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Outpost Kelly, A Tanker’s Story

by Jack R. Siewert, Fire Ant Books, University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2006, $19.95.

In Outpost Kelly, Jack R. Siewert describes his experiences as a first lieutenant in command of the 2nd Platoon, C Company, 64th Armored Battalion, during the Korean War. His weapon, the M-46 Patton tank, was a development of the M-26 Pershing. Entering service at the end of World War II, the M-26 was better than the Soviet T-34/85 and German King Tiger, but it—and the M-46—were still inferior to the formidable Josef Stalin JS-3 heavy tank. In Korea, however, tanks seldom engaged each other.

In July 1952, Siewert’s 2nd Tank Platoon was ordered to reinforce the 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, to relieve disabled tanks of the unit’s integral 7th Tank Company. That routine operation brought him to Hill 199 and nearby Outpost Kelly, from which his tanks bombarded Hill 317, then occupied by the 348th Regiment, 116th Division, 39th Army of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army.

Siewert got to know the United Nations troops fighting alongside the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division: the Greek Expeditionary Force and the 1st Division of the British Commonwealth. He explains how Korea’s mountainous terrain dictated the tank’s primary role as mobile artillery. Engines froze in the Korean winter, and the monsoon season meant that tanks were bogged down in mud, both factors that the U.S. Army staff should have taken into consideration when it studied World War II battles on the Eastern Front.

Amid the monsoons, the U.S. Army’s I Corps replaced the 7th Regiment with the 15th, while Siewert’s 2nd Tank Platoon was ordered to remain in position on Hill 199. Meanwhile the Chinese, who had already learned of the change in regiments, took advantage of the muddy terrain to launch an infantry assault that occupied Outpost Kelly. In spite of artillery preparation by Siewert’s 90mm guns, the first American counterattack failed. At that point, it became a point of honor for the I Corps to retake Outpost Kelly.

The second American assault, on July 31, was better organized and resulted in the occupation of both Outpost Kelly and Hill 164. With one of his tanks out of action, Siewert supported that attack with his remaining 21. To increase the rate of fire, he developed a new, faster method of reloading the cannons that he called the “bucket brigade.” For his courage and dedication, the 3rd Division put him in for the Bronze Star, which he received in December 1952. By then, however, the Chinese had retaken Outpost Kelly.

Siewert rightly observes that the U.S. Army in Korea seemed more reminiscent of 1918 than of 1952. Behind his writing I detected an underlying sorrow, not only for the loss of so many lives for an outpost but also as a reflection on the entire execution of the Korean War. Outpost Kelly is an excellent book on a forgotten aspect of the “Forgotten War” that could be particularly informative to young officer candidates training to be future commanders.


Originally published in the February 2007 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here