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Historical Vignette 017 - The 2d Engineer Combat Battalion

The 2d Engineer Combat Battalion Paid Heavy Price for being Rear Guard at Kunu-Ri 

In late November 1950, the United States Eighth Army, and the 2d Infantry Division in particular, suffered a resounding defeat when Chinese forces moved into North Korea. Most accounts of that action credit either 2d Division infantry or artillery units with carrying out the mission of a rear guard during the critical 30 November withdrawal from Kunu-Ri. In reality, the rear guard at Kunu-Ri was the 2d Engineer Combat Battalion.

On 29 November, Eighth Army ordered a withdrawal from Kunu-Ri south along the main supply route (MSR) to Souchon and detailed the 2d Infantry Division as rear guard to hold Kunu-Ri until 30 November. The 2d Engineer reconnaissance elements checked the MSR and reported portions of it under heavy mortar fire, and that the 2d Division’s 9th Infantry Regiment was having trouble keeping the road to Souchon open. Division Headquarters ordered the 9th and 38th Infantry Regiments to clear the road south to Souchon the next day while the 2d Engineers held a ridge line at Kunu-Ri and the 23d Infantry Regiment held a position to the north as the rear guard.

On 30 November the infantry regiments, with great difficulty, fought their way south toward Souchon, but by mid-afternoon the Chinese had closed the road blocking the withdrawal of the remaining division units. About that time the 2d Engineers heard a radio message from the 23d Infantry that it was breaking contact and withdrawing to the west rather than to the south. The Engineers then knew that they were the rear guard.

In late afternoon the Engineers began to move onto the road with D Company in the lead followed by the battalion headquarters. Companies C, B, and A were to break contact and withdraw from the ridgeline onto the road in that order. Captain Lawrence B. Farnum, Battalion S-2, walked south along the road to see what he could do about the blocked road. He found one of the artillery battalions trying to fight its way through a narrow defile and saw that the Chinese were massing for an attack. He retraced his steps toward the Battalion Headquarters vehicles, but before he got there the Chinese attacked and overran the road and the ridgeline. Organizing about a company-sized group of artillerymen and engineers he conducted a fighting withdrawal into the hills and led his men in a long trek toward friendly forces to the south. After two encounters with Chinese units, and about 18 hours on the trail, the column reached 1st Cavalry Division lines.

Rear Guard at Kunu-Ri

On 1 December the 2d Engineer Battalion, which had an authorized strength of 977, had an actual strength of 266. Captain Farnum commanded the battalion as the battalion commander, executive officer, S-1, 3, and 4--all the company commanders were lost. The 2d Engineers paid a heavy price for being the rear guard at Kunu-Ri.

Withdrawal route from Kunu-Ri to Souchon

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March 2001