During a time of severe post-World War II cutbacks and uncertainty for the Marine Corps, a new war began in the Far East, bringing the experience and fighting spirit of the Corps back into the fold. This forged a new legacy in the world’s expeditionary force-in-readiness.
In 1950, The Communist Army of North Korea swept into South Korea in an effort to unite the estranged nations as a single communist entity. In response, the United Nations landed at the Port of Pusan to help defend the weaker democratic nation. The 1st Marine Provisional Brigade, drawing from Marine forces worldwide, was soon raised to support the small force holding the perimeter around the Port of Pusan, the last free place in Korea.
In an effort to turn the tide, UN Supreme Commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur decided a surprise attack on the Port City of Inchon would put the odds back into the allies’ favor. Codenamed “Operation Chromite,” an amphibious assault and a breakout from the Pusan Perimeter had the potential of landing a one-two punch that would cut the communist’s already stretched supply lines and throw the proverbial “stick in the wheel” of their relentless advance.
“There were only 70,000 Marines at the time,” said Richard Olson, a veteran of the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade at the Pusan Perimeter. “MacArthur wanted a whole division, but that was funny because Camp Pendleton didn’t even have a full battalion.”
Various Army units had been hastily trained in amphibious warfare to conduct the assault, but they were getting called back to the perimeter at Pusan due to manpower shortages. Finally, it was elements of the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade at Pusan that got the job. MacArthur needed a professionally trained amphibious force that could undertake the task head-on, and the Marines were there to answer the call.
Inchon was lightly garrisoned by North Korean forces, but the biggest challenges posed were natural to the harbor itself. The channel was narrow and long, the current strong, tides had a 32-foot-range and a 10-foot seawall rounded the harbor. Not to mention it was on the northwestern coast of South Korea across the country from Pusan on the southeastern coast of the peninsula.
In the face of all that stood before them, at 6:30 a.m. on Sept. 15, 1950, the Marines of Battalion Landing Team 3 landed on Green Beach at Wolmi-do Island, supported by nine tanks from 1st Marine Division. After landing, the Marines held the causeway to the mainland, where Inchon was located.
Later that day at 5:30 p.m., when the tides returned to a passable level, Marines of Regimental Combat Team 5 launched their assault on Red Beach, filing over the seawall with bamboo ladders. They covered the advance of Marines on Green Beach across the exposed causeway. It was in this landing that a legendary image of the Korean War came to be, as 1st Lt. Baldomero Lopez led the way over the seawall. Marines pushed into the city, fighting door to door in the city’s streets.
As the battle was unfolding, elements of 1st Marine Regiment, led by Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, landed far to the south of Green Beach at Blue Beach. Facing little resistance upon landing, Puller’s men quickly reconsolidated with the landing forces, and staged for the push toward the ultimate objective: the South Korean capital city
“We cut in behind the North Koreans, crossed the country and closed their resupply lines to North Korea,” said Wiedhahn. “Inchon definitely turned the tables.”
With the Marines taking Inchon, and the Army breaking out of the Pusan Perimeter, the North Koreans were effectively cut-off and forced into retreat. Operation Chromite was a great upset to the communists, but the war had only just begun.