Hagaru-ri.
On November 25, the CCF engaged the U.S. Eighth Army forces, catching them by surprise and forcing them to retreat, but X Corps continued to advance, believing that the Chinese forces north of them were weak. On November 27, the 5th and 7th Marine Regiments attacked from Yudam-ni along the west side of the reservoir. Two CCF divisions stopped the Marines’ advance while a third division cut the road south between Yudam-ni and Hagaru-ri. On the east side of the reservoir, RCT-31 advanced north and was surrounded by a far superior Chinese force. By November 28, UN forces at Hagaru-ri and on both sides of the reservoir were isolated. On November 30, X Corps began to retreat from the Chosin reservoir.
The hastily organized Task Force Drysdale was ordered to attack north from Koto-ri to open the road south from Hagaru-ri, where a withdrawal could be organized. After a bitter fight, the airfield was opened on December 1, allowing UN forces to bring in reinforcements and evacuate the casualties. Air support provided by the 1st Marine Air Wing and the U.S. Navy’s Task Force 77 covered the withdrawal of UN forces to Hagaru-ri. After a short rest, the 7th Marine Regiment lead a breakout from Hagu-ri and fought south through Hell Fire Valley, Koto-ri, the Funchilin Pass, and Sudong – where Task Force Dog of the 3rd Infantry Division repelled the pursuing Chinese forces. UN forces reached the port of Hungnam on December 11 where they were evacuated farther south to bolster the 8th Army, then in full retreat toward the 38th Parallel.
Over a thousand U.S. marines and soldiers were killed during the Chosin Reservoir Campaign and thousands more were wounded in battle or incapacitated by cold weather. Many men were buried where they fell, and due to the cold weather and the retreat of UN Forces from the area, hundreds of fallen marines and soldiers were unable to be immediately recovered. During Operation Glory in 1953 and 1954, the North Korean government returned the remains of thousands of war dead from UN cemeteries in northeastern North Korea, including over 500 isolated burials from the Chosin battlefield. The Central Identification Unit at Kokura, Japan, was able to identify all but 126 of the remains, which were buried as unknowns in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. From 1990 to 1994, the North Korean government returned 47 additional containers of remains which they attributed to the Chosin campaign. DoD teams from Central Identification Lab-Hawaii (CILHI) and later the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) conducted investigative and recovery operations in the Chosin Reservoir’s eastern sector from 2001 to 2005. From these recovery efforts and the continued forensic analysis of unknown remains, DPAA and its predecessor organizations have identified over 130 of the unaccounted-for service members lost in the Chosin Reservoir Campaign.