The Battle of Chosin
Reservoir (Korean: Changjin Reservoir) / (26 November–13 December 1950) was a
battle in the Korean War. 20,000 United Nations troops under the command of American
General Douglas MacArthur faced 200,000 Chinese volunteers, shortly after the
People's Republic of China's entry into the conflict. Large numbers of
Chinese soldiers swept across the Yalu river, encircling the United Nations
(UN) troops at the Chosin Reservoir, in the northeastern part of North Korea.
A brutal battle in freezing weather followed. Although they inflicted
enormous casualties on the Chinese forces, the Americans were vastly
outnumbered and were forced to evacuate North Korea after they withdrew from
the reservoir to the port of Hungnam.
By mid-October, 1950, the Korean War looked like it was nearly over. Most of
North Korea had been captured by the American-led UN forces. However, on 19
October 1950, China entered the war and huge numbers of Chinese soldiers
poured across the border into Korea. The UN command, under General Douglas
MacArthur, was slow to appreciate the implications of this new reality.
MacArthur ordered his ground units, the U.S. Eighth Army in the west, and the
X Corps in the east, to continue their offensive to the Yalu River, the
border with China. The X Corps - commanded by Lieutenant-General Ned Almond,
U.S. Army - was widely spread out over northeastern Korea, its units far
apart and out of supporting distance from each other. The X Corps troops at
Chosin, mainly the US 1st Marine Division, elements of the US 7th Infantry
Division, and 41 Independent Commando Royal Marines were, by late November,
surrounded by units of the Ninth Army Group of the People's Liberation Army
(designated "Chinese People's Volunteers" by the Chinese
government.) The Chinese launched heavy attacks that halted the UN offensive.
MacArthur and Almond ordered Major General O.P. Smith, commander of the 1st
Marine Division and associated forces in the Chosin area to fight his way out
of the trap. Starting on 26 November 1950, the UN troops began a fighting
withdrawal to the south, towards Hungnam.
Around 20,000 UN troops, with advanced weaponry and air power, clashed with
200,000 poorly equipped but well organized Chinese soldiers. In extremely
fierce fighting that lasted until 11 December, there were 15,000 UN
casualties (7,500 to cold related injuries) and possibly 40,000 Chinese
casualties (mostly to cold related injuries) as the UN forces withdrew to
On the eastern side of the Chosin Reservoir, a U.S. Army unit from the 7th
Infantry Division, Task Force Faith, was isolated by a Chinese division, worn
down by incessant attacks, and eventually wiped out. Survivors from the 7th
I.D. reached Marine lines on 2 December 1950. Some survivors of this force,
along with an army tank company and combat engineers, joined Smith's forces
and participated in the breakout. Keeping his units concentrated and moving
deliberately, Smith made an aggressive assault to break out of the reservoir.
When asked if the Marines were, like the U.S. Eighth Army (to the west),
retreating, Smith explained that their fighting withdrawal through Chinese
lines did not constitute a retreat. His explanation was abbreviated into the
famous misquote, "Retreat, hell! We're attacking in a different
direction!" (recalling the famous quote from Captain Lloyd Williams at
Belleau Wood during the First World War, "Retreat, hell! We just got here!")
In their withdrawal, the Marines were either attacking - conducting numerous
assaults to clear Chinese roadblocks and overlooking hill positions - or
under furious Chinese attack themselves. The sub-zero temperatures inflicted
even more casualties than the Chinese (who also suffered greatly from the
extreme cold). The Marines enjoyed total air supremacy, with Navy, Marine,
and Air Force fighter-bombers flying hundreds of sorties a day against the
encircling Chinese. Over 4,000 wounded were flown out and 500 replacements
flown in during the operation, contributing considerably to its success. The
Marines and soldiers were able to destroy or effectively disable all seven
Chinese divisions that tried to block their escape from the reservoir.
Despite the heroism of the Marines, which attracted world-wide attention and
was considered something of a "moral victory" in the midst of
defeat, the strategic situation was now highly unfavorable for UN forces and
it was decided to withdraw the entire X Corps from North Korea. The Marines,
the rest of X Corps, and thousands of civilian refugees were soon evacuated
by ship from the port of Hungnam, which was then destroyed to deny its use to
While the Chinese were able to expel the UN forces from the reservoir, the
U.S. Marines inflicted heavy casualties on the Chinese as they fought for
their own survival. The Marines retreat was helped in part by Chinese
American Marines who overheard the People's Liberation Army battle plans in
Chinese. (The History Channel briefly covered that forgotten part of the war
in a documentary.) After their departure from North Korea, the Marines were
returned to the South, where they continued to fight as part of UN forces
until the armistice in July of 1953.
