by Oscar “Ed” Gilbert
Casemate Publishing, 2114 Darby Road, Second Floor. 360pp.
60 photos, notes, biblio., index. 6 x 9, HC, color d.j. acid free paper.. $32.95. ISBN:1-932033-13-0
If judged by book sales, the Korean War indeed merits the moniker “The Forgotten War.” However, I suspect that Oscar Gilbert’s new book “Marine Corps Tank Battles in Korea” (Casemate, ISBN 1932033130, 336 pp., photos, maps, $32.95) may be one of those rare studies that break through and reach a wider audience than either its publisher or author supposed it might.
Were there really tank battles in Korea? You bet, and Gilbert’s work details just about every one, from Lt. Granville G. Sweet’s Thermopylaestyle defense of a critical road cut at NoNameRidge through the operations at Inchon, Seoul, the frozen hell of the Chosin Reservoir, and the battles of the Jamestown line. He bases his book upon dozens of first firsthand account by the tankers themselves, who recall with vivid clarity their sacrifices and frustrations during their time on the peninsula.
At the beginning of the war, the seemingly invincible enemy tanks and masses of ruthless infantry swept everything before them. Every attempt to stop the invaders had met with disaster. Hastily formed forces like the U. S. Army’s Task Force Smith resisted valiantly, but the infantry was overrun in desperate rearguard battles. The few American light tanks available were contemptuously swept aside by the heavier and much better Soviet-built T-34/85.
The Provisional Marine Brigade, a scratch force of new recruits and World War II veterans, was thrown into this bloody maelstrom around Pusan. The tank arm was equipped with the M26, and the Marines were determined to meet head-on and destroy the Communists and their feared armor fighting machine that had shocked the Germans when it appeared on the Eastern Front during WWII.
Much like Gilbert’s earlier account of Marine tanks in the Pacific war, this book offers a unique and brutally honest oral history of the unheralded armor combat that swept the length and breadth of the Korean Peninsula. It is a accomplished and thorough blend of scholarship and storytelling that recounts every Marine tank engagement of the war. The author also offers insightful analysis of how tanks were employed on the battlefield, and includes a original account of the role armor played in the destruction of the illfated Task Force Drysdale.
Ultimately, “Marine Corps Tank Battles in Korea” is sweeping account laced with hardship, sacrifice, honor, and duty. The two long inserts of photos (most or all of which are apparently previously unpublished), together with the Epilogue of what became of the men who tell the tale, cap a study that deserves a wide audience and ample discussion.
I knew little about this aspect of the Korean War until I was asked to draft maps for it. Read this book and “The forgotten War” will never quite look the same again. And you certainly won’t forget it.