Book Review: The Frozen Chosen: The 1st Marine Division and the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir


by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver

Oxford & New York: Osprey Publishing, 2016. Pp. 366. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $28.00. ISBN: 1472814363

The Epic Winter “Attack in Another Direction”

Cleaver, author of The Bridge Busters, The Fabled Fifteen, and other works, has given us an excellent account of one of the most epic moments in American history, the fighting withdrawal of the 1st Marine Division and attached elements of the ROK Marines and the Royal Marines and U.S. and ROK army troops, from a Red Chinese trap at the Chosen Reservoir in frozen north Korea. 

After gives the reader some background on the outbreak of the war, Cleaver plunges into a detailed treatment of how the 1st Marine Division ended up stranded in the middle of a frozen howling wilderness beset on all sides by Communist forces. In his account, he moves easily up and down the chain of command. So we get a look at decisions made in Washington, where the strategic situation was misread. This was compounded in the theatre by its egocentric commander, MacArthur and his inept careerist subordinates Charles A. Willoughby and Edward Almond, who blundered spectacularly but generally managed to claim a lot of credit for the successful withdrawal. 

Most of the book, of course, deals with the ordinary troops men in the frozen mud and the airmen above them. Cleaver gives us some excellent battle pieces of the desperately fighting as these men forced their way to the sea. We also get excellent profiles of a number of able officers, some rather famous, notably Oliver Smith and Chesty Puller, but several others less well known.  Along the way Cleaver gives us looks at how men fight under such harsh environmental conditions, the rather neglected ROKs, British, and army personnel, and more.  

This is a valuable addition to the literature of the war in Korea, and a worthwhile read for anyone interested in men at war.


Note: The Frozen Chosen is also available as a pdf, ISBN: 978-1-4728-1437-1 and an ePub ISBN: 978-1-4728-1438-8.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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