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Captain James R. McClymont's M19 and M16 self-propelled antiaircraft guns almost succeeded in rescuing Task Force Faith from a Chinese encirclement.

An Antiaircraft Artillery Commander Leads His
Battery Out of a Death Trap
by Captain John Labadini

Captain James R. McClymont commander of D Battery, 15th Antiaircraft Artillery, Automatic Weapons Battalion (AAA AW), Self-propelled (SP), was awarded the Silver Star for his heroic actions east of the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War from 26 November 1950 to 2 December 1950. Captain McClymont’s "lead by example" leadership style and personal courage were contributing factors to D Battery's magnificent performance during some of the most savage fighting in the history of warfare. Caught off guard by Chinese forces that unexpectedly entered the war in overwhelming numbers, McClymont's antiaircraft artillerymen maintained unit cohesion when things looked hopeless and fought their way out of a death trap from which there seemed no escape.

Captain McClymont’s D battery became part of the 7th Infantry Division’s 31st Regimental Combat Team (RCT) on 24 November. His mission was to provide automatic antiaircraft fires to support the 31st RCT attack along the Chosin Reservoir. D Battery’s primary role was ground support to the 31st RCT. The battery's M19 Dual 40mmGun Carriage and M16 Quad 50 half-track, with their high volumes of fire and extended ranges, would prove to be invaluable to the 31st RCT.

The 31st RCT, a force of 3,000 men, was hastily assembled on 24 November 1950 and assigned to protect the eastern flank of the 1st Marine Division. The 1st Marine Division's mission was to conduct the main-effort attack north along the Chosin Reservoir to drive the remaining communist forces beyond theYalu River and unify the Korean peninsula.

The 31st Regimental Combat Team's mission was to protect the eastern flank of the 1st Marine Division as it attacked north along the Chosin Reservoir.

(Click on map to view enlargement.)

The 31st RCT had only two days to plan their mission and task organize their forces while traveling to their assembly areas. The time constraints imposed on the 31st RCT would be the first of many setbacks that occur during the battle east of Chosin. The majority of combat units that comprised the 31st RCT had to assemble while enroute to their assembly areas and travel nearly 100 kilometers over snow-covered dirt roads while enduring subzero temperatures.

Captain McClymont’s D battery (-) was comprised of both the M19 40mm (Dual) Full-Track Gun Carriage and M16 Quad-50 half-track. The battery's M19s were operated by six-man crews. They had two mounted 40mm Bofors antiaircraft guns that could carry a basic load of 352 40mm shells and had a range of up to two miles. The primary role of the M19 was to engage propeller aircraft, but it was also designed to fire in a flat trajectory role to support infantry units. Five-man crews operated the battery's M16s, which were armed with four .50-caliber Browning M2HB machine guns. Each M16 half-track carried a basic load of 5,000 rounds and could sustain a rate of fire of 1,800 rounds per minute.

On 26 November 1950, prior to his arrival at the Chosin Reservoir assembly area, Captain McClymont ensured that each of his platoons carried a double basic load of both 40mm and .50 Caliber ammunition. He was one of the few officers in the 31st RCT who anticipated a major engagement with the enemy. On the evening of 27 November, Captain McClymont completed his linkup with his attached unit, the 57th Field Artillery Battalion. Upon arrival, Captain McClymont emplaced his weapon systems to strengthen the 57th Field Artillery perimeter. He personally ensured communications were established with each M16 and M19 weapon system and verified that each weapon system had clear fields of fire.

The 31st RCT had not received intelligence from 7th Infantry Division Headquarters that Chinese forces had already been committed to the Chosin Reservoir area. The X Corps Intelligence G-2 failed to act on reports that the divisional size Chinese forces were operating within the Chosin Reservoir area of operations. In fact, as the 31st RCT was assembling, two Chinese division-sized units were already operating within the 31st RCT proposed area of operations.

Shortly before dawn 28 November, Chinese soldiers from the 80th Division assaulted the 57th Field Artillery perimeter. Captain McClymont immediately ran to his closest M19 gun carriage and was able to identify large enemy troop concentrations attempting to overrun their perimeter. He then oriented the M19 gunner to the location and gave the order for the gunner to engage the target. A series of 40mm high-explosive shells slammed into the approaching column with devastating results. The entire Chinese column was annihilated, and the M19 and M16 antiaircraft weapons killed an estimated 200 Chinese soldiers.

Captain McClymont then received a call from his First Platoon command post that they were under attack. Captain McCylmont hastily assembled a group of soldiers and personally led a counterattack to rescue his trapped platoon command post.

