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Yalu River and Deception tactics

92 – Chinese deception tactics and US self deception on the Yalu River – 1950

Who was deceiving who in the Winter of 1950?  We look at Chinese deception tactics, self-deception and the Magruder principle on the Yalu River.

These are the show notes for our episode looking at Chinese deception tactics in the Korean War, please listen to the podcast episode for the whole story on your favourite podcast plater.

To Surprise is to Conquer.  Marshall Suvorov.

This episode looks at how the US was surprised twice, firstly by the DPRK invading South Korea and how the Chinese deception tactics surprised the US on the Yalu River.

Weaving a tangled web.  (This is an excellent resource).
FM 3-13 Army support to Military Deception
ATP 7-100.3 Chinese Tactics US Army analysis of likely PLA tactics
Stratagem – Deception and Surprise in War, Barton Whaley

Stunning intelligence failures, the rigidity of mind and excellent Chinese tactical camouflage led to a stunning reversal of fortunes for the UN forces in late 1950 on the Yalu River.

Korean War battle map
North Korean forces had forced UN Forces back into a pocket around Pusan. MacArthur conducts an amphibious assault at Inchon, threatening DPRK supply lines, and forcing a withdrawal.

On the 27th of September, 2 days after the Inchon landing, the NSC sent Memorandum 81/1, reminding McArthur that operations north of the 38th Parallel were only authorised if there was no risk of Chinese intervention.

The UN forces crossed the 38th Parallel on the 1st of October.

Yalu River Battle Map
With ROK forces in the East and UN forces in the West, the Allies moved north towards the Yalu River, the border with China.

Mao wrote in 1938 in On a Protracted War, “These two things, creating illusions for the enemy and springing surprise attacks on him – are used to make the enemy face the uncertainties of war while securing for ourselves the greatest possible certainty of gaining superiority, initiative, and victory.” This is an excellent description of what was driving Chinese deception tactics in 1950.

By the time the UN forces reach the Yalu River, the Chinese had 24 out of 39 in position, waiting to cross the Yalu. 

Marshall Peng took command of the Chinese People’s Volunteers, a ruse to give plausible deniability that China was not intervening in the war.  Marshall Peng was one of the most experienced commanders in the PLA.  In his ‘Memoirs of a Chinese Marshall’, he wrote,

“The US occupation of Korea, separated from China by only a river, would threaten Northeast China. Its control of Taiwan posed a threat to Shanghai and East China. The US could find a pretext at any time to launch a war of aggression against China. The tiger wanted to eat human beings; when it would do so would depend on its appetite. No concession could stop it. If the US wanted to invade China, we had to resist its aggression. Without going to a test of strength with US imperialism to see who was stronger, it would be difficult to build socialism. If the US was bent on war against China, it would want a war of quick decision, while we would wage a protracted war, it would fight regular warfare, and we would employ the kind of warfare we had used against the Japanese invaders.”

Willoughby, MacArthur’s Intelligence Officer filtered out the tactical intelligence of the build-up of Chinese troops, including interviews with captured Chinese prisoners who spoke about the intentions of the CPV to intervene in against the UN forces.

SLA Marshall wrote in the River and the Gauntlet,

‘In the hour of its defeat, the Eighth Army was a wholly modern force technologically, sprung from a nation which prides itself on being as well informed as any of the world’s people. The Chinese Communist Army was a peasant body composed in the main of illiterates. Much of its means for getting the word around was highly primitive. In recent centuries, its people had displayed no great skill and less hardihood in war. But they matured their battle plan and become the victors on the field of Chongchon because they had a decisive superiority in information.’

This information superiority is the key to the success of the CPV intervention.  It resonates with the changes in reversal of information superiority that occurred during Operation Bertram at 2nd El Alamein where Rommel lost his key information source from a spy in Cairo as Montgomery received Ultra decryptions.

MacArthur, interestingly, never spent a night in Korea – one can’t help but think that this lead to his very poor situational awareness.

Largest single vessel NEO (Non-combatant evacuation operation)

The SS Meredith Victory conducted an evacuation with 14,000  civilians on board.      The ship was designed to carry just 12 passengers.  Over 100 000 troops required evacuation, many streaming south from the Chosin Reservoir.  Civilians flocked to the port of Hungnam for the opportunity to be evacuated.  The ship is credited with the  largest single vessel non-combatant evacuation operation.  Five babies were born during the passage of the SS Meredith Victory.  This operation was conducted during the bitterly cold Korean winter and civilians were packed like sardines within the cargo holds and on the deck, many with just standing room.  

The Captain, Leonard LaRue wrote later of the evacuation, 

‘I think often of that voyage. I think of how such a small vessel was able to hold so many persons and surmount endless perils without harm to a soul. And, as I think, the clear, unmistakable message comes to me that on that Christmastide, in the bleak and bitter waters off the shores of Korea, God’s own hand was at the helm of my ship.’

We discuss all of these and more.

A fascinating look at Chinese military deception and American intelligence failings.

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93 – Chinese Deception Operations on the Yalu River, 1950



93 - Chinese Deception Operations on the Yalu River, 1950 | The Principles of War Podcast January 4, 2023 at 5:36 pm

[…] by adminJanuary 4, 2023January 4, 202301 Share << Previous Episode […]

Architect Angel Joseph (lito) Mallonga May 18, 2023 at 11:31 pm

Well nothing has been said about what really happened to the Philippines soldiers during the Korean War . While all the Allied Forces retreated at the 38 Parallel Line the Philippines Contingent stayed .
With the move they did we don’t have South Korea by now. It’s been told to my own late Uncle General Reynaldo Mendoza who at that time a Captain and with the late General Fidel Ramos who just a graduated from West Point of USA .
They belong to the Nenita Unit of the Arm Forces of the Philippines .

SIMON Davidson May 28, 2024 at 9:11 pm

Insightful post which I enjoy reading.


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