ROKA 9th "White Horse" Division
ROK White Horses on the deck of the USS Gordon as their national anthem is played upon their departure from Pusan, ROK to Vietnam, January 1968. Stars & Stripes photo.
ROK White Horses, "horsing around," west of Phan Rang, preparing to be picked up and taken back to base, mission accomplished. Photo courtesy of Gary "Lizard" Revheim. Presented by the 48th AHC.
The ROKA 9th Division was hastily created in late 1950 during the Korean War and operated in the mountainous terrain of Sorak and Odae in the northeast, not far from the 38th parallel. The North Korean II Corps cut it off in late 1950 and the division suffered heavy casualties. Down, but not out.
White Horse Mountain, Korea. Presented by Military History Online.
During October 1952, all three 9th Division regiments, the 28th, 29th and 30th (12,000 men) held Hill 395, northwest of Chorwon, North Korea, known as White Horse Mountain. The division prepared for a Chinese assault. A captured North Korean officer who knew of the impending attack and did not want to be in the fight betrayed his comrades and told the ROKs about it. Many support units helped the 9th ROK Division, but at the end of the day, it was the 9th ROK Division pitted squarely against the Chinese 387th Army. The 9th held under ferocious Chinese human wave attacks by three Chinese Divisions of 23,000 troops. We have seen reports that ownership of the hill changed some 24 times; other reports say the Chinese charged up the hill 24 times. The 2nd Infantry Division-Korean War Veterans Alliance has written this about the 9th:
"9th ROK Division won high praise from everyone. It was apparent that modern training and equipment had brought a great improvement in Korean units since the early part of the war."
Three 9th ROK Division men received the US Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for their service in the Battle of White Horse Mountain. The DSC is the second highest military decoration of the United States Army, awarded for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force. The ROK recipients were Major General Kim Chon O., 9th Division; 2nd Lt. Chung Nak Koo, 11th Co., 28th Regiment; and Sergeant Kim Man Su, 9th Co., 29th Regiment.
Fast forward 16 years from the shaky start of the Korean War. The division, officially named the 9th Division, but best known as the White Horse Division, went to the Ninh Hoa area of the RVN at the junction of Highways 1 and 21. You will recall Hwy 1 went north-south from Saigon along the coast all the way to Hanoi North Vietnam. Hwy 21 went east-west across the RVN from Ninh Hoa through Dar Lac Province, which was adjacent to Cambodia. Hwy 21 did not go into Cambodia, however.
Vietnam Military Regions and Provinces. Presented by gruntonline.com
The White Horses had a larger area of operations (AOR) than did the Tigers to the north. Their AOR also hosted several very important cities, ports and military bases at Tuy Hoa, Nha Trang, Cam Ranh, and Phan Rang.
The Republic of Korea's 9th (White Horse) Division conducts a firepower demonstration at the Tuy Hoa camp, June 14, 1968, where ROK troops were holding one-week training sessions for South Vietnamese Popular Forces soldiers (local militia) in infiltration, rifle firing and other combat tactics. Since the course began in April 1968, over 600 troops had taken part. Photo credit: Kim Ki Sam. Presented by the Stars and Stripes.
The 28th White Horse Regiment went to the US airfield at Tuy Hoa, about half-way between Nha Trang and Qui Nhon; the 29th Regiment positioned in and around the Ninh Hoa area, just north of Nha Trang; and the 30th Regiment took positions on the mainland just west of Cam Ranh Bay to protect it. This enabled the Koreans, their two divisions, the Tigers and White Horses, to control Route 1 and the neighboring populations all the way from just north of Qui Nhon to Phan Rang. You will also recall that it enabled the 2nd ROK Marine Brigade, which arrived about a year before the White Horses, to move north into Marine Country, I Corps.
Let's take a look at each regimental area.
Tuy Hoa Airfield, October 1965. One year later the home of the 28th White Horse Regiment, ROK. Presented by Persuaders 65, C Battery, 17th FA Bn.
As you can see in the above photo, there wasn't much at Tuy Hoa when the 28th White Horse arrived. It was the southern-most city in Phu Yen Province. Phu Yen is a coastal province with a coastline 189 kilometers long, and many mountain ranges extending close to the sea.
Tuy Hoa AAF in 1970-1971. Photo credit: Jim Kelley. Presented by 134AHC.
The US 820th Red Horse Engineers deployed to Tuy Hoa AB in October 1966 and completed about 50 percent of the construction of the base, including 170 aircraft revetments, 120,000 sq ft of wooden buildings, and 175,000 sq yds of AM-2 matting. Among other things, it would become a F-100 Super Sabre base for the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW).
