The 24th Infantry Division Association

Founded August 1945 on a Philippine Island beach


Operation Nomad-Polar: The Last Major Allied Offensive of the Korean War

By Merry Helm, Writers Guild of America, February 12, 2007, Copied with permission of the author from http://www.koreanwar-educator.org/topics/operation_nomad.htm

 Operation Nomad-Polar was one of a specific series of Allied offensives against Communist forces in North Korea during August, September and October 1951.

 Truce talks between Communist China, North Korea, South Korea and the United States had begun on July 10th of that year but had broken down August 23rd. Allied Commander General Matthew Ridgway wanted to apply military pressure to persuade the Communists back to the negotiation table.

 Additionally, General James Van Fleet, Commander of the 8th Army, felt the potential for peace was softening his troops. A series of limited-offensive actions could keep the men sharp and also provide combat-hardening for thousands of new replacement troops arriving in Korea. Although many consider(ed) these battles disastrous, they nonetheless continued, one after another, throughout the fall.

 The last of these was Operation Nomad, which took place in the central sector of the Korean peninsula south of Kumsong, North Korea. The operation began October 13, 1951, overlapping the final days of the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge to the east.

 AP Newspaper accounts of Operation Nomad drastically underplayed the reality of what happened, especially during the opening days of the offensive. History books, too, give only abbreviated nods – if any – to this battle. Yet, it was one of the most brutal, and most costly, the US 24th Infantry Division endured during its historic tenure in Korea.

 During the first week of October 1951, the 24th Division moved into IX Corps' Line WYOMING sector to relieve the 7th Infantry Division. Sandwiched between the 2nd ROK Division to the west and the 6th ROK Division to the east, the 24th ID's 5th RCT took positions on the left; the 21st Regiment was positioned in the center; and the 19th Regiment moved into positions on the right, next to the 6th ROK. Also attached to the American regiments was the Columbian Infantry Battalion.

 On  October 13, these Allied troops launched an aggressive push against Chinese Communists deeply embedded in the mountains before them. The objective was to push the Chinese off their fortified winter line and also to take the city of Kumsong, a key supply center for enemy troops.

 Between the Allied positions and Kumsong stood a series of forbidding objectives, including the “pearl”, Hill 770, inside of which the Chinese Command Post was built to withstand heavy attacks and also house and supply Chinese soldiers during the coming winter.

  The terrain was extremely steep, barren and slippery with rubble; cover for attacking troops was nearly non-existent. Allied troops became easy targets as they climbed upward under hails of gunfire, mortar, and so many grenades it “looked like flocks of blackbirds coming over1.”

 By each day’s end, many 24th ID platoons were left with only a handful of men. By morning, they’d be back up to strength; the "pipeline" of replacements was running with the tap wide open for the first days. After that, anybody who could carry a gun or a stretcher, including cooks, were brought in to replace the fallen.

 The 24th Division reached Line NOMAD by October 17, and after five straight days of fighting, the troops hoped for a chance to rest. But they were immediately assigned a new objective, Line POLAR; they secured it five days later, on October 22.

 Operation Nomad-Polar came at a high price; at least 1,784 24th Division casualties in 10 days. Of these, 288 were killed in action, died of wounds, or were later declared dead. (These figures do not include the many casualties in the following days and weeks, as the Chinese tried to regain their positions.)

 One must wonder, why would such a key battle be underplayed in the press – and nearly vanquished from histories of the Korean War?

 One possible reason may be that “Operation Nomad” was not a term the Army shared with the press, the public, or even with the soldiers themselves. In fact, many or most veterans who survived the battle remember it only as the Big Fall Push.

 In contrast, battles that were given labels by journalists grabbed the public’s imagination, such as Bloody Ridge, the Punchbowl, Old Baldy, Iron Triangle and Heartbreak Ridge. Battles known for their hill numbers did not grab similar attention.

 According to published statistics, the 24th Division averaged 178 American casualties per day during Operation Nomad-Polar. In comparison, Heartbreak Ridge average of 113 casualties per day; and Bloody Ridge averaged 146 casualties per day. The only autumn battle more deadly than Nomad was Operation Commando, which averaged 377 casualties per day2.

 Regarding the seemingly deliberate attempt to downplay the realities of Operation Nomad-Polar in AP newspaper reports, one could point to the inexperience of the reporter, who was in fact not a journalist, but an Associated Press photographer. The following are excerpts of AP reports:

· AP photographer Bob Schulz reported from the front that American and South Korean foot soldiers made gains of 3,000 yards in the first four hours of their attack Monday.

