How American and French Troops Held Off A Chinese Force Five Times Their Size in this Epic Battle

US Soldiers at Heartbreak Ridge. Wikimedia Commons.

Composed of troops from France and the US, the unit had been fighting for months now. They had even taken part in the brutal fighting at the infamous battle of Heartbreak Ridge. The exhausted troops reached Chipyong-ni on February 3rd, and their commander, Paul Freeman, realized that the Chinese troops pursuing them had come too far to be resupplied and decided it would be the perfect place to hold the line. Over the next 10 days, the UN troops began fortifying their position. Along with a small number of artillery, the regiment had just 4,500 men.

By the 13th, Chinese attacks had driven back the units defending the regiment’s flanks at Wonju and Hoengsoeng. The 23rd was now close to being completely cut off and surrounded by hostile troops. To make matters worse, a force of close to 25,000 Chinese soldiers took up positions on the heights surrounding the city that afternoon. Precise artillery fire kept the Chinese troops from advancing on Chipyong-ni. But Freeman told his men to expect the Chinese to attack that night under the cover of darkness. At 10 PM, the attack the 23rd had been waiting for all afternoon finally came.

The attack began with a mortar and small arms attack on positions all along the UN lines. The UN troops managed to repel the Chinese. But this wasn’t the main offensive, this was just a test to see how strong the defensive positions were. Around an hour later, an intense barrage of artillery shells came screaming into the UN lines. Moments later, thousands of Chinese troops streamed over the hills towards Chipyong-ni. Mortars exploded and machine guns barked as the defenders fought desperately to avoid being overrun. Every company of the unit except for one was directly attacked.

The fighting intensified into the early hours of the morning. The shooting soon became so intense that ambulances couldn’t get in to evacuate the wounded. At one point, C company was driven back from their position. The line was now in danger of breaking. Realizing the situation, the company made a desperate counter-attack, driving the Chinese troops back. G company now came under a concerted attack that lasted almost three hours. Sustaining heavy casualties, the unit was close to being completely overrun. Luckily, Freeman ordered a tank unit to support the company. The heavy armor managed to drive off the attackers.

A US tank firing in Korea. Wikimedia Commons.

The attacks finally began to die down as the sun rose over the horizon. Freeman now took stock of his losses. Over 100 men had been either killed or wounded. Freeman himself had been seriously injured by a mortar shell. And though the UN troops had inflicted heavy losses on the attackers, they were now running low on ammunition. The Chinese had withdrawn, but their new positions were much closer, and they showed no sign that they were ready to give up. They still outnumbered the 23rd by a huge margin. And as the sun went down, the weary troops prepared themselves for another desperate fight for survival.