In his assessment of June 13, 1965, General Westmoreland, Commander, US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (COMUSMACV) said this about Phu Yen Province.
"The VC control Phu Yen Province except for Tuy Hoa itself."
As a result, one of the first things the 28th White Horse Regiment had to do was join up with the 1st Brigade, 4th US Infantry Division and elements of the 101st Airborne Division in Operation Adams on the coast and open Highway 1 north of Tuy Hoa. The operation, which began on October 26, 1966, extended into 1967. At its end, VC domination of Phu Yen Province was eliminated, 491 enemy were killed, and 160 individual and crew-served weapons were captured.
Phu Yen Province was the northernmost province in the White Horse's AOR, and butted up to Binh Dinh Province, in the Tiger Division's AOR. As result, the two collaborated on multiple operations to prevent the enemy from taking the offensive in the area. The NVA's 95th Regiment bore the brunt of Korean wrath. Operation Oh Jac Kyo in July 1967 blocked NVA 95th Regiment intentions to launch an offensive in Phu Yen Province. Operation Hong Kil Dong netted 638 enemy dead for a 24:1 kill ratio. It is our understanding that the Tigers would join forces with the White Horses as far south as Ninh Thuan Province, the southernmost province in the White Horse's AOR.
The White Horses celebrated their 18th anniversary during Operation Baek Ma 9 in October - November 1968, taking down 382 from the NVA 18th Regiment, rendering its 7th Battalion ineffective. During one engagement, on the anniversary date, October 25, the Koreans killed 204 enemy without any Korean losses.
In this photo, you see Henry S. Fleckinger, Pathfinder (standing alone in background), attached to the 268th Combat Aviation Battalion, working helicopters as they make their way into a landing zone to pick up ROK White Horse Division troops (probably 28th Regiment) and take them on an air assault mission in late 1967. Presented by 268th Pathfinders.
The 268th Combat Aviation Battalion's Pathfinder Detachment deployed to Phu Hiep Army Airfield (AAF) near Tuy Hoa in May 1967 and supported both the Tiger and White Horse Divisions and the US 173rd Airborne Brigade from that location. They went to the field with the Korean Infantry to control their helicopter support. Operating as four man teams, the Pathfinders secured, marked, cleared, and established drop and landing zones and provided initial aircraft guidance at remote locations. They also provided some limited air traffic control capabilities.
An instructor from the ROK 28th Regimental Combat Team points the barrel of a Vietnamese Popular Forces soldier's rifle off to the side during training in getting under a barbed-wire fence, Tuy Hoa, June 14, 1968. Photo credit: Kim Ki Sam. Presented by the Stars and Stripes.
This photo shows a joint Military Police (MP) patrol. The tall MP to the left is from the 504th MPs at Tuy Hoa, we believe, the 3rd Platoon, Company A. To his immediate left, and to the far right, are two 28th Regiment White Horse troops, the one on the far right obviously an MP as well. Photo credit: Sung-Yung Choi. Presented by Military Police of the Vietnam War.
Tuy Hoa did not escape the Tet Offensive of 1968. During the early morning hours of late January, the 5th Bn, 95th NVA Regiment attacked the airfield, the provincial prison and American artillery positions. The 4-503 infantry of the 173rd Airborne responded to the attacks against an artillery position, reinforced by the 28th ROKs. They inflicted heavy casualties on the NVA. The 4-503rd battalion commander then decided to lead a charge against the NVA, who were surrounded at the time. The battalion suffered 19 KIA and 39 WIA, tough losses.
1960's -- South Vietnam -- An Air Force F-100 Super Sabre fires a salvo of rockets at a jungle target. May 1967. Photo presented by the US Air Force.
His brigade commander told him to withdraw, and USAF F-100 Super Sabres from the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) were brought in. They destroyed the NVA unit. The ARVN then went in and cleaned up the VC who were supporting the NVA; the VC had withdrawn to avoid the Super Sabres, leaving their NVA brothers to pay the price.
As an aside, Pat Birmingham was a F-100 "Hun" pilot at Tuy Hoa. The pilots had been given the day off in honor of the Tet holiday. Several had been drinking, others resting when their operations officer made the rounds, told those who had been drinking to take an immediate nap, and told the rest to get to their squadrons to brief, fly and fight. Birmingham has written:
"A lot of us couldn't believe that the NVA and VC were being so foolish. They didn't have much support from the civilian community, and they surely got their butts kicked ... I wrote home that I thought we'd just won the war, only to learn later that we had been undermined at home and in Paris by losers calling themselves Americans."
