UDT Operations in Korea: Hungnam

(reprinted from the Archives of the UDT/SEAL Museum's Fire in the Hole! publication - 1995)

Most of this material was originally compiled by Russ Eoff with assistance from Bill Tobin and John Kelly. The events they write about came from memory, a log and letters written home at the time. This operation was conducted off Hungnam.

5 November, 1950 - At last! Goodbye to Wonsan, en route to Hungnam, arriving 6 November.

We, or the minesweepers, must be getting better. Mines are no big deal here after all. At least not yet.

14 November - not big deal here in Hungnam. Oh, no, back to Wonsan - arriving 20 November, but quiet times! Underway for Yokosuka. Goodbye, Wonsan.

December, 1950 - enjoying Yokosuka. Very quietly a 10-man detachment boards Begor (APD-127), headed for Hungnam. This port is supporting the enemy too nicely, so we best slow them down.

On 24 December the docks, cranes, and associated areas were loaded with explosives and blown up, just ahead of the Chinese Communists coming over the hill.

The blast surely slowed them down for a while! UDT does it again.

Back to Yokosuka where the rest of the guys were keeping the beer cold, and the holiday cheer hot! 1950 is coming to a close, thank God! A tough six months, but UDT came through to write another successful chapter in Underwater Demolition Team operations.

Happy New Year, 1951. Sayonara, 1950.

Why Hungnam?

The North Korean People's Army invaded South Korea, June, 1950 and quickly occupied most of the peninsula except for the Pusan perimeter. United Nations forces countered with the amphibious landing at Inchon but military and political blunders prevented isolation and destruction of the NKPA.

A decision was eventually made to pursue the NKPA pushing them to the Chinese border. China, feeling threatened, then attacked the extended UN troops forcing a headlong retreat by some units, while other units, with Navy and Marine air support, made a "fighting withdrawal."

Hungnam, a port city on the northeast Korean coast, became a major evacuation site for the retreating forces. Over 100,000 troops, almost as many civilians, and tons of cargo were taken out by the U. S. Navy before Underwater Demolition Teams destroyed the port facilities leaving nothing behind for the attacking Chinese Communist Forces.

Hungnam - another perspective

Another perspective of the Hungnam operation is presented from the experiences of Royal Vanatta. Excerpts from his letter, sent to the SEAL Museum several years ago, are printed below.

...I have never forgotten that day. I can still hear the explosion going off and the big gun projectiles whistling over my head.

I was very elated to be selected to go on the mission. After we had been briefed and the plans laid out we became poker-faced and eager to get the party started. There were a few chill bumps all over me.

The weather was extremely cold, freezing and miserable. The water was muddy and dirty. The rise and fall of the tide is one of the highest in the world. We had to work fast and be damn cautious.

There was a train loaded with heavy ammunition and we were told not to blow it for fear it might hit some of the ships in the harbor. It blew up anyway, but none of us took credit for doing it. Ha! Ha! We got our hinders chewed out but the Admiral got the chewers off our case.

It was really a weird feeling working with all those big guns from the Missouri (BB 63), cruisers, rocket ships, etc. firing projectiles over my head from the harbor and the Army firing on the land side. I think all of us prayed silently as we worked.

When the explosion went off it was exciting, satisfying and a proud feeling. We didn't leave the Red Commies a damn thing but toothpicks and more than likely we got a bunch of them.

One of the best feelings was when I climbed back aboard the "Grey Ghost" (the Begor). Since that day fireworks displays have been ruined for me.

Fire in the hole! from an old Boatswain's Mate and Frog.

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