· Schulz said that the gains of almost a mile and a half were made “against an astonishing lack of Chinese resistance.”

· In the assaulting forces were troops of the U. S. 24th Division, and the South Korean Second and Sixth Divisions.

· The lack of intense infantry fighting in this sector contrasted sharply with the recent raging battles on the Western and Eastern fronts. There, Chinese and Korean Reds contested every yard.

· AP photographer Robert H. Schulz reported from the Central front that Sunday’s gains on the approaches to Kumsong brought to nearly three miles the ground taken in the three-day push. Kumsong is a Red supply and staging depot area well protected by mountains some 30 miles north of Parallel 38.

· The Allied Force – the U. S. 24th Division and the Republic of Korea (ROK) Second and Sixth Divisions – has seized nineteen hills in the advance, two of the most important Sunday. One is 2,000 feet high.

· Schulz reported the most noteworthy aspect of the advance was the “only moderate” resistance from what are apparently unusually poor quality Chinese troops.

· Whether these teen-age and middle-age scrapings from the Chinese military barrel are the main defense of the Kumsong sector or whether they are only a forward screening forte remains to be seen.

 Schulz failed to report the 24th suffered some 750 casualties in those first three days; and the public was not informed that 115 of those casualties resulted in death. And, he certainly did not accurately portray the viciousness of the battle.

 There is another, possibly related, factor to consider. During this time period, American journalists were frustrated and angry, because they were being denied access to facts surrounding ground fighting and truce negotiations. In his excellent account of the Korean War, Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Toland writes:

The fighting along the front continued to be bitter and inconclusive. On October 15, [1951] Heartbreak Ridge, just north of the Punchbowl, was finally secured – after 3,700 American casualties. On the Eighth Army left flank, Operation Commando reached its objective in four days but also with heavy losses. In the United States, the public responded in a poll, with two thirds describing the Korean conflict as “an utterly useless war.”

 While the liaison officers at Panmunjom were thrashing out an agreement, General Ridgway was attempting to pacify the correspondents. Hanson Baldwin of The New York Times protested that

“embellished adjectives had replaced facts.” The military communiqué of World War II had been simple, often terse. In this war it had become “a grab bag of service claims, so-called ‘action’ verbs and descriptive phrases.” And the result was “all the more serious since censorship in Korea had been serious and often captious.”

 At a press conference on October 16, Ridgway acknowledged that “full and timely information” had not been supplied and promised “steps would be taken to correct the situation.” At the same time, it would be “bad faith” to release certain kinds of information. As for the fighting, Ridgway acknowledged that the situation from some standpoints “could readily be construed as a military stalemate. It all depends on how you look at it.3”

 Whether “full and timely information” was being withheld for military – or for political – reasons remains unclear, at least to this writer. We do know American sentiments against the war were having a notable affect on the Truman administration.

 Unquestionably, the truth of Operation Nomad-Polar was skewed and buried. Participants were cheated of honor by the media, overlooked by historians and, perhaps worst, were treated with total indifference upon returning home.

 The men who participated in this operation – both friend and foe – fought a gut-wrenching battle. The 24th Division, the Korean War’s most veteran American Division, not only achieved its objectives, but did so with magnificence. The Allies ended up driving the Chinese some 10 miles from their winter line, captured the enemy’s fortifications, and destroyed Kumsong, along with its rail/supply capabilities. It was a resounding victory.

 Yes, the Korean War may still be unfinished. But, even after their WWII patriotism and idealism was mashed into the ground forever, American soldiers successfully fended off Communist aggression on that blood-soaked peninsula!

© Merry M Helm



[1] Private Al Moore in interview with author, 2006.

[2] Operation Nomad-Polar: 1,752 casualties 13 to 22 Oct 1951.  Heartbreak Ridge: 3,745 casualties sustained between 13 Sep to 15 Oct 1951.  Bloody Ridge: 2, 772 casualties from 18 Aug to 5 Sep 1951.  Operation Commando: 2,643 casualties, 3 to 9 Oct 1951.  Taken from A Chronology of the Forgotten War's remembered battles. www.vfw.org.  As published in APG News.  Aberdeen Proving Ground.  30 October 2003; p 5. Three American Divisions, for which casualty records are available, carried out Operation Commando.  In contrast, casualties sustained by the Columbian Battalion and the two ROK Divisions during Operation Nomad are not readily available and are not factored into the daily casualty statistics noted above.

[3] Toland, John.  In Mortal Combat: Korea 1950-1953.  New York: William Morrow.  1991: pp 487-488


The Taro Leaf, Vol 62(4) Fall 2008, pg. 13-15.






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