Colonel Abner M. Aust, Jr., commander, 31st TFW, Tua Hoa, published an end of tour report based on his experience from May 3, 1968 - February 8, 1969. He said this about the 28th White Horse Regiment:
ROK White Horse 28th Regiment 105 mm howitzer at the center of Tuy Hoa AB, with USAF A1C Louie Green posing with it. Photo credit: James Shepherd. Presented by Vietnam Security Police Association.
"28th Regiment of the 9th White Horse Division is tasked with the ground tactical responsibility for this section of Phu Yen Province. This Regiment consists of three battalions of about one thousand men each. It also includes three artillery batteries with 105mm and 155mm Howitzers. The regiment operates continually in company and battalion sized units in the mountainous area near the base. These highly professional ROK troops provide intelligence and keep the enemy divided into small groups and constantly on the move. The ROK artillery is capable of firing pre-planned illumination or HE (high explosive) concentrations for the installation. Two companies of ROK Army personnel have been designated to support our base in the event of enemy attack. These companies are maintained in readiness at the ROKA compound."
Let's now take a look at the 29th White Horse Regiment, in Ninh Hoa.
Ninh Hoa field, 1969. The photographer, who took this from the air, said, "The terrain was beautiful, but the airfield was nothing but dirt. Photo credit: Bobby Schulze. Presented by the 48th AHC.
This is a closer look at Ninh Hoa, sometime in 1969 or 1970. Photo courtesy of "Lefty" Seymour. Presented by 48th AHC.
White Horse Headquarters, Ninh Hoa, late 1968. "It was a very impressive set up they had there, very clean and well laid out." Photo credit: Steve Mathews, "Rat Pack 15" 6/68-6/69, 281st AHC "Intruders." Presented by the 281st AHC.
Major Derald Smith, USA, 174th AHC, "Dolphins and Sharks," flew out of Ninh Hoa supporting the 29th White Horses in March 1967. The 174th also flew out of Tuy Hoa supporting the 28th Regiment.
Left-to-right: Major Henry "The Fying Dutchman" Schwarz; Major William Dalrymple; Major Jo (phonetic spelling), ROK 9th Division, and two unknown Korean officers. Photo credit: Major Derald Smith. Presented by 174AHC.
Major Smith was assigned to the 29th as a liaison officer. Good fortune would have it that he knew his Korean counterpart, Major Jo (phonetic spelling), an aviator himself, from their days together in Korea. Smith said the 29th caught on to air assault insertions quickly and commented they were very successful.
174th AHC Hueys are lined up on a ridge-line north of Ninh Hoa during combat assault operation with the White Horse Division, 1967. Photo credit: WO-1CW2 Tom Auman. Presented by 174th AHC.
Smith called the Koreans, "Tunnel Rats," because they could come up with huge caches of weapons from well concealed enemy tunnel complexes. This next photo gives a you sense for how well they could sniff out these caches.
29th ROK Regiment displays captured weapons at Ninh Hoa, March 1967. WO1 Tom Birch, 174th AHC Dolphin pilot, 1st Platoon, is proud of the ROK accomplishment. Photo credit: WO1 Tom Birch, Presented by 174thAHC.
Sgt Leo Plociki of the 2nd Special Forces Group (Right) pictured with Sgt. Kim, White Horse at Ninh Hoa in 1967. The photo was taken some time before the Tet 1968. They both rode out the Tet offensive together.
The 48th AHC "Bluestars" flew for both ROK divisions. On May 1, 1967, it set up a forward base of operations at Ninh Hoa to support the 29th Regiment. Right away, the 48th started seeing increased action, and, in its unit history, comments:
This was one of many White Horse outposts supplied by the 48th AHC. Photo courtesy of Larry Hoenig. Presented by 48th AHC.
"This mission heralded a continual gaining of mutual respect, admiration and friendship between this unit and soldiers of the Korean Allied Force."
