ES: ...it was like being in (unintelligible]...
INT: This is tape 10478, 3rd of February 1997, continuation of interview with Brigadier General Ed Simmons. General Simmons, could I ask you just to.. tell us what was the impact of the Chinese assault on you and your unit?
ES: Well, at the time I was the Weapons Company Commander in the 3rd Battalion 1st Regiment and as such I was the supporting arms coordinator, that meant I coordinated the air and the artillery external weapons as well as our own weapons and we had moved up to [Haga-Ru-Ree] which was at the foot of the Cho-Sen or Chongjin reservoir and one of the things that we had to do was cover the construction of an airstrip which was very important and this was to be a corps of CP -- tenth corps was going to move up to Haga-Ru-Ree to continue this attack to the Yalu which of course did not eventuate. So we had to defend this perimeter, lengthy perimeter, with two-thirds of the battalion plus some service troops. Um, 26th of November we were attacked at night by the equivalent of a Chinese division. They came against East Hill which was the dominant terrain feature and which we held very lightly. they came against the airstrip, they got on the airstrip. I ask you to imagine a situation where the temperature is 25 below zero nothing is working as well as it should. Weapons have difficulty firing in that kind of a temperature. Our radios were unreliable. The batteries would freeze. a lot of Chinese out there, but I don't wanna perpetuate the myth of waves of Chinese. The Chinese didn't attack in waves. One of the reinforcements for that are some phoney propaganda films that the Chinese circulated which you probably have seen, of the waves of Chinese. They didn't really attack that way, but there were a lot of them and they died in large numbers and we had considerable casualties ourselves. It was essential that we hold this position until our other 2 regiments could fall back on us and then we could face about and fight our way back to [Hamhung]. I can tell you many stories about Haga-Ru-Ree but they would wind up on the cutting-room floor anyway (laugh) so we'll skip that! There was an army task force out to our right front, Task Force Faith - some 3,000 soldiers who were almost utterly destroyed. The remnant of that command fell back on us at Haga-Ru-Ree and out of some 3,000 soldiers there were only some 300.. 350 were still combat-effective. A column had been set up from [Kota-Ree] to reinforce us. It was a put-together reinforcement made up of the 41 Commando.. Royal Marine Commando 2 companies of soldiers, a rifle company from our battalion, a platoon from my company, group from the 1st Marine Division, 2 platoons of tanks. Some thousand men more or less. They had 11 miles to come from Kota-Ree and they got caught in oambush after another. Colonel.. Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Drysdale of the Royal Marines was the commanding officer of this little task force and mind you, he was asked to take command of this mixed force who had not even seen each other until that day, and to attack up through this 11 mile corridor to reach us. The column was cut repeatedly, casualties were very high. we were at the receiving end. It was sort of interesting that troops came.. showed their national character as they came through. first thing we heard were these voices out there saying "don't shoot Yank, don't shoot Yank, coming through, coming through" and the Royal Marines would come through as individuals. About.. they lost about a third of the commando. And then our tanks came lumbering through and one of our tanks, marine tanks, squashed one of my jeeps at a road block and my anti-tank gunners, regardless of nationality, are the natural enemies of tanks and so they said 'the next tank that comes through, we're gonna slip it a rocket'. Then our rifle company came through as a company in good shape. One of my marines, I was not with him, I left a platoon back.. one of my marines, William Baugh, who was a rocket gunner in my anti-tank assault platoon, was in the back of a truck. The Chinese threw a grenade into the truck and Baugh threw himself on the grenade and was killed. He received the Medal of Honour for that
INTERRUPTION - NOISE
INT: Sorry, if we could just carry on.
ES: See if I can pick up that thought at the beginning of it there....
INT: Well, I wonder if I could just come at that from a slightly different angle...
ES: Yes, uh-huh....
INT: ...to ask you: did you have respect for the Chinese soldiers there at this time, their ability to move, their equipment...