While moving to his platoon’s position Captain McClymont’s group came under small-arms fire from a Chinese position. Using a bazooka, Captain McClymont attempted to neutralize the enemy, but missed on two attempts. He then decided to outflank their position. Once in place Captain McClymont--firing away with an M1 rifle--charged the bunker and knocked out the Chinese position.

Captain McCylmont’s group managed to rescue the survivors of his trapped platoon command post and regrouped for another attack that never materialized. Both Captain McClymont and his antiaircraft battery distinguished themselves during their first combat action of the Korean War. The devastating firepower of the M19s and M16s prevented the 57th Field Artillery from being wiped out. This would have been a catastrophe if the 31st RCT artillery support were destroyed prior to the start of their mission.

On the afternoon of 28 November, D battery and the 57th Field Artillery moved into the 3/31 Infantry battalion’s perimeter. The 3/31 Infantry command post and several company positions had been overrun by the Chinese the previous evening. Once again, on the night of 28 November, the Chinese launched a massive assault on the 3/31 Infantry perimeter. Only the sweeping fires of the M16s and M19s stopped the Chinese assaults.

The Chinese made specific attempts to locate and destroy the M19 and M16 weapons systems. The Chinese knew that if they could reduce the effectiveness of the antiaircraft weapons, they would be able to overrun the elements of the 31st RCT. After the second and third attack Captain McClymont’s M19s were in desperate need of resupply. An aerial resupply was ordered on 29 November; however, the ammunition was dropped in the wrong location.

The situation became desperate on the morning of 29 November when the 31st RCT commander was wounded and then presumed captured by Chinese forces. Lieutenant Don Faith, the 1/32 Infantry Battalion commander, assumed command of the 31st RCT, which was designated Task Force Faith. On 1 December, the task force's situation became critical. Task Force Faith had suffered severe casualties and had nearly exhausted all types of ammunition. Surrounded and with no communications with higher headquarters, Lieutenant Colonel Faith ordered a breakout.

Major Miller, the task force's S-3, recommended that Captain McClymont's M19s be placed at the front and rear of the convoy and his M16 interspersed within the truck convoy. The M19 would be used to suppress enemy positions and clear any obstacles along the route.

Captain McClymont’s biggest fear had come true, his M19s having never been resupplied during the last four days of bitter fighting, were almost out of ammunition and only had enough 40mm rounds for a few target of opportunity shots. Once the breakout began, Task Force started to fall apart almost immediately. The 30-vehicle truck convoy carrying over 300 wounded soldiers, stalled in the vicinity of Hill 1221, where the Chinese had set up a road block. Withering fire decimated the truck convoy.

At this time, all of McClymont's M19s and M16s had either run out of fuel or ammunition. Assisted by two of his sergeants, Captain McClymont led a group of soldiers from intermingled units up the slope of Hill 1221 to attack the Chinese positions that were delivering murderous fire upon the convoy. Charging up the slope of Hill 1221 Captain McCylmont blazed away with his Thompson submachine gun, taking out several Chinese positions, until he made it safely past the crest of the hill. He then led his group to the Marine positions at Hagaru-Ri.

Of the original 3,000 men of the 31st RCT, only 385 survivors reached the Marine outpost at Hagaru-Ri, where they formed a provisional infantry battalion. Their heroic struggle has been largely overshadowed by the 1st Marine Division's 'fighting retreat" from the Chosin Resevoir; however, Roy E. Appleman describes the 31st RCT's fight for survival and ultimate destruction in East Of Chosin, now a classic of the Korean War.

The combination of Captain McClymont's leadership and his crew’s gunnery proficiency saved many lives during the U.S. Army’s ill-fated mission venture east of Chosin Reservoir. The devastating firepower from McClymont’s antiaircraft weapons systems prevented the Chinese from overrunning the entire 31st RCT during fours days and five nights of combat. The breakout plan might have succeeded if McClymont’s battery had been resupplied with enough 40mm and 50 Caliber ammunition. The M19s and M16s half-tracks could have effectively suppressed the Chinese roadblock at Hill 1221 and allowed Task Force Faith and the truck convoy to continue along the breakout route to Hagaru-Ri. Captain McClymont’s performance during the combat actions east of the Chosin reservoir shows the versatility of past and current Air Defense Artillery units and the impact air defense has made in combined arms operations over the years.

Major (Ret) McClymont now 80 years old, currently resides in Washington State. McClymont will be a special guest of honor at the Officer Education System Dinning Out on 21 October at the Fort Bliss Centennial Club. Dinning out begins at 1800 hours.  Major (Ret.) McClymont's arrival and reception line is schedule for 1830 hours.

Captain John Labadini is a Captain's Career Course small-group instructor at the U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery School, Fort Bliss, Texas.

Posted 13 October 2000