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Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950

146 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0140292596
ISBN-10: 0140292594
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Editorial Reviews Review

Martin Russ's controversial book Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950 tells the riveting story of how 12,000 Army personnel and Marines fought their way out of an encirclement by more than 60,000 Chinese soldiers. A Marine wounded in combat during the Korean War, Russ writes with a passion for the men who endured freezing temperatures and scaled treacherous mountains while continuing to strike the enemy as they advanced toward safety.

While many accounts of modern war bog readers down in a morass of military and administrative details, Russ's history so clearly distinguishes the various units, locations, and personalities that shaped the campaign that it could easily be compared with the finest novels of battle, including Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels. Expertly moving between American, Chinese, and Korean points of view, Russ argues that the Marines were trapped at Chosin because of the arrogance of Douglas MacArthur, the incompetence of the U.S. Army, and the disciplined planning of the Chinese generals.

Celebrated for his brilliant war memoir, The Last Parallel, Russ has provoked criticism for his tendency in Breakout to disparage the U.S. Army. However, his quotations of numerous dispatches showing Marine commanders' concern about advancing into the Chosin area, as well as his consistent portrayal of Army officers' ineptitude, lend credence to his argument that it was the particular esprit de corps of the Marines that prevented the disintegration of American forces in the freezing wastes of North Korea. --James Highfill --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In the annals of American heroic stands against long odds, Chosin Reservoir stands with the Alamo and BataanAwith the bonus of a happy ending. Russ (The Last Parallel) has written the definitive account of the 1st Marine Division's epic breakout from the Chosin Reservoir in the winter of 1950. Outnumbered, unsupported and isolated in the depths of winter, 12,000 Marines, surrounded by 60,000 Chinese soldiers, cut their way out of encirclement and fought a path to the sea, bringing out most of their wounded and many of their dead with them. Small wonder, then, that Chosin Reservoir is celebrated as a victory by the Corps. Russ weaves the Marines' stories into a compelling tapestry of understated heroism, showing how the 1st Marine Division owed much to officers and senior NCOs with combat experience in WWII and the force of character to lead teenage riflemen from the front. Cohesion, as well as courage and tactical skill, brought the Marines out of Chosin. Time and again, those whom Russ interviewed stress the overriding importance of not letting down other Marines, no matter the cost. Russ relies heavilyAand appropriatelyAon the accounts of Marines who fought at Chosin. The result is that there is a lot of detail, a lot of close-up recollections of localized battle, but Russ does an admirable job, when necessary, of panning back to give readers a picture of the whole campaign. Major ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 452 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140292594
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140292596
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (146 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 60 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Breakout: The Chosin reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950 - Fromm InternationalIf you read only one book this year about men at war, let it be this oneYou will read of the men of the 1st Marine Division and their fight out of the trap set for them by 7 divisions of Chinese whose sole mission was the extermination of the Marines.You will read of the men of the 1st Marine Division and a small commando of British RoyalMarines fighting in incredibly difficult terrainand in flesh-killing cold, cold so deep and bitterthat weapons froze and exposed flesh turnedleper-white with frostbite.You will read how the Division fought, regiment by regiment, battalion by battalion, company by company, platoon by platoon and, finally, in smallgroups of 3 and 4 to repulse and win through attack after attack by a sea of tough, seasoned Chinese troops.You will read of individual acts of simple but great heroism and fidelity, for the men who fought in those frozen wastes remained faithful to one-another and their unit and their Corps.And throughout it all you will hear the voices of the men Russ interviewed and set down in their personal narratives, which he seamlessly wove together with his superb exposition. And always they speak simply of the extraordinary events in which they took part when they were young and slim and quick, events which remain fresh and immediate after almost 50 years. And they speak in the rhythms and accents of Americans from every region - from the barrios of Los Angeles to the privileged precincts of Westchester County.And, at the end, you will feel joy and pride as they stride out of the trap in step, marching and singing a paean of triumph, having destroyed 7 Chinese divisions and bringing out all their wounded and most of their dead. And you will weep for the dead.Read more ›
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on June 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Seldom does a reader get the opportunity to read a true account of modern battle that is so gripping, so detailed, and so unforgettable as is this story of the attempt by 12,000 American Marines to fight their way out of an encirclement by seven divisions of Chinese and Korean troops at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. Written by an ex-Marine who was himself a wounded veteran in Korea, its lines wring of the accuracy and poignancy only eyewitnesses could tell about the plight of the men caught in the snow, wind, and sub-zero cold to fight off the vastly superior number of Chinese and Koreans and escape from the trap that had been set for them. This is a riveting story well told.
The situation was bleak; it was mid-winter, and the Marines were cut off from supply lines and exposed to the extremes of weather, surrounded by seven divisions of better equipped and better situated Chinese and Korean troops who were most fanatical in their pursuit of them, ready to move in and annihilate the whole Marine force. The Marines, meanwhile, had little or no air support due to the terrible weather conditions, were relatively low on ammunition and other supplies, and the terrain was so formidable that they were quite effectively cut off and isolated and on their own. There could be little or no help from outside to save them.
Yet through all these obstacles and with the numbers so much against them, the Marines slowly but methodically fought their way out, hill by hill, bluff by bluff, regiment to regiment, battalion to battalion, company to company, whatever it took to inflict such terrible casualties on the Chinese and Koreans as they went, as they fought, from Division level all the way down to small groups of 3 or 4 men fighting with unvarnished tenacity to kick ...............
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As the son of a Korean War navy corpsman and a person born thirteen years after the conflict, the picture of my country's military exploits was painted in the afterglow colors of WWII and the mixed colors of Vietnam. Thanks to Breakout, I know now the extent of the bravery and resilience of our Marines as well as the extent to which the Chinese were involved in Korea. With many answers provided about the nature of the fighting and the major characters involved in the breakout, I have new questions about the Korean War, not the least of which is: Why didn't the US confront the Chinese government after their armies marched south from Manchuria? Regardless, the author has given us an unforgettable story about "The Forgotten War". As long as this kind of writing can be brought to light, the conflict in Korea will not go unnoticed or forgottenby this generation and future ones.
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61 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Ross J. Hansel ( on October 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Let me start out by saying that I have nothing but the highest respect for the United States Marine Corps. Not only for what they accomplished during the retreat from Chosin in particular, but for all the Corps has accomplished during its long and honorable history.
However, if one were to take Russ's book at face value, the Marines did it all alone with no help whatsoever. This is just not the case, as any real military historian of the capaign will attest. His anti-Army rhetoric detracts from the main story he is trying to tell, that of the Marine exploits during the retreat. Had he stuck to just the story of the Corps, the whole book would be somewhat more credible. As it is, his comments about the conduct of the army troops at the reservoir and in other areas show an appalling lack of research. His list of sources, ironically, lists books that directly contradict the anti-Army stories he likes to tell. I can only assume that Russ needed the list to try to impress his readers that he did some form of research. Let's face it, the definitive work on the Campaign is THE CHOSIN RESERVOIR CAMPAIGN, Vol. 3 of U.S. Marine Operations in Korea. Even here, Russ distorts what positive information that was presented on Army operations. He sure used all the positive information on the Marines, however.
The one glaring example of the many distortions on the Army relates to Company D, 10th Combat Engineers (Third Infantry Division) which was the largest single Army unit in the battle for East Hill. It comprised a total of 77 GI's and 90 ROK troops. Russ states that a Marine Major came upon Company D's encampment and found only one guard outside the tents, a Private Franklin Kestner. FACT. Franklin states that the whole Company was outside preparing for a work detail.
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