Book Review: Martin Russ' Breakout
By Thomas Barclay
|TITLE: Breakout, The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950
|AUTHOR: Martin Russ
|PUBLISHER: Penguin Books
|PUBLICATION DATE: 2000
|COPYRIGHT: 1999, Martin Russ
|ISBN: 0 14 02.9259 4 (paperback) 0-88064-231-9 (hardcover)
|BOOK TYPE: Non-Fiction Hardcover (Military History)
|PRICE: 14.99 US, 20.99 Canadian
|Size: 436 page (plus index and pictures) trade paperback
Breakout is a history of the Chosin Reservoir campaign in the Korean Conflict. The
book recounts the tale particularly of the X Corps under Army General Almond as a part of
MacArthur's plans to end the situation in Korea with a sweeping Victory. More specifically,
the book focuses under the encirclement and subsequent fighting withdrawal of the 1st Marine
Division under general Oliver P. Smith from the Chosin Reservoir area.
The book is written with (perhaps justifiable) pro-US Marine sentiment. It does not speak
favourably of the Corps commander, General Almond, nor of the Army troops which participated
in the Chosin campaign. It focuses upon the actions of the Marines and pulls no punches.
Throughout the book, you get a good feeling for the nature of the conflict - a battle fought
in mountainous terrain, in horrid winter weather, against a vastly numerically superior foe, and
with limited command and control. The book also illustrates the distance between the view
presented by the media of the time and the situation as perceived by the Marine Divisional
command - the former having written off the Division, the latter having plans for a fighting
withrdawal and breakout back to the sea after being segmented and encircled by the Chinese
The book isn't pretty (content-wise) as it relates some pretty horrific events. At least one story
in the book made me profoundly uncomfortable when I thought about it (one of the Marines using
a partially decapitated and frozen Chinese soldier as a TV table). But it is told to a large extent by
the people who survived the event and their recollections are vivid and I beleive credible. And the
accounting gives you a flavour for what it means to be a US Marine and for how some of the Corps'
traditions play out in the harsh Korean mountains. The book illustrates both the best and worst in
human nature and gives the reader a good feeling for the dedication and professionalism of Marine
officers and non-coms along with the great hazards those combat leaders face. It also gives a gritty
texture to the hardships of this unusual campaign from the perspective of the men who fought there,
all the way from privates to colonels and generals (the last of these mostly by references to their
The book also would not, by some, be considered politically correct, as it reflects the opinions
of the Marines who served throughout the Chosin campaign. The slang for the Chinese regulars was
"shambos". There is some profanity in the book. There are episodes of cowardice and the great
disdain of the Marines for the pathetic Army troops they had been saddled with is apparent. But it paints
a picture of events that smacks of truth and not of adulteration (except perhaps the Marines' own
tendencies not to dwell on personel who may have failed to live up to Marine standards). And despite
the slang description of the Chinese, there are several descriptions of Chinese soldiers as incredibly brave and
The format of the book that I read was a trade paperback. It had easy to read text, and clearly
illustrated line-art maps. The prose style was readable and conversational (partially a by-product of
the many personal reminiscences which form a significant body of the work). The level of detail
provided was good. The clarity of the retelling was also good, although in some parts the chaos
of the actual events is to be felt - that chaos comes through without diminishing the overall clarity
of the accounting.
If there was any single criticism which might apply to this book, it is in the failure to present the
view from the Army above the level of a few non-coms and privates. The book definitely has a Marine-centric
feel to it. Additionally, it might have been nice to hear some recounting of events from the
Chinese side, but that perhaps would be the meat of another work. Overall, if the rah-rah pro-Marine
attitude is taken with a grain of salt, it is an excellent study of the Chosin Campaign and the role of
the 1st Marine Division in that campaign. And an educational and interesting read.
(I got mine used... say 7/10 otherwise)
Copyright 2001 - 2006 by Adrian Johnson and Thomas Barclay.
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