To this day, the U.S. Marines consider the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir to
be one of the proudest parts of their own history despite the heavy losses.
Likewise, the Chinese People's Liberation Army considers the Battle of the
Chosin Reservoir an honor. This campaign, with the simultaneous victory
against U.S. forces to the west, was the first time in a century a Chinese
army was able to defeat a Western army in a major battle, despite the heavy
The construction of CHOSIN began on
August 3, 1987 by Ingalls Shipbuilding division of Litton in Pascagoula,
Mississippi. Her keel was laid on July 2, 1988. She was launched on September
1, 1989 and Christened on October 14, 1989.
July 30 marked CHOSIN's first of many underway periods as she sailed into the
Gulf of Mexico for her first sea trials. Upon her completion of the sea
trials, she was delivered to the Navy on November 5, 1990 in preparation for
commissioning in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on January 12, 1991.
After reporting to her new homeport in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, CHOSIN began
preparation to become an active fleet asset. Upon completion of Refresher
Training in November of 1991, CHOSIN chopped to THIRD fleet for operational
duties as part of the RANGER Battle Group.
On August 10, 1992 CHOSIN set sail on her maiden deployment. Most of the
Underway time was spent in the Northern Persian Gulf in support of Operation
Southern Watch. CHOSIN's mission was to assist in protecting the southern
Iraqi no-fly zones directed by United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Upon Completion of that deployment, CHOSIN returned to homeport on February
CHOSIN embarked on her second six month deployment to the Western Pacific and
Arabian Gulf on November 15, 1994. Operating as part of the CONSTELLATION
Battle Group, she carried out various assignments in support of Operations
Desert Storm and Southern Watch. CHOSIN conducted port visits in Yokosuka,
Japan; Pusan, Korea; Hong Kong; Singapore; Dubai and Jebel Ali, United Arab
Emirates; as will as Perth, Sydney, and Newcastle, Australia. While in the
Gulf, the War Dragon's primary mission was that of Air Warfare Commander. In
this role, CHOSIN was responsible for the air defense of the Battle Group.
CHOSIN's versatility and that of her crew ensured the successful completion
of all assigned duties. The ship returned to its homeport in May 1995.
USS CHOSIN took part in Pacific Joint Task Force Exercise (PACJTFEX) 97-1,
from February 10 through 21, 1997 off the Southern California coast. PAC
JTFEX 97-1 was part of a series of exercises previously named
"FLEETEX". The name reflected the increasing focus on preparing
naval forces for joint operations with other U.S. military services.
In April 1997, CHOSIN got underway for her next deployment. As the
CONSTELLATION (CV 64) Battle Group entered the Arabian Gulf on May 16, 1997,
USS CHOSIN turned over the duties of being regional Air Defense Commander to
USS LAKE ERIE (CG 70) and reported for maritime interception duties in the
far northern Arabian Gulf. While patrolling off the coast of Iraq, CHOSIN was
supporting the UN resolutions that prohibit the import or export of materials
with Iraq, except for food and medicine. Within three days, CHOSIN
intercepted and boarded five vessels, including three large cargo carriers.
In August 1997, USS CHOSIN completed two major Theater Ballistic Missile
Defense (TBMD) exercises in the Arabian Gulf. The exercises, named ARABIAN
SKIES, were directed by Commander Cruiser Destroyer Group 1 and involved Army
Patriot missile batteries, Air Force data relay stations, CHOSIN, USS LAKE
ERIE (CG 70), USS JOHN PAUL JONES (DDG 53) and Carrier Air Wing 2 operating
from USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64). During the exercises, the CONSTELLATION
Battle Group demonstrated a viable TBMD capability using the existing command
and control architecture while CHOSIN provided advance notification to other
battle group assets and to an in-theater Army Patriot missile battery. This
advance notice enabled the Patriot battery to bring their weapons system
online quicker, and focus their search efforts toward simulated incoming
missiles. The exercises used Tactical Data Link-A (TADIL- A) for most data
exchange. CHOSIN was a prototype for the future technology exchange, termed
TADIL-J, is also known as the Joint Tactical Information Data System (JTIDS).
