The Korean War
On 25 June 1950, military forces of North Korea crossed the 38th Parallel into the Republic of Korea (South Korea), attacking at many points and landing sea-borne detachments on the eastern coast. This full-scale invasion was met with an immediate world reaction, and the Canadian Army would eventually commit an entire brigade group to military operations there.
The United States requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the afternoon of the 25th, and a call was made for the immediate cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of North Korean forces to the 38th Parallel - the original dividing line between the two nations. When it became apparent this demand would not be met, US President Truman ordered the US Navy and Air Force to support the South Korean military. The United Nations further resolved that its members provide military support for South Korea. Resolution was possible due to a Soviet boycott of the meeting of the Security Council. The resolution officially asked members to "furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area".
The US Army had a sizeable garrison in Japan, and on 30 June President Truman authorized the first commitment of ground troops. They would be joined by the troops of other nations under a single UN commander. A United Nations Command was established in Tokyo, Japan and placed under the command of US Army General Douglas MacArthur.
The war initially went well for the North Koreans; in addition to the surprise they achieved, South Korean forces were small and US assistance was meager, consisting of a handful of units accustomed to garrison life in Japan. Seoul, the capital of South Korea, fell on 28 June 1950 and by August, UN forces had withdrawn to the Pusan Perimeter, a small area in the southeast corner of Korea.
The US in the Far East included four divisions in Japan (1st Cavalry, 7th, 24th, and 25th Infantry) and the 29th Regimental Combat Team in Okinawa. The divisions lacked a third of their infantry and artillery and almost all their tanks; not only were units under strength but most equipment was wartime issue and only 45 days of ammunition was on hand. Individual and collective training had also suffered due to the occupation duties of these troops.
US unpreparedness led to a strategy of withdrawal; on 2 July 1950 Task Force Smith - with just two rifle companies and supporting units of the 24th Division, moved to Osan from Japan (via Pusan), 30 miles south of Seoul, in order to fight a delaying action. The force was routed on 5 July by North Korean tanks and infantry. Remaining elements of the 24th Division reached Korea, however, going into defensive positions north of Taejon and 60 miles to the south of Osan. By 15 July, ROK units and the newly arrived 25th Division had also deployed into defensive positions, with the 1st Cavalry arriving on 18-19 July. US Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker, commanding the US 8th Army, assumed command of all US and Korean forces, as well as other UN forces as they reached Korea.
Taejon fell to the North Koreans on 20 July, forcing US and ROK troops back steadily; the first combat use of the US 3.5-inch rocket launcher proved successful against the Soviet-built North Korean T-34 tanks. By the end of July, the UN perimeter stretched 200 miles and action was intense in several locations along it. The beginning of August saw US and ROK forces withdrawn behind the Naktong River, and soon General Walker declared that the withdrawals were at an end, ordering a concerted defensive of what became known as the "Pusan Perimeter". UN positions were now contracted to a 140 mile perimeter, and enemy supply lines stretching from North Korea were subjected to constant air attacks. The naval blockade of Korea instituted at the outset of the war prevented any North Korean movement by sea.
Throughout August and September 1950, 14 divisions of the Korean People's Army (KPA - the North Korean Army) battered themselves against the Pusan Perimeter, eager to destroy the 8th Army and take the port of Pusan. Heavy fighting was also concentrated around Taegu. During August the 8th Army welcomed the US 2d Infanty Division, the 1st Marine Brigade, four battalions of medium tanks, the 5th Regimental Combat Team, five ROK divisions were restored to fighting capacity, and the British 27th Infantry Brigade arrived from Hong Kong.
The Canadian Government agreed in principle with the UN's resolution to assist South Korea, but a plege of combat troops was slow in coming. The Canadian Army had recently liquidated much of its inventory of equipment as part of a "modernization", which included a move to standard US small arms. Training focused on the defence of Canada. Foreign policy had also rarely considered the Far East as an area vital to Canadian national interests (the move to send soldiers to Hong Kong in the Second World War had been particularly controversial after the destruction of the garrison there).
