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“The Defeat of the Communist North”
The Korean War
Mark Derham American Military University The Korean War Hs102b February 3, 2008
2 Five years after the end of World War II the United States was yet again at the brink of war. This war, though, would not be fought for money, for land, or domination. Rather, it would be fought for ideology. It would be the first of its kind. The Korean War would last from June 25, 1950 until July 27, 1953 and would claim the lives of thousands of Americans and Koreans alike. Although America did not want to commit its troops to an all out war at first, they eventually conceded and joined the war headstrong in order to help the South defeat the North. The Japanese controlled the whole of Korea from 1910 until the end of World War II in 1945. As a result of World War II, the Korea peninsula was divided into the North and the South. The United States occupied the South while the Soviet Union occupied the North. At the time, The North and the South were separated at the 38th Parallel. This kept the capitol, Seoul in the hands of the United States. Both the Soviet Union and the United states subsequently built up regimes to their liking. In 1946, the Republic of Korea (ROK), led by Syngman Rhee, surfaced with support from both the U.S. and the U.N. The Democratic Republic of Korea, led by Kim Il-Sung, soon surfaced with support from the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China1. After the Republic of Korea was formed, a left-wing guerrilla movement began in 1948, and it would give the South difficulty until the early 1950’s. The movement had little North Korea support; instead, it came mostly from the Southern tip of Korea. The Republic of Korea (ROK) Army, who had the backing and guidance of 500 U.S. advisors, appeared to have defeated the movement in the early 1950’s. During this
Microsoft Encarta, “Korean War” http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761559607/Korean_War.html (accessed February 01, 2008)
3 time, The Soviet’s had withdrawn their forces from the North in 1948 and the U.S. withdrew their forces one year later in 1949. The South now faced another problem in May of 1949. Fighting had begun along the 38th parallel between the North and the South. Much of this fighting was due to ROK provocations, which prompted military observers from the United Nations to be sent to the South, and it also prompted the United States to try and constrain the South. The only reason all out war did not break out at this time was because Kim Il-Sung still had some of his best men fighting in the Chinese Civil War. He knew he would not be able to defeat the South without those men so he restrained from a full attack until they returned2. In Early 1950, Kim would get his chance to strike at the South. “In the early months of 1950, tens of thousands of these soldiers returned to the DPRK, including the 6th Division under General Pang Ho-san, which had a distinguished record in China.3” The 6th Division was positioned along the 38th parallel and on the morning of June 25, 1950, during a heavy rainfall, Kim’s army attacked with heavy artillery hitting several zones that led to Seoul and Chunchon. “The United Nations quickly condemned the invasion as an act of aggression, demanded the withdrawal of North Korean troops from the South, and called upon its members to aid South Korea4.” Subsequently, President Truman authorized the use of American force on June 27 and appointed General Douglas MacArthur as the Combatant Commander in Chief. One week later the U.N. had given control of military forces from fifteen other nations under MacArthur’s control.
Microsoft Encarta, “Korean War” http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761559607/Korean_War.html (accessed February 01, 2008) 3 Microsoft Encarta, “Korean War” http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761559607/Korean_War.html (accessed February 01, 2008) 4 Infoplease, “Korean War” http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0828118.html, Columbia University Press (accessed on February 01, 2008)
4 At the start of the war, the South had almost 90,000 troops which the North matched. According to U.S. data, the two armies had almost equal strength with almost the same amount of troops massed at the 38th parallel5. A couple of things had been overlooked though. The North had much more fighting experience than the South because of China’s Civil War. Many of the units in the South had seen no combat at all. The only units that had seen fighting before were those involved in the anti-guerrilla fighting months before. “The North had also already zeroed in much of the artillery on major targets for months. They had planned it in to fine detail, even to assign certain units the task of mingling with civilian refugees, to infiltrate ROK territory, to disrupt communications, spread terror and neutralize strong points6.” The South was no match for the North Korean army. President Syngman Rhee and his cabinet left Seoul for Taejon on June 26th and two days later the north had over-run and taken the capital city. Seoul was not taken without a fight though. The South fought courageously. “One infantry company stood and fought on the hill above Seoul until its last man had been killed7.” It took the DPRK only three days to move from the 38th parallel down to Seoul. Seoul would later be retaken, fall again, and once more be retaken by the South before the war’s end. When the North Koreans reached South of Seoul, they had to briefly halt their operations in order for their logistics to catch up with them. This allowed General MacArthur time to hastily put together a small task force and fly them into Pusan. This force would be called Task Force Smith after their Commander Lt. Col. C.B. Smith. They were comprised of a little more than 500 men that had been quickly assembled
Microsoft Encarta, “Korean War” http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/refpages/RefArticle.aspx? refid=761559607&pn=2 (accessed on February 01, 2008) 6 Matthew B. Ridgway, The Korean War. New York: Da Capo Press, 1967, 17. 7 Matthew B. Ridgway, The Korean War. New York: Da Capo Press, 1967, 20.
