On July 5, 1950 the first engagement between United States forces and the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) occurred near the city of Osan south of Seoul Korea.
400 infantry men of Task Force Smith, supported by an artillery battery, were ordered to fight a rearguard action to delay the advancing KPA while additional U.S. troops arrived in Korea to form a defensive line to the south.
Equipped only with a few 105 mm Howitzers, 2.36-in. rocket launchers and 57 mm recoilless rifles, Task Force Smith lacked effective weapons against the T-34 Soviet tanks of the KPA.
At 0816 the first American artillery fire of the Korean War hurtled through the air toward the North Korean tanks. The number two howitzer fired the first two rounds, and the other pieces then joined in the firing. The artillery took the tanks under fire at a range of approximately 4,000 yards, about 2,000 yards in front of the American infantry. The forward observer quickly adjusted the fire and shells began landing among the tanks. But the watching infantrymen saw the tanks keep on coming, undeterred by the exploding artillery shells.
When the enemy tank column approached within 700 yards of the infantry position, the two recoilless rifles took it under fire. They scored direct hits, but apparently did not damage the tanks … a bazooka from the ditch along the east side of the road fired twenty-two rockets at approximately fifteen yards’ range against the rear of the tanks where their armor was weakest. Whether they were effective is doubtful. The two lead tanks, however, were stopped just through the pass when they came under direct fire of the single 105-mm. howitzer using HEAT ammunition….
The two damaged tanks pulled off to the side of the road, clearing the way for those following. One of the two caught fire and burned. Two men emerged from its turret with their hands up. A third jumped out with a burp gun in his hands and fired directly into a machine gun position, killing the assistant gunner. This unidentified machine gunner probably was the first American ground soldier killed in action in Korea. American fire killed the three North Koreans. The six rounds of HEAT ammunition at the forward gun were soon expended, leaving only the HE shells which ricocheted off the tanks. The third tank through the pass knocked out the forward gun and wounded one of its crew members.
The tanks did not stop to engage the infantry; they merely fired on them as they came through. Following the first group of 8 tanks came others at short intervals, usually in groups of 4. These, too, went unhesitatingly through the infantry position and on down the road toward the artillery position. In all, there were 33 tanks in the column. The last passed through the infantry position by 0900, about an hour after the lead tanks had reached the saddle. In this hour, tank fire had killed or wounded approximately twenty men in Smith’s position.
After the KPA tank column overran Task Force Smith, the Task Force opened fire on ~ 5,000 North Korean infantry approaching its position, temporarily stopping their advance. The KPA, however, eventually overwhelmed the American positions and forced Task Force Smith into a disorderly retreat.
|Task Force Smith Casualties and losses
1 howitzer destroyed
5 howitzers disabled
1 tank destroyed
3 tanks disabled