Military assistance first arrived in the theatre in the form of three destroyers of the Royal Canadian Navy who arrived in Korean waters in July 1950 to serve under UN command. The ships were involved at Inchon, and also helped evacuate cut-off American troops in the Chinnampo area who were caught in the Chinese counter-attack. Also in July 1950, an RCAF squadron began air transport flights between the US and Japan which it would maintain throughout the war. On 7 August 1950, the Canadian Army Special Force (CASF) was approved by the government. Special service battalions of the Royal Canadian Regiment, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, and Royal 22e Regiment were raised, along with supporting units including
This collection of units was designated the 25th Canadian Brigade and on 8 August 1950 placed under command of Brigadier John M. Rockingham, a brigade commander in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in the Second World War who had retired from the military.
Employment of the brigade seemed doubtful after the Inchon landings in September 1950, and by October it seemed the war was all but over. The government pledged to send only the 2nd Battalion, PPCLI under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jim R. Stone (also a Second World War veteran, who had commanded the Loyal Edmonton Regiment. The unit was sent by ship to Japan, where it arrived on 14 December 1950 to find the war in Korea had dramatically changed with the intervention of Red China. The need for troops was now urgent, and the Patricias moved to Korea for intensive training at Miryang, near Taegu, where they also engaged in actions against guerrilla activities.
The UN, after some hesitation, mandated MacArthur to invade the north. 1 October 1950 saw UN forces crossing the 38th Parallel, beginning with the ROK I Corps, capturing North Korea's major seaport (Wonsan) on 10 October. ROK II Corps advanced northward as well through central Korea, with Walker's remaining forces in the west relieving X Corps in the area of Seoul, crossing the Parallel on the 9th; by 15 October UN forces were 20 miles deep inside North Korea, by the end of the month, large numbers of prisoners were taken, and industrial areas became the new target. Pyongyang, the capitol, was entered on 19 October 1950 and secured by the end of the 21st. An airborne landing by the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team dropped on Sukchon and Sunchon, 30 miles north of the capitol, to trap KPA forces there, and on 26 October, a regiment of ROK troops were the first to reach the Yalu River - the border between North Korea and China.
The X Corps, withdrawn from combat earlier, prepared for amphibious operations in the east until the fall of Wonsan made the operation unnecessary. The 1st Marine Division landed in the heavily mined port on 26 October, and the 7th US Infantry Division landed at Iwon 80 miles north on 29 October. X Corps, with the ROK I Corps under his command, began clearing out northeastern Korea, intent on capturing industrial, communications and port facilities, as well as power and irrigation plants.
CCF Intervention: 3 November 1950 - 24 January 1951
UN success in North Korea, however, brought swift intervention from China, who sent formed military units into the country in large numbers beginning in October. On 1 November, Chinese elements had been identified south of the Changjin Reservoir; by 10 November some 12 divisions of Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) had been identified. Heavy fighting raged in a number of areas as Chinese units poured into the country, and the Chinese Air Force began operating its Russian built MiG-15 jet aircraft against UN pilots.
By this point, 10 November, Chinese attacks began to subside and the 8th Army and X Corps were restricted to small-scale operations. MacArthur had ordered both formations to attack toward the Manchurian border on 24 October, to secure the country before the onset of winter, but logistical problems had delayed the attack. MacArthur now reconsidered his plan for an all-out drive to the Yalu, and UN forces reorganized. The intentions of the Chinese were not apparent to the UN forces; finally on 24 November the offensive went ahead with attacks by the 8th Army and ROK II Corps. against little opposition in the first 24 hours. On 25 November violent Chinese counterattacks were launched. X Corps began its own attack on 27 November, only to run into sizeable enemy forces.
On 30 December, General MacArthur warned his superiors, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, that he felt the Chinese could drive UN forces completely from Korea if they desired. The US wished to avoid full-scale war and authorized a withdrawal to the former Pusan Perimeter, and if necessary, a complete withdrawal from the country. However, they were also determined to resist Communist aggression if possible.
