Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)


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Bringing Order to Chaos: Historical Case Studies of Combined Arms Manuever in Large Scale Coventional Operations

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In the late summer of 1951, the Eighth United States Army in Korea (EUSAK) confronted a war in Korea that contrasted sharply with its previous experience in mobile warfare against the Communist Korean People’s Army (KPA) and Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces (CPVF). The decision to seek a negotiated end to the war required tactics to fit an operational paradigm that required “limited objective attacks” for the purpose of pressuring Communist armies while preserving American manpower. In August 1951, the Second Infantry Division drew the mission to attack and seize high ground (known as the Punchbowl) in central Korea. Division leaders, falling back on their most recent experience blunting the Chinese Fifth Campaign in May 1951 with massed artillery and air power, failed to account for the KPA’s determination to defend the Punchbowl. The resulting two-month battle for Bloody Ridge and Heartbreak Ridge tested the division’s command, control, and intelligence systems. In particular, the division commander disregarded contrary viewpoints and persisted in costly frontal attacks, relying on brute firepower to blast through strong prepared defenses. A change in division leadership brought a willingness to expand the division’s tactics to include genuine combined arms cooperation, presenting the KPA defenders with both simultaneous and sequential threats. Fires and maneuver generated overpowering synergy that reduced the KPA’s resistance in a matter of days and at a fraction of the human cost. It was an expensive lesson to relearn in a war without a clear end in sight.