Task Force Manchu Misfires
Five miles north of Agok and A Company's position, B Company, 9th Infantry, held a similar position on Hill 209 overlooking the Paekchin ferry crossing of the river. This ferry was located at the middle of the Naktong Bulge where the Yŏngsan-ni, road came down to the Naktong and crossed it. The U.S. 2nd Division, as it chanced, had planned an important reconnaissance action to start from there the night of 31 August, the very night that the N.K. I Corps offensive rolled across the river.
Near the end of the month two reconnaissance patrols from the 9th Infantry had crossed to the west side of the Naktong and from a hill position watched enemy tank and troop activity at a place approximately two miles west of the river, which they suspected was a division command post. Information obtained later indicated it was in fact the command post of the N.K. 9th Division [???? no such division ???? Fehrenbach, T.R. (2001), This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History – Fiftieth Anniversary Edition, Potomac Books Inc., ISBN 978-1-57488-334-3] .
25 August 1950
On 25 August, Col. John G. Hill outlined projected "Operation Manchu," which was to be a company-sized combat patrol to cross the river, advance to the suspected enemy command post and communications center, destroy it, capture prisoners, and gain information of enemy plans. [23-21]
The 9th Infantry Regiment had planned Task Force Manchu on orders from the 2nd Division, which in turn had received instructions from Eighth Army for aggressive patrolling. Colonel Hill selected three possible crossing sites for the operation. General Keiser decided on the one at the Paekchin ferry. The 9th Infantry reserve, E Company, reinforced with one section of light machine guns from H Company, was to be the attack force.
The 1st Platoon, 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion, was to transport it across the river in assault boats the night of 31 August. Two heavy weapons companies, D and H, were each to furnish one section of heavy machine guns, one section of 81-mm. mortars, and one section of 75-mm. recoilless rifles for supporting fires. A platoon of 4.2-inch mortars was also to give support. [23-22]
August 31, 1950
Colonel Hill was there, but escaped to the rear just before midnight, together with several others, when the division canceled Operation Manchu. His S-3, who was with him, delayed a bit and never got out. The first heavy weapons carrying party was on its way up the hill when the enemy engulfed the men below. It hurried on to the top where the advance group waited and there all hastily dug in on a small perimeter. This group was unmolested during the night.
The end of Task Force Manchu
In the meantime, Task Force Manchu was still holding its position along the Naktong River, about 5 miles (8.0 km) north of where A Company had been destroyed on the southern end of the line. The perimeter position taken by the men of D and H Companies, 9th Infantry, who had started up the hill before the North Koreans struck, was on a southern knob of Hill 209, 0.5 miles (0.80 km) south of B Company's higher position. In addition to the D and H Company men, there were a few from the Heavy Mortar Platoon and one or two from B Company. Altogether, 60 to 70 men were in the group. The group had an SCR-300 radio, a heavy machine gun, two light machine gun, a M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, about 20 M1 Garand rifles, and about 40 carbines or pistols. Schmitt assumed command of the group.
During the night Schmitt established radio communication with the 1st Battalion, 9th infantry. When daylight came Schmitt and his group saw that they were surrounded by North Koreans. One force occupied the higher knob half a mile above them, formerly held by B Company. Below them, North Koreans continued crossing the river and moving supplies forward to their combat units, some of them already several miles eastward. The North Koreans quickly discovered Task Force Manchu group. They first attacked it at 14:00 that afternoon, and were repulsed. That night an estimated company attacked three times, pressing the fight to close quarters, but failed each time to penetrate the tight US perimeter. Daylight of the second day disclosed many North Korean dead on the steep slopes outside the perimeter.
2 September 1950
In the afternoon of September 2 Schmitt radioed 1st Battalion for an airdrop of supplies. A US plane attempted the drop, but the perimeter was so small and the slopes so steep that virtually all the supplies went into North Korean hands. The men in the perimeter did, however, recover from a drop made later at 19:00 some supplies and ammunition. Private First Class Joseph R. Ouellette, of H Company, left the perimeter to gather weapons, ammunition, and grenades from the North Korean dead. On several occasions he was attacked, and on one such occasion a North Korean soldier suddenly attacked Ouellette, who killed the North Korean in hand-to-hand combat.
That same afternoon, the North Koreans sent an American prisoner up the hill to Schmitt with the message, "You have one hour to surrender or be blown to pieces." Failing in frontal infantry attack to reduce the little defending force, the North Koreans now meant to take it under mortar fire. Only 45 minutes later North Korean antitank fire came in on the knob and two machine guns from positions northward and higher on the slope of Hill 209 swept the perimeter. Soon, mortars emplaced on a neighboring high finger ridge eastward registered on Schmitt's perimeter and continued firing until dark. The machine gun fire forced every man to stay in his foxhole. The lifting of the mortar fire after dark was the signal for renewed North Korean infantry attacks, all of which were repulsed. But the number of killed and wounded within the perimeter was growing, and supplies were diminishing. There were no medical supplies except those carried by one aid man.
3 September 1950
The third day, September 3, the situation worsened. The weather was hot and ammunition, food and supplies were nearly completely exhausted. Since the previous afternoon, North Korean mortar barrages had alternated with infantry assaults against the perimeter. Survivors later estimated there were about twenty separate infantry attacks repulsed. Two North Korean machine guns still swept the perimeter whenever anyone showed himself. Dead and dying US troops were in almost every foxhole. Mortar fragments destroyed the radio and this ended all communication with other US units. Artillery fire and air strikes requested by Schmitt never came. Some North Koreans worked their way close to the perimeter and threw grenades into it. Six times Ouellette leaped from his foxhole to escape grenades thrown into it. In this close action Ouellette was killed. Most of the foxholes of the perimeter received one or more direct mortar hits in the course of the continuing mortar fire. One of these killed Schmitt on September 3. The command passed now to First Lieutenant Raymond J. McDoniel of D Company, senior surviving officer.
4 September 1950
At daylight on the morning of 4 September only two officers and approximately half the men who had assembled on the hill, were alive. As the day passed, with ammunition down to about one clip per man and only a few grenades left and no help in sight, McDoniel decided to abandon the position that night. When it got dark the survivors would split into small groups and try to get back to friendly lines. That evening after dark the North Koreans launched another weak attack against the position.
At 22:00, McDoniel and Caldwell and 27 enlisted men slipped off the hill in groups of four. Master Sergeant Travis E. Watkins, still alive in his paralyzed condition, refused efforts of evacuation, saying that he did not want to be a burden to those who had a chance to get away. He asked only that his carbine be loaded and placed on his chest with the muzzle under his chin. Like Oullette, he would also win the Medal of Honor for his actions. Of the 29 men who came off the hill the night of September 4, 22 escaped to friendly lines, many of them following the Naktong downstream, hiding by day and traveling by night, until they reached the lines of the US 25th Infantry Division.
Members of Task Force Manchu who escaped from Hill 209 brought back considerable intelligence information of North Korean activity in the vicinity of the Paekchin ferry crossing site. At the ferry site the North Koreans had put in an underwater bridge. A short distance downstream, each night they placed a pontoon bridge across the river and took it up before dawn the next morning. Carrying parties of 50 civilians guarded by four North Korean soldiers crossed the river continuously at night, an estimated total of 800-1,000 carriers being used at this crossing site.