On June 25, 1950, the North Korean communist’s forces crossed the 38th parallel into democratic South Korea. The reason for the invasion is still unknown, but there had been skirmishes and incursions going on for years.
Three days after this invasion, Seoul fell to the North Koreans. On June 27, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to assist South Korea in driving back the invasion. Since its founding in 1945, the UN had never encountered such a severe test.
Fifteen nations sent troops to South Korea, while 20 countries offered support. However, 88 percent of the fighting troops were Americans. President Truman called this a “policing action” to stop communist aggression. He placed General Douglas MacArthur to assume operational control of all American military in Korea, and from Japan he led the United Nations forces in the Korean War.
On hearing of the invasion, Truman unilaterally ordered air strikes on North Korea, and also ordered the 7th Fleet to protect Formosa where Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalist party was located. Both Truman and MacArthur agreed that Formosa must not fall to the communists. Help was then sent to South Korea.
Within three days of the invasion, MacArthur sent 500 men stationed in Japan to Korea as first responders. They had been serving occupational duty in Japan, and therefore were poorly equipped and overall were not combat ready.
By contrast, the North Koreans were hardy, tough soldiers and were exceptionally trained. The North Koreans were aided by Soviet weapons, artillery, tanks and several thousand Soviet trainers, but had limited air support.
Soviet soldiers did not fight in the Korean War; they just provided logistical support to the Chinese and North Koreans. Early in the war the Soviets gave the North Koreans a few airplanes which they ended up losing from capture or being shot down, so they were not given anymore.
The South Koreans had no aircraft or bombers and their antiquated American equipment, was no match for the communist aggressors. As a result, the South Koreans and the U.S. soldiers were overwhelmed, and within two months they were pushed back to the southwestern tip of South Korea, called the Pusan perimeter. They held this defense line until reinforcements arrived.
By late summer, elite units with better equipment started arriving in country. MacArthur made one of his most celebrated maneuvers of his career with an amphibious landing by the 1st Marines behind North Korean lines at Inchon. This task seemed impossible to do because of the 30-foot tides. The 1st Marines then recaptured Seoul.
The North Koreans became vulnerable due to their long supply lines, and started retreating back north, with the UN troops right behind them. This success at Inchon led MacArthur to a series of defeats, eventually compelling the UN forces to withdraw from North Korea. Many sources feel that crossing the 38th parallel in hot pursuit of the North Koreans, cost thousands of lives and extended the war another 2 ½ years.
Truman did not want MacArthur to go north of the 38th parallel, “unless” the Chinese communists entered North Korea, which they had warned they would do if their borders were crossed. Truman wanted to prevent WWIII with China, while MacArthur did all he could to provoke a wider war.
MacArthur felt that the supply depots and power dams located on the Yalu River supporting North Korea should be destroyed. So he had UN troops not only chased the North Koreans past the 38th parallel, but had them cross the Yalu River at Manchuria’s border with North Korea and China. After crossing the Yalu River, the Chinese entered the war as they said they would do.
The closer the U.N. troops got to the Yalu River, the less communist soldiers they saw because they were massing north of the Yalu. The Chinese soldiers knew how to evade the enemy which they had learned from fighting Chinese nationalists. They moved at night and knew how to avoid being seen, lighting no fires, camouflaging themselves, and freezing in place when the enemy aircraft moved over them.
Nov. 1 1950, was the first confrontation between the Chinese and the U.S. military. They encircled and attacked the U.S. 8th Cavalry Regiment, which resulted in UN forces retreating back to the Chonghchon River. Then the Chinese disappeared into the mountains.
On Nov. 25, Chinese hordes attacked, splitting the UN forces. On the west side of North Korea were soldiers of the 8th Army. After four days of fighting, they retreated back to the North Korean village of Kuni-ri where they met the Second Division. There were 2,000 or more men dead or missing from the division of 18,000.
Military intelligence didn’t know where the Chinese were and what was the safest route to retreat. With the help of the Army’s 10th Corps they managed to retreat back past the 38th parallel. The Soviets provided limited air support at the Yalu River.
On the east side of North Korea, the 1st Marine Division and the U.S. 7th Infantry Division Regiment was surrounded and trapped at the Chosin Reservoir near the Yalu River of Manchuria. Food and ammunition supplies had to be air dropped to them.
The single road and bridge from the Chosin Reservoir to the sea was blown up by the Chinese blocking their retreat. The Air Force dropped 20-foot gap bridge sections which the Marines repaired for their retreat. With the help of the Army’s 10th Corps they were able to fight their way to Hungnam, where survivors were evacuated by waiting ships to Pusan.
The rest of the attacks and fighting was around Seoul and the 38th parallel. The battle of Hoengsong, located about 50 miles east of Seoul was known as the “Gettysburg of the Korean War,” because of the fierce fighting and loss of life, especially for the army.
Instead of retreating, the U.N. troops stood and fought while outnumbered 15 to 1. While there was an endless supply of tough Chinese soldiers, they had limited logistical support and were vulnerable to artillery and airpower.
China’s superior manpower was pitted against the U.S.’s superior firepower. UN forces retreated to cities south of Seoul and behind the 38th parallel. Because of the logistical problem of a long supply line, the Chinese could not advance past Soeul. During the war Seoul changed hands four times.
On April 11, 1951, President Truman fired MacArthur for over-stepping his authority, and widening the war which brought in the Chinese. MacArthur’s “big ego” and Truman’s mistrust of the military was a constant source of friction between the two.
MacArthur’s statements that he might use the atomic bomb, and inferring that Truman was “appeasing” the communists was the last straw. MacArthur was fired. He was replaced with General Ridgeway who did a great job and improved the morale. The Japanese people loved and idolized MacArthur, because he gave them their freedom of speech and democracy.
(Next week will cover the peace talks, armistice, hardships our soldiers endured, and contributions each military service made to the war.)