While in Pohang I got assigned as the loader on Y51, the Battalion Commander’s
We loaded the tanks aboard railroad flat cars. The railroad was narrow gauge and the tracks of the tanks stuck out over the edges of the cars. We had just enough clearance between the tank tracks and the station platform when we went through train stations. The tanks were loaded on the flat cars and we slept in boxcars. It reminded me of reading about the
After several days we offloaded in some town I think was Andong. The roads in the town were definitely not made for large tanks, and we tore down the corners of buildings when we turned a corner. Most of the buildings were made of mud and straw, so there was no damage to the tanks. I can’t say the same for the buildings.
We started on a long road march. The driver of the tank behind us was new, so he was told to follow us. We were riding along and came to a curve in the road when our right brake did not work. Before the driver could stop the tank, we went off the road into a rice paddy. Fortunately, the paddy was frozen and we didn’t sink in. The driver behind us, not knowing that we had a problem, obediently followed us off the road. We got the tank back on the road and the march ended shortly after at the bottom of a mountain pass. While everyone else was crapping out, we had to take everything out of the turret and try to find out why the brake locked up. We could not find the problem. Sometimes it worked and other times it didn’t. The next morning we joined the convoy and started climbing up the long mountain pass. It was the right brake that was not working all the time. On going up, the drop off was on the right. When the brake did not work, we took a piece of the mountain with us. The road was a dirt road and had one hairpin turn after the other. It was kind of interesting–we could look down and see all kinds of tanks on the road below us.
When we finally reached the top, the drop off was then on the left side. If the brake did not work, the tank could go over the edge of the road–a drop of several hundreds of feet. Everyone was out of the tank and standing on the engine doors except the poor driver. The driver slowly drove the tank into the first turn and applied the brake. Nothing happened. The driver put the tank into reverse and grabbed a handful of brake. We all jumped off the tank. The tank stopped with its left track hanging over the edge. The driver was white. He backed the tank up and drove it over to the side of the mountain and refused to go any further. We were ordered to move the tank, but we told them that if they wanted it moved, they could move it themselves.
When on a road march, the convoy cannot hold up if a tank breaks down, so the convoy took off, leaving us to our devices on the mountain pass. We set up our stove, made ourselves some hot chow and coffee, and watched the world go by. Sometime later, a Jeep with an Army officer stopped to find out what was wrong. After we explained to him the problem, he told us that he was responsible for security of the pass and that there were about 1,500 guerillas roaming around in the mountains. He said that if we were still there when he got back, he would take us down to his camp for the night. He told us to strip off as much of the armament that we could. It would not be there in the morning.
Eventually a mechanic from Service Company came up and found that the linkage was jammed and he fixed it. To play safe, we let him drive the tank down the rest of the way to the valley floor. He scraped the side of the mountain all the way down. As soon as we hit level ground, he took off. There we were, all by ourselves. The convoy was long gone and we had no idea as to where we were going. Since there was only one road, we took off figuring that we would run into the rest of the tanks sooner or later. We were breezing along when suddenly the tank slowed down and went off the road. We had run out of gas. Without anyone noticing it, our tank commander got down from the turret and flagged down a passing Jeep. We did not realize at first that he was gone. We started to stop the Jeeps and trucks that went by and asked if they had any extra gas (they usually carried extra in GI cans). One Jeep that stopped had an Army Captain in it. When we told him that we were out of gas, he asked for our tank commander. We told him that we did not know where he was. He then asked where we were going. Again, we told him that we did not know. He asked where we came from. Again, we answered him the same. At this point, he blew his stack and started swearing. We told him that we could not help it. He finally left us to our devices and I think that he left with a low opinion of Marines.
We finally scrounged up enough gas to get the tank moving again. We came into a fairly large town (I think it was Wonju), and went flying through an intersection. Standing in the intersection talking to an Army MP was our tank commander. We stopped the tank about a block up and he climbed aboard. We went about a hundred yards and again ran out of gas. Fortunately, a truck from our Battalion passed by and got us enough gas to get going. Our outfit was set up a short distance up the road. After a long road march, we usually ran the tanks at an idle for awhile to cool down. We ran out of gas again. We had a late supper that night.
We were set up on the outskirts of Wonju. They said that the Army had taken and lost it several times. There was little still standing–mostly just foundations One day we went out on a mission with a large number of tanks. Since we were in the Battalion Commander’s tank, we went along more as observers than as participants. We came into the town of Hoengsong and came to an intersection where the road broke of into a “Y”. On the corner on the left was a building that had no walls. There were just posts and a roof. Lying on the floor were the bodies of about half a dozen Army soldiers. There was one in particular that I remember. He was lying parallel to the road, dressed in Army wool khaki. He had small Tech Sergeant stripes and no shoes. He seemed to be lying there so peacefully. I remember thinking that I wonder how his family would feel when they found out he was dead. Hoengsong was nothing but a sea of metal corrugated roofs.
We turned to the right and following the other tanks drove over half of a Jeep that was abandoned in the road. We finally turned left up over some small rises and joined the other tanks on a hill. We were buttoned up and since I was riding as loader, I could not see what was happening. There was quite a bit of machine gun fire and the tank next to us let go with a couple of rounds of it’s 90MM. We eventually moved out and circled around the town. I remember seeing a body out in a field that had been stripped of his clothing. I read later that an Army artillery outfit had been ambushed by the Chinese and lost over 500 men. The Chinese apparently chased any survivors in the hills and killed them. There was a stretch of road outside of Hoengsong (later called
Shortly after I was transferred into Flame tanks, in time for the Chinese Summer Offensive of April 22nd. Another story.