5 and flown into the country on July 1st. “They had only two under strength rifle companies, half a battalion headquarters company, half of a communications platoon, a 75-mm recoilless rifle platoon with two guns, and two 4.2-inch mortars. Also, the two rifle companies had six 2.36-inch bazooka teams and four 60-mm mortars. Each man carried 120 rounds of .30-caliber ammunition and two days of C-Rations8.” They had zero reserve forces, nothing capable of defeating soviet tanks, and nothing that compared to the enemy’s howitzers9. Task Force Smith would do little to slow the enemy. On July 5th, fighting began when the North Koreans attacked near Osan with tanks and a formidable infantry force. Task Force Smith held their ground until they ran out of ammunition. Lt. Col. Smith ordered a phased retreat but it turned into haphazard withdrawal which resulted in heavy losses. When they finally reached friendly lines, they had lost over 250 men in the attacks10. Task Force Smith would only mark the beginning of the war. Gen. MacArthur had an all encompassing plan. He would make contact with the North Korean’s as far forward as possible by putting as many forces as he could in the North’s way. He would put a barrier up along the Han River and bring in two U.S. divisions which he believed would be enough to stop the enemy. His plan would be to land at Inchon to gain the initiative11.
Quartermaster, “No More Task Force Smiths!,” http://www.quartermaster.army.mil/oqmg/professional_bulletin/1996/Spring/tfsmith.html (accessed on February 01, 2008.) 9 Quartermaster, “No More Task Force Smiths!,” http://www.quartermaster.army.mil/oqmg/professional_bulletin/1996/Spring/tfsmith.html (accessed on February 01, 2008.) 10 Quartermaster, “No More Task Force Smiths!,” http://www.quartermaster.army.mil/oqmg/professional_bulletin/1996/Spring/tfsmith.html (accessed on February 01, 2008.) 11 Max Hastings, The Korean War, New York: Touchstone, 1987, 80.
6 The Inchon landing would change the tide of the war back into the American’s favor. It would stop the advance of the North Korean Army, it would also keep our forces from being pushed back into the sea. MacArthur’s plan was to strike the enemy where they least thought likely and to cut their supply lines. It would take MacArthur countless hours of work to convince everyone that it was a smart choice to conduct an amphibious landing at Inchon. In the end, he was successful. “On August 28 he received the formal consent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Inchon Landing12.” There were close to 1500 North Korean men stationed at Inchon, but they could be reinforced with a large amount of troops if they had only a couple hours of notice. In order to fool the North Koreans, the British would launch a deception campaign at Chinnampo and Kunsan. Even though Inchon was one of the worst kept secrets of the war, the North never caught wind of it. On September 15th, when the sun broke over the horizon, American destroyers began bombarding Wolmi-Do island which was just off the coast off Inchon. This task was quickly completed, and the 5th Marines stormed the shore and secured the island within an hour. The Marines soon turned their attention to the seawall. They pounded the wall with artillery fire that had been positioned on Wolmi-Do. They then began blowing holes in the wall. Once that was completed, they used ladders to climb over. By nightfall, the 5th the Marines had completely secured the beach. The next day they had secured Seoul’s airport and one day after that the 7th Infantry Division landed at Inchon unopposed. Despite all of this, it would take them two more weeks to completely rid Seoul of the North Koreans. It would be a bloody house to house battle with the Marines taking fire from enemy machine guns, anti tank cannons, and sniper fire. Although Inchon was a major defeat, there was still one major problem with it. They had failed to
Max Hastings, The Korean War, New York: Touchstone, 1987, 102.
7 strategize properly and think of every little problem that could occur. Because of this, thousands of North Korean’s escaped to fight again13. After the Inchon landing, the next phase of the attack would be to push the North Koreans back across the 38th parallel. On September 28th, 1950 ROK forces advanced across the 38th parallel. General Walker’s Eighth Army would soon follow them across the parallel on the 9th of October. They encountered heavy resistance for close to a week until the enemy finally broke and fled in full retreat. The fight continued north and on 19 October the 1st ROK Division took Pyongyang with 10,000 men and a battalion of tanks. They swept through the streets unhindered. The civilians had either fled or were in hiding. Kim Il Sung and his government had also already fled north. The city was completely and wholly theirs. They believed victory was theirs and the war would be over in a matter of weeks14. While the 1st ROK Division was taking Pyongyang, the 1st Marine Division had disembarked from Inchon and were heading for Wonsan on North Korea’s East coast. When the Marines reached Wonsan, they were delayed by heavy minefields that were blocking their entrance. It took them three weeks and the loss of five minesweeping ships before their entrance was cleared. In the meantime, the ROK 3rd and Capital Divisions had already entered Wonsan on October 10th and continued onward. By the time the Marines landed at Wonsan on October 25th the ROK forces were already 50 miles north of them15. “Even Bob hope was there before them. To their profound chagrin, by a stroke which entered Marine legend the entertainer stage a USO show in Wonsan the night before the division stormed ashore to take possession16.”