MacArthur gave Ridgway complete operational freedom in Korea, and ceased his close supervision of 8th Army and X Corps. X Corps was now assigned directly to the 8th Army, losing the independent status it had been granted from its initial employment, meaning all UN ground forces in Korea came under the command of 8th Army. As 1951 began, some sixteen nations of the UN had soldiers in Korea, including the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, South Africa, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, Belgium, and Sweden. These ground forces numbered about 495,000 soldiers, including 270,000 ROK troops. UN Command estimate of enemy strength was 486,000 men, including 21 Chinese and 12 North Korean divisions, with more than a million men in reserve near the Yalu River.
Ridgway's plan in late December 1950 was to establish a defensive line along the 38th Parallel, concentrating 8th Army's bulk in the centre and west, opposite enemy concentrations above Seoul. An enemy attack all along the line was launched on 1 January 1951, preceded by a night-long mortar and artillery barrage. Seven Chinese armies and two corps of North Koreans pushed south towards Seoul in the west and Wonju to the east. UN forces again fell back, to the south bank of the Han River, forming a new defensive line with a delaying force around Seoul, with further retreats on 3 January 1951. Seoul and Inchon fell on 4 January 1951, bringing to an end Chinese attacks in the west and seeing a concentration of force shifted to the Wonju area, which fell on 7 January.
Ridgway launched a reconnaissance in force in mid-January called Operation WOLFHOUND which succeeded in reaching Suwon with little opposition, and soon retreated south again. As a lull once again descended on the Korean battlefront, UN aerial reconnaissance revealed enemy reserves of men and supplies accumulating.
First UN Counteroffensive: 25 January - 21 April 1951
Two reconnaissances in force on the western part of the perimeter in late January met little to no resistance; UN air power was effectively denying the enemy supplies. Fighting grew progressively harder as US and ROK forces moved north, finally securing Inchon and Kimpo airfield in mid-February.
In the centre, Wonju and Hoengsong were retaken, then counterattacked by the Chinese forcing a withdrawal. Fighting continued around Seoul, and guerrila activity by North Korean troops bypassed to the south began to flare up; these forces still numbered 18,000 men by the end of February. On 18 February combat patrols by units of the IX Corps indicated enemy troops on the central front were retreating, and Ridgway moved the corps forward; by the next day initative along the entire front was firmly in the hands of the UN forces. Ridgway elected to keep it, and ordered a general advance (Operation KILLER) of the IX and X Corps, which was hampered by spring thaw, heavy rains, swollen water obstacles and deep mud. By 1 March 1951 the front of the entire 8th Army was declared stable and all geographical objectives had been achieved. The second main objective, destruction of enemy forces, was not achieved, however, and the enemy used bad weather to good advantage to withdraw large numbers of men in good order. General MacArthur approved Operation RIPPER, which Ridgway launched on 7 March 1951, continuing the attack northward. By the end of March 1951, Ridgway's forces had fought to positions they called Line IDAHO, roughly along the 38th Parallel.
US President Truman and General MacArthur approved this second advance into the north, hoping to destroy large numbers of enemy forces and in the knowledge that the enemy was amassing supplies and men for a spring offensive. Operation RUGGED began on 5 April 1951, and by the 9th UN forces had reached Line KANSAS, 115 miles long running over commanding ground north of the 38th Parallel.
It was at this juncture that General MacArthur was relieved by President Truman, over differences of opinion regarding national policy. Ridgway was promoted to command of all UN forces, and Lieutenant General Van Fleet assumed command of the 8th Army on 14 April. Line UTAH, an extension of Line KANSAS, was reached by UN troops on 19 April 1951, and the stage was set for another advance, to Line WYOMING.
CCF Spring Offensive: 22 April - 8 July 1951
Enemy activity along the entire front increased On 22 April, halting the UN offensive and heralding the expected spring offensive. Three Chinese Communist armies attacked the UN lines after a four hour bombardment, aiming at I and IX Corps positions near Seoul with secondary attacks to the east. Some ROK units on the IX Corps front were thrown back, and both I and IX Corps were ordered to withdraw to Line KANSAS, giving up ground gained in recent offensive operations. Chinese troops cuting the Seoul Kaesong highway on 26 April precipitated a further retreat. By 29 April, North Korean and Chinese offensive operations had been halted; General Van Fleet took the opportunity to move more US units to the west, and UN forces all along the line were still holding firm, north of Seoul and the Han River.
