FROGMEN IN KOREA:
BY U.S. NAVAL FROGMEN
THESE ARE THE WHITE HATS OF THE SQUAD - THE ONLY SQUAD MEMBERS
MISSING ARE CHIEF LEWIS AND LT. ATCHESON.
(TOP ROW –L TO R) LEDBETTER, NELSON, ADAMS
(BOTTOM ROW-L TO R) AUSTIN, FOLEY, McCORMICK, CARRICO, JOHNSON, AKINSON
THE SQUAD HAD JUST BEEN ORIENTATED IN THE USE OF SUB THOMPSONS. APPROXIMATELY 8 HOURS AFTER THIS PHOTO WAS TAKEN THE RAID TOOK PLACE.
During the Korean Police Action THE BIG TEN was a name well known in the U. S. Naval amphibian and submarine service. Although they’re individual names were not known, the sailors in that part of the world (Korea and Japan) became well aware of their exploits.
In reality THE BIG TEN were members of Naval Underwater Demolition Team 3 (Frogmen). These men had been sent to Japan from their base in Coronado, California in spring of 1950. Their job was to reconnoiter and sound out certain beaches on the main Japanese Island of Honshu.
The brass had begun hearing rumblings out of North Korea. Then, seeing the fat around the bellies of the U.S. occupation forces in the area decided to hold giant amphibious maneuvers. These maneuvers were scheduled to toughen up the occupation forces in Japan and Korea – in preparation for trouble that seemed to be brewing in North Korea with the communists.
Sounding out the beaches to be used in those maneuvers was the reason this ten-man detachment was sent to the Far East. Fast women and hot sake was the reason they kept missing passage back to the States. The unit missed one passage too many however, because the communist jumped off on June 25, 1950. This ten-man detachment of UDT was the only Underwater Demolition personnel in the Far East at that time.
Communist troops began pouring down the Korean peninsula. Using Russian made T-34 tanks, they ran roughshod over the sparse U.S. occupation forces and the ill equipped ROK’s. At this point MacArthur became desperate to slow the communist advance until he could regroup and get reinforcements to the area.
That UDT detachment just happened to be in the right place at the right time, no matter that their training had been only to the high water mark or that they had no training what-so-ever in commando tactics. They were “blow” boys, they knew explosives – and that’s what was needed to take out the supply lines that were feeding the communist advance.
THE BIG TEN had been housed at camp Chigasaki just south of Yokohama. The camp was home for the 71st heavy tank battalion (1st cavalry troopers mounted on steel horses). These Frogmen were a mixed group. They hailed from the northeast and the Deep South. There was California beach-boys, mid westerners and even a representative of the Big Thicket from East Texas. Some 40 days after the communist jumped off, August 4th, 1950, the detachment got the word –“saddle up”… Early on the 4th, the outfit left camp Chigasaki on a big army truck, carrying only their war-bags.
On arrival at a Tokyo airbase, they boarded a Navy PBY amphibian and took off. At this time the rank and file still did not know the scoop – only that we were headed for Korea… A couple of hours in the belly of a PBY, according to rational men everywhere will satisfy your need for flying for a lifetime
We landed in the port of Sasebo on the southern island of Kyushu, just across the Sea of Japan from Korea. As we floated to a stop, a LCPR boat, which had been waiting for us, moved alongside. As the last man came aboard, the coxswain dug flank speed and we flashed across the bay to the APD, USS Diachinko. The little ship was hauling anchor as we climbed aboard.
