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NEWS | March 23, 2023

Operation TOMAHAWK; The Last Airborne Operation of the Korean War

By Dr. Mike Krivdo

      Seventy-two years ago, on 23 March 1951, The Eighth Army conducted a bold parachute assault to attempt to block enemy forces trying to escape north along highway 1 out of Seoul.  Part of a larger Operation COURAGEOUS, the airborne element of Operation TOMAHAWK would drop the 187th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) into a blocking position near the Imjin River (see map).

     Meanwhile, an armored Task Force Growdon would conduct a passage of lines and attack north along highway 1 to destroy enemy forces in zone and link up with the 187th.  The Task Force was formed around the 6th Medium Tank Battalion of the 24th Infantry Division, with the 58th Armored field Artillery Battalion from the 3d ID added for firepower and two British Churchill bridge-laying tanks included for mobility. The plan was to trap the escaping enemy between the two forces and south of the Imjin River, and destroy them.

     In WWII, the 187th Regiment fought under the 11th Airborne Division as a Glider Infantry Regiment.  It took part in the last airborne operation of the war, at Aparri in Luzon.  During the occupation of Japan, the ‘Rakkasans’ (Japanese for ‘falling umbrella man’) converted to a Parachute Infantry Regiment and at the outbreak of Korea was formed into the separate Airborne Regimental Combat Team (RCT) with the addition of the 674th Field Artillery Battalion and other elements.  It served as a theater reserve, accomplishing special tasks such as the rear guard of the Eighth Army’s fighting withdrawal from North Korea in early 1951. 

     At 0700 on 23 March, TF Growdon exited friendly lines and attacked north on Hwy 1 (see map).  Two hours later, at 0900, the Rakkasans and Rangers dropped into the DZ south of Munsan-Ni and established a blocking position.  TF Growdon fought north, clearing several hastily emplaced minefields along the route. 

     By 1830, the two forces linked up and consolidated, waiting for the ROK 1st Division to catch up and attack east toward Pobwon-Ni and Sinchon, but the lack of any stout resistance confirmed that the enemy had escaped the trap.  The operation, however, had given the UN forces momentum, and they doggedly pursued the NKPA I Corps. 

      Altogether, the 187th suffered 19 KIA and several dozen wounded.  They counted 136 enemy killed and captured 149 more.  Interrogations of the enemy confirmed that the majority of the enemy I Corps had crossed the Imjin River the night before the jump.

     Most importantly, the operation showed just how much the U.S. Army had progressed in the short eight months since the war began.  TF Growdon was proof of that; formed out of elements of the 24th Infantry Division, the same unit that fielded TF Smith in the earliest days of the war, they had gained considerable proficiency since July 1950.  Eight months later, its Soldiers were capable of performing at the highest levels of combat proficiency, flawlessly executing the most complex missions in challenging conditions with noteworthy results.  Although the enemy had eluded the trap, the unit performed well, showing just how far it had progressed as a professional fighting organization.

     Soon afterward, the war became one of fixed, fortified positions backed by massed artillery fires.  Lines solidified, and maneuver focused generally on the seizure of key terrain to gain observation and field of fire advantages.  Operation TOMAHAWK became the last large-scale Airborne operation of the war.