Canadian forces were directly engaged during this Chinese offensive, notably the 2nd Battalion, PPCLI at Kapyong. In the 9th Corps sector, the 6th ROK Division was forced to retreat and in grave danger of being cut off and destroyed. Their natural escape route, however, through the valley of the Kapyong River, led through the positions of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade, then in Corps reserve.
The valley was 2,800 metres wide, curved and dominated by surrounding hills to the north, from where the entire valley could be dominated. The 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, established a defensive position at Hill 504, while 2 PPCLI dug in on Hill 677, with the 1st Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment to their south.
The Australians came under attack first, on the night of April 23-24. The next day, Chinese infiltration intensified, forcing an Australians withdrawal exposing the Patricias' position to an enemy attack. The battalion's positions covered the north face of Hill 677: "A" Company on the right, "C" Company in the centre, and "D" on the left flank.
"B" Company was moved farther south from its initial positions in a salient in front of "D" Company to a hill immediately east of tactical headquarters, from where it could observe enemy build-ups across the valley to the north and east, near Naechon. At about 2200hrs the lead platoon was attacked and partially overrun; other attacks were repulsed, and two platoons of "D" Company either cut off or overrun. After a two hour battle, in which the Patricias called down artillery fire on their own positions, the attack was repelled. Additional attacks were also repulsed with artillery fire, and "D" Company re-established its former positions the next morning. Airdrops kept the now-surrounded Patricias with supplies, and the Middlesex Regiment managed to clear a path to the Patricias.
The brigade had held firm, and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy with relatively light casualties of 10 killed and 23 wounded. Both 2 PPCLI and 3 RAR received the United States Presidential Unit Citation.
From the Veteran's Affairs website:
Elsewhere on the Korean front, twenty-one Chinese divisions attacked once more on the night 15-16 May supported by 9 KPA divisions, once again forcing ROK units back and causing a reshuffling of US formations. The attack was stopped with heavy artillery fire. On 17 May some 250,000 men attacked in the western sector, but by 20 May all enemy activity had been halted. On 18 May local attacks by UN forces had begun, as Van Fleet was eager to take back the initiative, and I Corps retook Uijongbu. By 31 May the UN forces had advanced along the line almost as far as the KANSAS Line, leaving almost all of South Korea clear of the enemy. At this point the 8th Army was ordered not to advance beyond the KANSAS Line, and tactical operations were to be only those necessary for self-defence, maintaining contact with friendly units, and to harass the enemy. The remainder of the war would follow that basic pattern. Van Fleet strengthened the KANSAS Line with his reserve forces and conducted limited operations.
UN Summer-Fall Offensive: 9 July - 27 November 1951
In July 1951, after the USSR's Deputy Foreign Minister made a public statement regarding the Chines and North Korean desire for a peace agreement, armistice talks began among the major participants of the war at Kaesong. The first meeting reached an agreement that hostilities would continue until an armistice agreement was signed. In August 1951, total UN ground forces under command of the 8th Army totaled 549,224, including 248,320 US Army and Marine ground troops, 268,320 ROK soldiers, and 32,874 soldiers of 17 other members of the United Nations.
General Van Fleet resumed offensive operations in late August 1951 after truce negotiations were broken off by the Communist delegation, aimed at improving defensive positions. By the end of October, these objectives, including Bloody Ridge and Heartbreak Ridge, which would have given the enemy commanding ground for an attack on the KANSAS Line, were secured. Other offensive operations included a five division UN attack on the I Corps front to the JAMESTOWN Line, in order to protect the Chorwon-Seoul rail line. Peace talks started afresh at Panmunjom on 25 October 1951.