Max Hastings, The Korean War, New York: Touchstone, 1987, 102. Max Hastings, The Korean War, New York: Touchstone, 1987, 115. 15 Max Hastings, The Korean War, New York: Touchstone, 1987, 124. 16 Max Hastings, The Korean War, New York: Touchstone, 1987, 125.
8 MacArthur continued to believe that that Chinese would not get involved in the war until October 31st. The Chinese moved across the border and began their onslaught. The South Korean’s 15 Corps was the first to be struck. Then the U.S. forces near Ansung were heavily engaged and sustained heavy casualties. The tragedy of these attacks could have been mitigated though if MacArthur had not declined to receive a message from Peking. The message said “we are here, in the unmistakable language of rifle and grenade, in the mountains of Korea that you cannot penetrate. We can strike at will against your forces, and they are ill equipped in mind and body, above all in mind to meet us. We are willing to accept heavy casualties to achieve tactical success. The armies of Sngman rhee are entirely incapable of resisting our assaults17.” On November 30th, Chinese troops began a massive attack that resulted in substantial losses for both the U.S. and the South Koreans. These attacks pushed the U.S. and ROK forces backward and on December 6th Pyongyang was in the hands of the Chinese. By the 7th of December, Chinese forces had pushed south until they were within 20 miles of the 38th parallel. Then, on December 31st, the Chinese conducted a major offensive in which they recaptured Seoul from the Americans18. It would be almost a month before Seoul would be taken again and the Chinese were pushed back across the parallel by the South. In December, while all of this was going on, Gen. MacArthur began a propaganda campaign to persuade Washington that we were incapable of winning the war in Korea. He went about this by exaggerating the number of Chinese troops in North Korea and by persistently proclaiming his doubt that the U.N. forces could
Max Hastings, The Korean War, New York: Touchstone, 1987, 130. Microsoft Encarta, “Korean War” http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761559607_3/Korean_War.html (accessed on February 01, 2008.)
9 overcome the communists. In March of 1951, MacArthur antagonized the Chinese by demanding them, without the consent of President Truman, to withdraw their forces or face total defeat. The final straw that made Truman fire MacArthur happened when MacArthur let it be know that he planned to use Chinese Nationalist forces along the Chinese border even after he was ordered by Truman to use only Koreans. So, on April 11, 1951 Truman fired Gen. MacArthur and replaced him with Gen. Matthew Ridgway of the U.S. Army19. In the summer of 1951, the war settled into a stalemate, bloody fighting would continue to occur along the 38th parallel for the next two years. On July 10th, 1951, negotiations began between the two warring countries at the chosen site of Kaesong. The site would soon be moved to a small city southeast of Kaesong where it would stay for the remainder of the talks20. The main issues that dragged the talks out were where to divide the two countries and where the POWs who did not want to return to their countries would go. The South also delayed the negotiations by refusing to sign an agreement that kept the North and the South divided. Their problems were solved when they finally decided on June 8, 1953 to create a neutral nation that would house the POWs for three months. If after that period of time, they still did not want to return to their home countries they would be free to do as they wish21. “After two years and 17 days of negotiations, even as heavy fighting continued at the front, the UN and North Korean leaderships signed an agreement on 27 July 195322.” South Korea refused to
Max Hastings, The Korean War, New York: Touchstone, 1987, 150. Microsoft Encarta, “Korean War” http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761559607/Korean_War.html (accessed on February 01, 2008.) 21 Microsoft Encarta, “Korean War” http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761559607/Korean_War.html (accessed February 01, 2008) 22 Australian war Memorial, “Korean War 1950–53” http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/korea.htm (accessed February 1, 2008)
10 sign the agreement. As a result, North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war. The Korean War lasted three years, one month and two days. It cost the lives of 54,229 Americans and wounded 103,248. The South Koreans had 4 times as many killed at 227,800 and 7 times as many wounded at 717,10023. It proved to be a bloody war with little gain and no clear victory at the end. The only clear victory we had was that we stopped the spread of communism into South Korea.
Century China, “Korean War Casualty Statistics” http://www.centurychina.com/history/krwarcost.html (accessed February 1, 20008)
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