One important feature TADIL-J will provide is the ability to pass projected
impact point for theater ballistic missiles. This capability will dovetail
into the existing TBMD architecture and improve its flexibility, while
providing the civilian populace quicker accress to vital information.
CHOSIN, with the CONSTELLATION, departed the Gulf on August 17, 1997, on
schedule to continue its routine six-month deployment in the waters of the
Indian and Pacific Oceans.
USS CHOSIN left Pearl Harbor in mid-June 1999 for a routinely scheduled
deployment with the USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64) Battle Group and the USS
PELELIU (LHA 5) Amphibious Ready Group, to the Western Pacific and Arabian
Gulf. During that six-month deployment, the crew of the "War
Dragons" was the Air Defense Commander for the USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64)
Battle Group, supported the enforcement of oil sanctions against Iraq,
traveled more than 44,000 miles, saw operations around Japan, Korea, the
South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Gulf, and visited ten ports in
seven different countries.
CHOSIN made port visits to Pusan, Korea; Yokosuka, Japan; Singapore; Phuket,
Thailand; Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates; and Bahrain. The end of CHOSIN’s
deployment included three port visits in Australia to the cities of Albany,
Melbourne and Sydney. Chosin’s last stop was in Pago Pago, American Samoa. It
returned to its homeport on December 17, 1999.
During this deployment, while conducting Maritime Interception Operations in
support of United Nations sanctions against Iraq, USS CHOSIN was able to
uphold a time-honored code of 'Assisting fellow sailors in peril at sea' by
rescueing eight stranded Iraqi fishermen.
With their boat’s rudder broken and unable to steer, the Iraqi fishermen had
been stranded for six days in the Northern Arabian Gulf more than 25 miles
from the nearest land. With only three days of food and water remaining, and
no radio, the fishermen frantically waved red rags as the Pearl Harbor-based
cruiser CHOSIN passed by.
Upon spotting the distressed vessel, CHOSIN’s Officer of the Deck, Lt. Joshua
Brooks, immediately dispatched the ship’s inflatable lifeboat to investigate.
The fishermen at first appeared to be frightened by the presence of American
Sailors. "As we made our approach, they realized we were an American
ship and they began waving for us to go away", said Brooks.
GSM3 Mohammad Betemour, who spoke fluent Arabic, was able to act as
interpreter. "We were the first Americans they had ever met", said
Betemour, a native of Jordan. "They had been told that Americans were
violent, seven feet tall and full of muscles."
While at first apprehensive, the fishermen soon realized they had nothing to
be afraid of. According to the fishermen, during the time they were stranded,
two other ships had passed by them and had not stopped to render aid. They
were surprised that an American warship, a country they had been led to
believe hated them, would stop and take the time to help. Once the nature of
the casualty had been determined, a repair team was dispatched to examine the
dhow boat and come up with a plan for repairing it so the fishermen could
safely make their way home.
USS CHOSIN assumed duties as the air defense commander for the joint Japanese
and American Bi-lateral Force (BIF) in support of Rim Of the Pacific Exercise
In May 2000, two weeks following a Ship’s Selected Restricted Availability
(SRA) that saw significant modifications to USS CHOSIN’s AEGIS Combat System,
Communications suite and Electronic Warfare Systems, the crew of CHOSIN
underwent a Comprehensive Assessment of Readiness and Training (CART).
Following this, CHOSIN embarked a cadre of air defense experts from AEGIS
Training and Readiness Command (ATRC), Pearl Harbor, to provide Force Air
Defense and Undersea Warfare training to CHOSIN’s Air Defense and Undersea
Warfare watch standers. It then made a port visit to Acapulco, Mexico.
USS CHOSIN deployed on March 16, 2001, for a six-month Western Pacific
deployment, as part of the CONSTELLATION Battle Group. The entire battle
group trained for six months in preparation for this deployment through a
series of increasingly exercises and operations. Those pre-deployment
exercises culminated in February 2001 with the successful completion of Joint
Task Force Exercise 01-1. CHOSIN operated in support of Operation Southern
Watch in the Arabian Gulf region for 14-weeks and made visits to Australia,
United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Hong Kong. In August 2001, CHOSIN arrived
in Dili, East Timor to assist the United States Support Group East Timor
(USGET) with humanitarian and civic action assistance projects. USS CHOSIN
returned home to Pearl Harbor on September 14, 2001.