Second Korean Winter: 28 November 1951 - 30 April 1952
By the end of 1951, operations in Korea had settled into a routine of patrolling, raids, and small-unit fights for outposts. General Ridgway felt that major assaults and their attendant casualties could not be justified in terms of the limited gains they would bring. Both sides were also cognizant of the possibility of armistice talks and were leery of mounting large-scale offensive operations. On 21 November 1951 8th Army officially ceased offensive operations of a large-scale nature; local attacks were permitted by Ridgway only where necessary to strenghten the front or establish an outpost. UN airpower (including naval aviation) continued to interdict the enemy in Operation STRANGLE, begun 15 August 1951, attacking various strategic targets such as railway lines, bridges, and motor vehicle traffic on major highways. Naval forces off Korea, with vessels from nine nations including Canada, maintained the blockade of Korea's coast.
The opening days on 1952 saw little action along the 155-mile long front, though as January progressed, 8th Army embarked on a month-long program of air and artillery attacks on enemy positions. In March and April, ROK units were given more front to defend, with American units and firepower being shifted to the west.
Korea, Summer-Fall 1952: 1 May - 30 November 1952
May 1952 saw an increase in Chinese/KPA patrols, probes and artillery fire; during the month an estimated 102,000 artillery and mortar rounds fell on positions of the Eighth Army. In response to this increased activity, the US 45th Division launched Operation COUNTER on 6 June, establishing 10 new patrol bases across its front in a 24 hour period. The 11th base, on Hill 191, was gained after a day fight ending 14 June. Chinese counter-attacks were heavy; the 45th lost 1,000 men during June while estimated Chinese losses were over 5,000 men.
The second anniversary of the start of the war saw the deadlock in Korea continue, with small-scale attacks still the order of the day. Late July and most of August saw torrential rains which limited activities. Chinese guns and mortars landed 45,000 rounds on the 8th Army in September. In the air, the summer had seen continued UN attacks on both strategic and tactical targets, including the largest air raid of the war on Pyongyang on 29 August. In the month of September, 64 Communist MiG-15 fighters were shot down for the loss of just 7 UN F-86 fighters.
October 1952 saw many heavy attacks by the Communists; fighting around Hills 281 and 395 saw heavier combat than had been seen in Korea for over a year, and the largest volume of incoming fire ever received by the 8th Army occurred on 6 October during the initial attacks. UN forces managed to retain their hold on both these hills after a 10 day battle that produced 2,000 Chinese fatalities.
On the 1st Commonwealth Division front, Royal 22e Régiment were heavily attacked at Hill 355, an important feature which dominated most of the divisional front. During the night of 23-24 November the battalion was attacked several times after heavy shelling, and though a forward platoon was forced to withdraw and another was surrounded, no ground was yielded.
Third Korean Winter: 1 December 1952 - 30 April 1953
As the war entered its third winter, armistice talks were still going nowhere, with discord centering on the exchange of Prisoners of War. The main issue was that UN delegates wished to give Communist prisoners the choice of not being repatriated to their former homeland, something the Communists opposed. A recess in the talks was called on 7 October, indefinitely, and resolution was nowhere in sight as the year 1953 opened.
Korea, Summer 1953: 1 May - 27 July 1953
There was little activity anywhere along the front as 1953 began. Then, as spring approached, the enemy renewed his attacks against the Eighth Army's outpost line. By July these attacks had increased in frequency and intensity until they were nearly as heavy as those of May 1951.
In January 1953 Van Fleet had twelve South Korean and eight U.N. divisions to defend the army front. Total strength of combat, service, and security troops was nearly 768,000. Opposing the U.N. forces were seven Chinese armies and two North Korean corps, totaling about 270, 000 troops. Another 531,000 Chinese and North Korean troops remained in reserve. With service and security forces, total enemy strength in Korea was estimated at more than a million men.
Other than a few patrol clashes, little fighting occurred during January and February 1953. On 11 February Lt. Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor took command of the Eighth Army as Van Fleet returned to the United States for retirement. The enemy increased his attacks during March, striking at outposts of the 2d and 7th Divisions and the 1st Marine Regiment. During the period 9-10 March the Chinese were successful in ambushing several U.N. patrols, inflicting heavy casualties in each instance. In early May 3 RCR withstood an unusually strong enemy assault on Hill 187; the attack was repulsed with heavy casualties - 26 killed, 27 wounded and seven taken prisoner.