ES: (overlap) I think we felt.... OK, I got it. To finish up on the.. other thought. I remember my runner -- Cecil Sanders was his name, Baby Sam we call 'im -- good runner, best machine-gunner I had, he had it all figured out. When the 5th and 7th Marines got back to Haga-Ru-Ree we would hold it until Spring and then we would attack in the springtime. That was the kind of morale that we had at that time. The Chinese, I think if anything we felt sorry for them. They did not have the equipment that we had, they did not have the uniforms that we had. Ours were poor enough. We were not really prepared for an Arctic winter. At least we had tents and we had warming stoves and we could rotate our men through the tents and thawed out a bit from time to time and we had Parkas and we had shoe packs which were rather miserable hunting boot not intended for Arctic warfare but we had gloves and so forth. The Chinese had cotton padded uniforms which were adequate as far as the torso was concerned, but they were wearing canvas shoes, they had no gloves for the most part, their hands froze, their feet froze, we took a lot of prisoners. Their feet.. faces would be just blocks of blue ice criss-crossed with.. where the skin would break, ice would form and so forth and so on. When we left Haga-Ru-Ree, we were the rear guard out of Haga-Ru-Ree and we were fighting in this little town, the Chinese coming in one end, we're going out the other end. Other little anecdote that'll wind up on the cutting-room floor - my jeep was parked on this bridge over this little stream. We were supposed to have gotten out of the town at sundown and of course we didn't. It was about midnight and we still couldn't get out of the town and I saw a line of Chinese coming down this frozen stream on the ice toward us, so I took the heavy machine gun off of my jeep and there already were holes there that.. to defend the bridge, dropped into the hole, set up our heavy machine gun, my runner who as I said was a very good machine gunner, my driver, another good man, and we start engaging this column of troops who are coming toward us. Two Royal Marines dropped into the hole with us. About that time, I thought that I as a major oughta be doing something other than firing machine gun so I said "do you know this gun?" and they looked up dubiously and I said "just like the Vickers, you pull this and you lift this. Lots of luck." So then we left them with the machine gun. in the town, there was a house, a compound, with a wall around it where we had held wounded Chinese prisoners and we tried to tell them "you stay here. Your people in the hills, they come down, they take care of you." Well, those prisoners were petrified. The village is on fire, they kept trying to come out of the house my marines would finally start shooting at their feet. They didn't shoot them, they would shoot at the feet, "get back, get back, get back", trying to get them to stay in the house where they might possibly get some help later on. Later on, when we were going between Kota-Ree and the top of the pass, and again we were the rear guard, about 30 Chinese prisoners attached themselves to me. The Marines, their gallows type humour had said, "Him Number One Honcho. You follow him" and so I had these 30 miserable, frozen Chinese following me wherever I went and they followed me all the way out. many of them had been Chinese Nationalists and they had been taken over by the Communists the year before. They had fought well when they were pushed but once they were captured there was no fight in them. They were only too willing to be prisoners and of course that was demonstrated later when it came time for the prisoner repatriation and the Chinese didn't wanna go back home and the North Koreans didn't wanna go back home.
INT: Could we move forward to the withdrawal from Hungnam. Could you describe for me the.. process of the withdrawal and the scene as you left Hungnam?
ES: Well, we came down off the plateau, down through [Fuinchlin] Pass, took a foot of the pass Chin-Yong-Ni and then to a place Su-Dom-Ni and we were in column and I remember Colonel Puller was at the side of the road and he saw me and he said "got any bullets left Simmons?". I said "I have a few." He said "well, we're held up down here a little bit. See if you can't take it out." And so there was a little last fight there at Su-Dom-Ni and then we got aboard these trucks and went into Hongnam and a tent camp had been set up there for us and it was like moving into Miami, the temperature differential was so great from the 25 below zero that we had experienced up in the mountains, this was quite temperate, maybe 40 or 50 degrees.. 40 degrees let's say, and so we spent the next few days getting straightened out, our stragglers catching up with us we'd left marines along the way and they rejoined us. We got ready to embark and the plan was that the Marines would leave first and the 7th Division, which had not been involved in this mfighting, and part of the 3rd Division would cover our withdrawal. The Chinese occupied the hills overlooking Hongnam but didn't try to keep us from leaving. there are those who say that Chinese military philosopher Sung-Su spoke of the golden bridge, that you always allowed the enemy a route of escape, and maybe that came into bearing at Hongnam, I don't know, because we not only evacuated virtually all the 10th Corps - there were a couple of other ports of evacuation but primarily Hungnam - but some 100,000 North Korean civilians came out as well and we were gone by that time. We, as I say, we were amongst the first to leave. The last to leave were the end of December, the 1st of September.. 1st of January when they blew up the dock facilities and that was the end of Hungnam. Now there are those who say that we should've held on to Wansan which was to the south and that we could've done that, but instead of that we went all the way down to Pusan and in the case of the Marines, we went into so-called bean patch at Maysan, Christmas time, and oh, I suppose that there would've been 15,000 Marines who were really up at the reservoir and the fight and I suppose that we had had four or five thousand casualties of all sorts and nearly everybody else was frost-bitten to some degree and now that the nervous tension was released, everyone got sick with respitory [sic] diseases, you know, bronchitis and so forth, and that was in the early days of antibiotics and [Aramiacin] was the big antibiotic and the capsule was about the size of your thumb and we're all busy taking these Aramiacin capsules at Christmas time.