Above: Squad being ferried from PBY to USS Diachinko
(L to R) Diachinko Officer, LT Atcheson, Austin, Adams, Foley, McCormick, Akinson
As we stepped on deck, a grinning boatswain mate, who was stripped to the waist and sporting tattoos that would make an old China Hand blush, shoved a Sub Thompson Machine Gun into each of our hands. We looked at each other and frowned, none of us had ever seen one before. The rest of the afternoon, as the Diachinko drove at 28 knots across a glass like sea, we learned all there was to know about a Sub Thompson. Our friend, the boatswain mate, threw inflatables off the bow and as they swept by, we fired thousands of rounds from the fantail
With darkness our target practice ended and we were advised to take a nap – as it was going to be a long night (Have you ever tried to sleep in an APD doing 28 knots)? About 9pm, we were roused and escorted to the officer’s mess. Now think about that – for 9 white hats to enter officer country, the event had to be earth shaking. It was….
Once seated and being careful not to brake wind or belch (you’ve gotta act house broke in officer country), we stared at each other as our UDT officer spread charts, maps and photos on the table. Once we found that we were only going on a little demolition run – we relaxed. The idea was, from using aural photos of this railroad tunnel, located some 48 miles north of the 38th parallel, to plan the amount of powder and the approach. A piecesa cake!!!!!
We were soon back in our quarters trying to sleep as the little ship ran on through the night. At 1 am we were rudely aroused. Our ETA off the objective was in 1 hour and we had several things to do – like getting our eyes night-ready, applying face paint, seeing to our gear, etc…
The menacing outline of the Korean shoreline loomed off our starboard quarter as the ship eased to a stop. The boatswain and his white hats were expertly dropping a LCPR into the water from a swinging boom. Underwater mufflers had been attached to the boat and we could see that 30 caliber machine guns had been inserted in the turrets on each side of the cockpit. The ship’s crew tossed our 10-man rubber boat over the side and attached it to the boat. However, loading the 60 pound packs of TNT was our baby – like the old boatswain said, “anyone who handles that stuff must be an old “China Hand”, (crazy)!
Our old friend, the boatswain, who chauffeured the LCPR and two gunner mates to handle the 30 caliber’s were the only ship’s company who took this ride… About a mile off shore our Lt. tapped the boatswain and he pulled up. As we straddled the gunwales of the rubber boat and started paddling toward the darkened shore – Ole Boats threw us a kiss and whispered, “Break a leg”. Then he pulled the boat hard starboard and began the first of half mile circles that he would run while waiting for us…We negotiated the breaker line without flipping the boat, then held up in the white water a hundred yards off shore. The Lt. and Peekskill, the closes thing we had to an old China Hand, would swim the rest of the way, do some sneaking and peeking, then signal the boat in at a point where it would have some cover.
After what seemed like hours of straining and cussing, trying to hold the boat in place, we finally saw Peekskill swimming out to us – he signaled, and we followed him on in. The railroad, at this point, was built on a ledge, which had been carved from the side of the mountain. The track entered a tunnel right where we landed and this tunnel was our target. Immediately, as we pulled the boat on the beach and took cover, we saw a problem. The tunnel was directly in front of us, but on a ledge 30 feet above our heads, with no access that we could see. Peekskill told us the Lt. had gone down the narrow strip of beach to try and find an access to the ledge and that we were to sit tight. Then he took off after the Lt. after a couple of minutes we began to hear someone move around on the ledge. We were fingering the unfamiliar Thompsons – but not having a target, we just set tight, hoping no one pitched a grenade down from the ledge.
Suddenly a muffled blast went off (we found out later the blast came from a grenade which the Lt. had tossed into the tunnel). Then all hell broke loose as automatic fire began spraying out of the tunnel mouth. Being out of the line of fire, we were almost like casual observers. However, the screams of pain, shouts and curses were all in Korean and coming from the tunnel mouth just 60 or 70 feet from where we huddled.
Suddenly the sound of running feet came from down the track and a voice began to shout in English, “Hang in there Lt., I’m coming”. We could only see the silhouette, but recognized Peekskill’s voice as he charged the tunnel. He was screaming like a banshee and firing the Thompson from the hip as he closed with the invisible communists. (He had just gained the ledge as the grenade went off and figured the NK’s were killing the Lt.).