The 176th Aviation Co. (Airmobile) "Minutemen" also supported the White Horses. In fact, the company was activated at Ft. Benning, Georgia in October 1966, the main body of its force arrived at Phu Hiep near Tuy Hoa in February 1967, and was declared operationally ready in March 1967. The 176th's unit history then says the following:
"The first operation in which the 176th was involved was with the 9th ROK (White Horse) Infantry Division. During the short time the Minutemen supported the White Horse Division, the 176th provided command and control and utility aircraft throughout the Korean area of operations adjacent to Ninh-Hoa. While participating in Operation Beak Ma II and Operation Ojackyo the unit encountered its first experiences with troop repelling due to the hazard of landing zones located on sharp ridges and razorback ridge lines. Both operations proved to be successful and were performed without any major difficulties."
During much of 1968 the 48th AHC, even though short-handed, did a land-office business with the White Horses. Initially, the two units suffered from language problems when conducting combat assaults. But they solved this together by placing an English-speaking Korean on board the aircraft to coordinate between the Korean ground commander and the American aircrew.
The Koreans were also supplied by truck. Ken Karrow, 53rd Supply Co., supplied them by truck north and west of Nha Trang, which we assume to be the 29th Regiment's area around Ninh Hoa. The 53rd would supply perishable rations with single trucks, but started picking up small arms fire. The Koreans were asked to provide escorts, and much to Karrow's amazement, the Koreans showed up with a 2.5 T truck with a .50 cal machine gun mounted on her, something Karrow had not seen before. Sparrow commented:
"Things are a little hazy with time, but I do know that the small arms fire did not continue!"
As an aside, the 53rd was originally designated the 53rd Engineering Co. (Supply Point), and was part of the 35th Group (Construction), which in turn was part of the 84th Engineer Battalion. The 84th, and all its units, the 53rd included, participated in ten campaigns in the Korean War and was nicknamed "Conquerors of the Imjin" for having bridged the Imjin River. President Syngman Rhee presented the battalion with the ROK Presidential Unit Citation for that achievement.
We'd like to switch gears just a bit here to highlight a significant innovation involving the White Horses and the 48th AHC. As you have seen through most of this report, the Koreans were very dependent on US aviation for air support, whether combat assault, close air support, or reconnaissance.
A UH-1D/H Huey helicopter training program was begun in 1967 as a cooperative effort between the Commander, ROK Forces Vietnam, and the US Army's commanding general, 1st Aviation Brigade. The Koreans established the 11th ROK Aviation Company in September 1967 at Nha Trang, RVN. We understand it was initially subordinated to the 100th Logistics Command, which had established earlier as part of the "Peace Dove Unit" program. They also established a ROKFV Aerial Support Group to handle support issues. We have seen a report that says the Aerial Support Group and 11th Aviation Co. eventually became known as the "Silver Horse Division." AS an aside, the US 1st Cavalry Division also had an 11th Aviaiton Company.
At the time, the ROKs had precious few UH-1 Huey helicopter pilots. They did, of course, have fixed wing pilots and pilots trained in other kinds of helicopters. But the Huey was the workhorse for ROK combat assaults in Vietnam and they wanted and needed more of their own pilots to help carry the burden of that work.
The 1st Aviation Brigade's 17th Combat Aviation Group, the 17th CAG, commanded at the time by Col. John A. Todd, led the training effort. The training began at Nha Trang on July 6, 1967. We have seen a report that by October 1967 the 17th CAG had given the Koreans seven Huey helicopters. We also understand that 12 pilots were trained in the US at Army aviation schools and that seven more were to be trained in Vietnam, though we are unsure of the timeline.
ROK 9th Division Capt. Kim Ki Hwann, one of the pilots trained by the 48th AHC, 1968-1969 at Ninh Hoa. Photo courtesy of Peter Kim. Presented by 48th AHC.
Four ROK aviation qualified officers were the first to qualify to enter the training. They were Capts. Kim Ki Hwann, Han Ki Sun, Choi Hu Yong and Lt. Choi Seung Woo. The captains graduated from flight school together in 1965 as fixed wing pilots and had more than 1,000 hours each in fixed wing aircraft with some previous training on helicopters, mainly the OH-23 observation helicopter. Lt. Choi was fixed wing rated as well but with fewer hours and this was his first exposure to helicopters. Most pilot comments we have seen indicate it is fairly easy to train a fixed wing pilot to fly a helicopter, partly because the fixed wing pilot already understands all the procedures associated with flying, air traffic control, and communications
The Korean officers did their initial transition training at Nha Trang and then went to Ninh Hoa with the 48th AHC for two months combat flight training, called "On the Job Training," OJT. From this point through at least the end of 1968 these four ROK pilots flew combat for the 48th.
