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Failed Defense of the Kum River Line, 1950

Excerpt from How Wars Are Won: The 13 Rules of War—From Ancient Greece to the War on Terror, by Bevin Alexander, pages 86-88

[In the first days of the Korean War,] there were two main approaches for the North Koreans to Taejon: through the village of Taepyong-ni on the Kum directly north of the city, and through the village of Kongju eight miles west. The North Korean had two divisions, each with 6,000 men.

William F. Dean, 24th Division commander, was in charge of the defending forces along the river, and he committed the two-battalion 34th Infantry Regiment with 2,000 men, supported by the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion, to hold at Kongju to the west, and the two-battalion 19th Infantry Regiment along with three artillery battalions, 3,400 men, to shield the direct route through Taepyong-ni. The 19th Infantry had just arrived and had seen no action.

Each regiment deployed on either side of the broken bridge at each village, with artillery and reserves lined up on the road leading south. This would have been acceptable if the Americans had possessed supporting forces on both flanks. But they did not. The two regiments were essentially isolated at each village.

The U.S. commanders should have anticipated they could readily be flanked on both sides of Kongju and Taepyong-ni. Since they were outnumbered, a better policy would have been a “hedgehog” defense at both places, in which infantry were arrayed in a tight circle, with mortars and artillery inside. This would not have prevented the North Koreans from crossing the river, but would have blocked their supplies and stopped their movement onward, and given 8th Army time to organize a stronger defense at Taejon. The hedgehogs then could have retreated, aided by American air power, as moving fortresses, bristling with cannons and machine guns, sending infantry ahead on either flank to rout out any enemy trying to set up roadblocks, and blasting with artillery any heavy obstacle that got in the way. This is precisely how the 1 st Marine Division and elements of the 7th Infantry Division retreated from the Chosin (Changjin) Reservoir in North Korea five months later.

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