As we moved away from our cover and began firing into the tunnel mouth, a round hit Peekskill and he went down. As we continued to fire, Peekskill rolled to the edge and took another round as he went over the edge. We heard him hit 20 yards down the beach from us, then roll to the water’s edge where he was still. We continued to fire an occasional burst although all was quite from the tunnel mouth. A couple of minutes later some of us had started crawling down the beach to see about Peekskill when Limey whispered, “freeze, someone is moving up there”. As we looked up a figure moved right to the edge. Limey, thinking we were about to get a grenade on top of us, pulled the trigger on his Thompson. The man’s hat flew off, he jumped back and started cussing in English, “You idiots hold your fire, it’s me”, shouted the Lt. as he grabbed up his hat, hung over the cliff and dropped into our midst.
Once we regrouped, found that Peekskill was only shot up a little and got him to the rubber boat – we figured it was time to go. Surely every NK within miles around would be on the way. After piling Peekskill atop the TNT bags – we started stroking for the breaker line…. We met the LCPR a lot sooner than we expected – and as we tied the rubber boat back alongside, the old boatswain, with tears streaming down his face, was trying to plant wet kisses on each of us. According to the two gunner mates, he had to be physically restrained from running the LCPR onto the beach in a rescue attempt when he heard all the gunfire.
This raid, some 40 days after the shooting started, had the following results: First, the pattern for all future ops was set by this raid and Frogmen activities in Korea followed this pattern for many raids. Second, Warren Foley (Peekskill), did a “John Wayne” which may have been a little stupid – but was the bravest thing this old Frog ever saw. Finally, the legend of “THE BIG TEN” was born. To add to the legend they went on to complete a number of other ops before any help arrived. These raids helped provide a needed assist toward retaining an American presence on the Korean peninsula until MacArthur’s counterattack at Inchon on September 15, 1950…
Morning after the raid steaming back toward Japan
(top L to R) Leadbetter, Member of ship’s company, Adams, Akinson, Johnson, Nelson, Carrico (Kneeling L to R) McCormick, Austin, Lt. Atcheson. Foley is on Coast Guard flying boat on the way to hospital (notice frayed bib on Lt. Atcheson’s cap).
I have often wondered how this story would differ if each of the ten men on the raid told his story from his own perspective. Each man was in a slightly different location and where each man was located would give a slightly different perspective. From my location, I never saw the communist, I could hear them – even smell them, but I never saw them.
Lt. Atcheson is the only other member of the squad, as far as I know, who has put the story in writing. His location was quite different because he was up on the ledge. I believe he is the only one who actually saw the communist. Warren Foley, the Frog who charged the tunnel, to my knowledge, did not actually see them. However, they sure as hell saw him.
This mission failed primarily because the Commie patrol just happened up at the same time we did. In spite of its failure, the raid proved valuable and was used as a pattern many times on later ops.
Team 1 was the first full Team to arrive in the war zone, they joined us and we pulled many ops with them – when our own Team 3 relieved Team 1, we stayed on through two straight tours.
Coincidentally, “Peekskill” Warren Foley (later, they called him “Fins”), who was shot off the cliff, has the dubious destination of being the first Naval combat causality of the Korean War – he received the Silver Star for his actions that night.
The ten men who made this raid was never debriefed individually and as a result I never found out what Lt. Atcheson saw on the ledge until years later when I read his brief. I’m presently in contact with Lt. Atcheson and we correspond frequently. Three members of the squad are now deceased and the others I have no knowledge of.
People have asked, “Where did the nickname “The Big Ten” come from? The Marine MPs in Yokosuka gave us that moniker – Yokosuka is the Japanese port where we always return to after a series of raids (then on to Camp Mcgill where we were quartered). The MPs, trying to hold rein on us would say things like, “You Big Ten dudes think you’re hot stuff”. Anyway the nickname stuck.
Many Frogs concur – in the belief that this raid and the ones that followed, was the first step in the evolution of today’s SEALS.
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