The Battle of Pakchon was an important piece of military infighting early in the Korean War. The battle was fought between United Nations forces against the Communist Chinese, in support of the North Korean military, on the 5th of November, 1950, near Pakchon, North Korea. After having successfully captured Chongju on 30th October, 1950, the Australians and their British counterparts were then ordered to move back to Pakchon so as to provide reinforcement to the western flank of the United States Eighth Army. Meanwhile, the Chinese had gained success against the Americans at Unsan. The Chinese were making further advancement to launch attacks southwards, with the intention of cutting off the United Nations forces as they withdrew.
Makeup of the Forces
The United Nations' (UN) forces were comprised by United States personnel and the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade (comprised by both British and Australian troops). The British, Australian, and American troops were under the commands of Generals Basil Aubrey, Floyd Wash, and Howard Moore, respectively. Wu Xinquan and Zhang Jiecheng, on the other hand, were the leaders of the communist forces. With a force estimated to number 1,500 troops that day, the Chinese and the North Korean armies greatly outnumbered their counterparts, who were estimated to stand at only around 300 men in strength.
Description of the Engagement
In order to bring the Chinese advancements into a halt, the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade was then ordered to assist the United States 24th Infantry Division in defending the crossings on the banks of Chongchon and Taeryong Rivers. On the 4th and 5th of November of 1950, the Communist forces launched a massive assault against the U.S 24th Infantry Division, pushing them back by about 2 kilometers. The Communist forces then turned west, and advanced into the area between the Chongchon and Taeryong Rivers in an effort to threaten the positions taken by the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade. The British and Australian forces responded by successfully counterattacking the Communist forces.
Given the number of troops that were involved, both warring factions suffered relatively heavy casualties. The exact casualty numbers suffered on the Communist side is difficult to ascertain, as the Chinese and North Korean governments do, as in many other instances, have differing accounts regarding the number of lives that were lost. In their first offensive against the Chinese forces, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment was able to a capture a well-defended location with limited offensive power, and held on to this location despite the heavy, relentless counterattacks from the Communist fire power. The British Commonwealth Brigade gained massive success during the battle. They did, however, come under attack from the Chinese Communist forces, and as a result the brigade lost 12 lives, and as much as 70 of its men were wounded, with the majority of these casualties being Australians. On the Chinese side, it is estimated that well over 200 were killed and almost as many more others suffered injuries directly resultant from the battle.
Historical Significance and Legacy
Following their defeat at Pakchon, portions of the Communist Chinese and North Korean armies were temporarily forced to make a withdrawal even further to the north. Because of this move, the United Nations’ troops were able to successfully reinforce their positions by holding onto the Chongchon Line. A possible breakthrough by the Chinese Army into the Pakchon area was halted, the UN troops’ left-side flanks were secured, and their withdrawal routes were kept open. The Chinese and the North Koreans had suffered significant losses, and this brought about many logistical challenges for them. The shakeup of the Communist strategies that were incurred at Pakchon brought an end to the Chinese offensives for the time being, and temporarily forced them to withdraw from the area. In fact, following the successes here, the UN commanders turned their attentions towards offensive tactical maneuvers of their own. The Chinese, however, were not ready to give up so easily, and they and their North Korean comrades would fight on for many, many months to come.