The 48th AHC was one of the 17th's units and played a lead role in this new program. This was a natural because the 48th shared the White Horse headquarters compound at Ninh Hoa, and, of course, the 48th had been providing much support to the White Horse division, as well as to the Tigers.
White Horse Capt. Kim with a 48th AHC "Blue Star" Slick Huey at Dong Ba Thin, RVN, August 12, 1968. Photo courtesy of Peter Kim. Presented by 48th AHC.
This is a 48th AHC slick carrying 9th ROK White Horse insignia on the nose. Photo courtesy of Peter Kim. Presented by 48th AHC.
The intent was to have a total of 16 pilots qualified by the end of 1968. Prior to that, the 176th Aviation Co. (Airmobile) "Minuteman" received five Korean aviators at Lane Army Airfield (AAF) and trained them in airmobile assault techniques. In September 1968, the 129th AHC, which replaced the 176th, brought in four Korean pilots, all captains, all experienced pilots for their OJT program. They completed their program at the end of October and returned to the 11th ROK Aviation Co. As soon as they left, four more came in.
As an aside, the 60th AHC "Ghostriders" replaced the 48th to support the White Horse Division, and flew them on combat assaults right up until the end. One 60th aviator said the White Horses he was with wanted to continue fighting, peace treaty or not, but that was not to be.
We mentioned earlier that the 30th White Horse Regiment went to positions on the mainland just west of Cam Ranh Bay to protect it. This map shows you what we mean by the "mainland." You can see that the main port and storage facilities were on a peninsula. You can see Route 1 running on the edge of the coastline of the mainland. Americans would call their camp, "ROK Island."
ROK 3rd Bn, 30th Regiment, 9th Division White Horse outpost. Photo credit: Bobby Schulze. Presented by the 48th AHC.
ROK White Horses, "horsing around," west of Phan Rang, preparing to be picked up and taken back to base. Photo courtesy of Gary "Lizard" Revheim. Presented by the 48th AHC.
The top two photos were provided by Sgt. Denny Farrell, former USA, with his White Horse friend, Sgt. Kim, at Phan Rang in 1969. Denny said the bottom photo shows him and “Sgt. Kim putting on a Taekwondo demonstration for the ARVN...all in fun until Kim slipped and hit me. We laugh now.” Denny also said, “I don't remember any American officers involved at Phanrang with the Whitehorse. I was at company two..... just outside the wire it was a small fire base.... basically 105's and maybe one 155 howitzer....I was also at the command post up on the hill from time to time. When I was leaving Nam the Koreans retired the American Flag at the command post on the hill, and presented it to me....which I still have, and of course, put up a new one I was also given a complete papa son outfit from the Koreans. We were very close. The entire year that I was with the Whitehorse I don't recall any American officers ever stopping in to share any Kimpshe or soju.”
Vietnamese officers and men receive training in artillery observation from the 52nd Artillery Battalion of the 30th ROK Regimental Combat Team at Tuy Hoa, June 14, 1968. Photo credit: Kim Ki Sam. Presented by the Stars and Stripes.
Jeff England served with the US Army 127th MP Company from November 1967-November 1968. He has listed some of his memories. One of those is this one:
"I remember the White Horse and Tiger Divisions of the ROK Army, and that Charlie (Viet Cong) never tried to blow the bridge outside White Horse Headquarters."
About all we know about this young man is that he is a wounded Korean soldier in the 12th USAF Hospital at Cam Ranh Bay, RVN, in 1967-68. He's playing the harmonica! Looks like his left leg took a beating. (Photo credit: rogerjeanita at webshots).
On the left is former US Army Captain Thomas Leo Briggs, standing at Cam Ranh Bay with his ROK White Horse Division counterpart, a lieutenant. Briggs has said this is one of his favorite photos, and he has since attended Vietnam Veterans of Korea functions in Seoul.
This is a temporary checkpoint at the bridge connecting the mainland to Cam Ranh peninsula. ARVN, Korean White Horse, USAF Security Police, and US Army Military Police all shared the duty here. In this case, an American is checking traffic while three White Horses are inside the checkpoint.
We'll conclude this section with the White Horse Band.
White Horse Band at Ninh Hoa. Photo credit: Steve Mathews, "Rat Pack 15" 6/68-6/69, 281st AHC "Intruders." Presented by the 281st AHC.
Today, the 9th White Horse Infantry Division is part of the I ROK Corps, Third ROKA (TROKA). TROKA is responsible for guarding the most likely potential attack routes from North Korea to Seoul. The I ROK Corps defends the Munsan Corridor.
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