After these flare-ups the front quieted down until late May, when elements of the US 25th Division guarding the approaches to the Eighth Army's western positions came under attack - losing three outposts to the enemy but inflicting nearly 3,200 casualties.
On the night of 10 June, three Chinese divisions launched several attacks on the ROK II Corps in the vicinity of Kumsong, attacking down both sides of the Pukhan River. The ROK corps withdrew two miles, and losses on both sides were heavy; the Chinese lost 6,000 men and the ROK units 7,400. By 18 June the attacks had subsided and action along the entire front returned to routine patrolling and light attacks by 30 June.
Operation LITTLE SWITCH, an exchange of Allied and Communist sick and wounded prisoners, began on 20 April. When it was completed in the latter part of the month, 684 Allied prisoners (including two Canadians) had been exchanged for more than 6,000 Communists.
Armistice negotiations were resumed in April. The prisoner-of-war question was settled by providing each side an opportunity to persuade those captives who refused repatriation to their homeland to change their minds. By 18 June the terms of the armistice were all but complete; but on this date President Syngman Rhee ordered the release of 27,000 anti-Communist North Korean prisoners of war unilaterally, in protest against armistice terms which left Korea divided. U.N. officials disclaimed any responsibility for this action; but the enemy delegates denounced it as a serious breach of faith and delayed the final armistice agreement for another month. Enemy forces took advantage of this delay. On 13 July the Chinese launched a three-division attack against the left flank of the ROK II Corps and a one-division attack against the right flank of the U.S. IX Corps, forcing U.N. forces to withdraw about eight miles to positions below the Kumsong River. By 20 July, however, U.N. forces had counterattacked, retaken the high ground along the Kumsong River, and established a new main line of resistance. No attempt was made to restore the original line, as it was believed that the armistice would be signed at any time. Enemy casualties in July totaled about 72,000 men. Out of the five Chinese armies that had been identified in the attacks, the enemy had lost the equivalent of seven divisions.
By 19 July the negotiators at Panmunjom had reached an accord on all points. Details were worked out within a week and the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed at 1000 hours 27 July 1953.
In all, Canada sent 26,791 Canadians to serve in the war itself, with 7,000 more soldiers remaining to supervise the ceasefire until the end of 1955. Of these 1,558 became casualties, including 516 deaths, most due to combat.
Canada's plans to implement US designed weapons and equipment were shelved after the emergency in Korea forced the adoption of Second World War vintage weapons. The shortcomings of the bolt action Lee Enfield rifle and the propensity Canadian soldiers had to acquire US semi-automatics in Korea may have led to Canada's decision to adopt the FN assault rifle in 1957.
In addition to the Army's role in Korea, geography permitted an unusually large role for naval vessels, as the peninsula permitted UN and ROK ships to perform blockade, amphibious landing, aircraft carrier operations and offshore bombardment roles. Canada lent eight ships of the Royal Canadian Navy to these tasks, who also performed security tasks on friendly islands and delivered aid to sick and needy civilians in isolated fishing villages. The RCAF played only a minor role in the war, loaning 22 fighter pilots to the US 5th Air Force's Sabre-equippped jet fighter squadrons.
After the signing on 27 July 27 1953 of the Korea Armistice Agreement at Panmunjom, an uneasy truce followed, with Canadian troops remaining on occupation duty until 1955 (in total, some 7,000 Canadians served in this capacity). Korea remained a divided country into the 21st Century. The war had marked, however, the first effective multi-national intervention to prevent aggression and the United Nations gained in credibility.
Military manpower for both sides peaked in 1953, with an estimated 1,155,000 Communists under arms (858,000 of whom were Chinese) in addition to possibly as many as 10,000 Soviet soldiers in non-battlefield roles. UN strength peaked at 272,000 South Koreans and 266,000 from the other 16 nations, not including those employed on the lines of communication and in quasi-military roles.
United Nations and South Korean fatal and non-fatal battle casualties numbered about 490,000 during the course of the war.