The U.S. Marines and Chinese forces faced off four months before the end of the Korean War in a battle that’s considered among of the bloodiest of the Korean War. For five days, beginning March 26, 1953, the Chinese army launched wave after wave of attacks on the Nevada Cities complex.
The complex included outposts named Vegas, Reno and Carson and were manned by elements of the 1st Marine Division. The complex got its name after Lieutenant Colonel Tony Caputa was overheard saying “it’s a gamble if we can hold them.”
A rifle platoon of 40 Marines and two Hospital Corpsmen manned each outpost. Over 250-yards of trench line surrounded each position, ranging from four to eight-feet in depth followed by two parallel lines of barbed wire laid beyond the trench works.
Earlier on the day of the 26th, and by chance, Marine tanks and artillery had been positioned along the Main Line of Resistance (MLR) to support an infantry raid to destroy Chinese bunkers scheduled for the next morning, designated “Operation Clambake.” The MLR in this case was the roughly along the same 38th Parallel, which separates South and North Koreas.
Small arms and machine gun fire erupted from the Chinese positions against the Marines’ position atop Vegas at 7 p.m. This was followed by 15 minutes of mortar and artillery fire on the Marines’ rear areas and supply routes along the MLR.
Ten minutes after attacking the rear area over 3,500 Chinese soldiers swarmed towards the three outposts. Marine artillery responded to the attacks, however overwhelming Chinese numbers forced the Marines to abandon Vegas’ outer ring of less easily defended trenches.
Within 40 minutes much of the communication between Vegas and 1st Battalion Command Post had been lost and by 7:50 p.m., more than 100 Chinese soldiers occupied the lower trenches of outpost Vegas. Finally, at 11:57 p.m., all communications was lost with Vegas and all the Marines still there were either killed or captured.
By the fifth hour of combat, the Chinese attack had been somewhat successful. They had captured Vegas and Reno and Marine reinforcements to those outposts had been thwarted, yet Carson was still controlled by the Marines.
Shortly after midnight of the 27th, the Marines made an effort to recapture Vegas, but the lead platoon only managed to get close enough to confirm that Vegas was in enemy hands and by three in the morning, the remaining Marine elements had fallen back to the MLR.
After the Marines abandoned their initial attempts to fight their way to Vegas, observation planes were sent in to direct fire for both ground artillery and Marine and U.S. Air Force aircraft. This fire began at nine a.m. and was directed at Chinese artillery located behind their front lines as well as Chinese fortifications atop Vegas.
This was followed shortly afterwards by an assault by the Marines; however, they never reached their objective, pulling back with only nine able-bodied Marines remaining. At the same time, a company of Marines found itself pinned down along the lower slopes of Vegas.
With the help of air support, it took the Marines four-hours to gain control of the lower slopes of Vegas. Thirteen minutes later the Marines had “gone over the top” of the outpost’s hill, gaining control by 1:22 p.m. and securing the outpost by 3 p.m.
That night, an hour or so before midnight, with more than 200 wounded Marines being treated at a makeshift hospital on the slope of Vegas, it was learned that the Chinese were gathering for massive charge. Armed with as many grenades as they could carry, wounded Marines threw the explosives down the slope slowing the Chinese attack.
For two more days the Chinese continued to try and take back Vegas. The attacks eventually came to a stop on March 30 as Marine artillery pounded Chinese positions.
The Battle for Nevada Cities was over.
In the end the Marines lost nearly 70-percent of their total strength with 1,015 casualties including those killed, missing or wounded. Chinese losses included over 6,500 killed, wounded and captured.