Invasion of Inchon - Sep 15 1950, South Korea

Korean War, 1950-53

Only five years after the end of the Second World War, Australia became involved in the Korean War. Personnel from the Royal Australian Navy, Royal Australian Air Force and the Australian Regular Army were committed soon after the war began and would serve for the next three years in the defence of South Korea.
Over 17,000 Australians served during the Korean War, of which 340 were killed and over 1,216 wounded.

Years Active

Australians Served

Australians Wounded

Australians Killed

Prelude to war

Prelude to war

In 1910 Japan annexed Korea and for the next 35 years ruled its colony harshly. During this time, various groups in Korea sought support from external powers, including China, the USSR (Soviet Union), and the United States. After the defeat of the Japanese in the Second World War, by mutual agreement the United States and the Soviet Union divided the peninsula into two zones of control. The Americans controlled Korea south of the 38th parallel and the Soviets the area north of the parallel.

While agreeing in principle to the unification of Korea, the two superpowers could not agree on how to bring this about. Each assisted the establishment of a regime to its own liking in its part of the country – communist in the north, and non-communist in the south.

The fight over Korea in the 1950s represented a Cold war flash-point, when the ideological conflict extended beyond Europe and broke out in open warfare. It transformed a civil conflict into an armed confrontation between the major powers of the world.

Prelude to war

In 1910 Japan annexed Korea and for the next 35 years ruled its colony harshly. During this time, various groups in Korea sought support from external powers, including China, the USSR (Soviet Union), and the United States. After the defeat of the Japanese in the Second World War, by mutual agreement the United States and the Soviet Union divided the peninsula into two zones of control. The Americans controlled Korea south of the 38th parallel and the Soviets the area north of the parallel.

While agreeing in principle to the unification of Korea, the two superpowers could not agree on how to bring this about. Each assisted the establishment of a regime to its own liking in its part of the country – communist in the north, and non-communist in the south.

The fight over Korea in the 1950s represented a Cold war flash-point, when the ideological conflict extended beyond Europe and broke out in open warfare. It transformed a civil conflict into an armed confrontation between the major powers of the world.

Prelude to war

In 1910 Japan annexed Korea and for the next 35 years ruled its colony harshly. During this time, various groups in Korea sought support from external powers, including China, the USSR (Soviet Union), and the United States. After the defeat of the Japanese in the Second World War, by mutual agreement the United States and the Soviet Union divided the peninsula into two zones of control. The Americans controlled Korea south of the 38th parallel and the Soviets the area north of the parallel.

While agreeing in principle to the unification of Korea, the two superpowers could not agree on how to bring this about. Each assisted the establishment of a regime to its own liking in its part of the country – communist in the north, and non-communist in the south.

The fight over Korea in the 1950s represented a Cold war flash-point, when the ideological conflict extended beyond Europe and broke out in open warfare. It transformed a civil conflict into an armed confrontation between the major powers of the world.

Crossing the “line”

In the pre-dawn hours of 25 June 1950 the Korean People’s Army (KPA) launched a massive offensive across the 38th Parallel into South Korea. They drove the Republic of South Korea’s forces down the peninsula, capturing the capital Seoul, within a week. South Korean and hastily deployed United States Army units fought delaying actions as they were forced further down the Korean peninsula.

Within two days of the war’s beginning, US President Harry S. Truman committed US navy and air force units to aid South Korea. By the end of the month, he had authorised US ground forces to be deployed to the peninsula. On 28 June 1950, Australia became the second nation, behind the United States, to commit personnel from all three armed services to the war.

This Australian commitment represented a major strategic statement of practical military independence from Britain and laid another foundation stone for the 1951 establishment of the ANZUS – Australia, New Zealand and United States – security pact for the Pacific region.

The terrain and climate made conditions in Korea difficult for troops. Almost eighty per cent of Korea is mountainous and the effort of moving even short distances over mountains and valleys was exhausting and time-consuming.

Soldiers also had to cope with extremes of temperature. The pervading, numbing cold of the winters is well remembered by veterans. Soldiers slept with their guns to their chests, to keep the parts from freezing up. Living and fighting in this climate posed a constant struggle, creating difficulties with transport, the movement and maintenance of supplies and the soldiers’ health.

Allied troops under the command of Gen.Douglas Macarthur liberated Seoul and pushed the North Korean forces back beyond the 38th parallel, eventually capturing Pyongyang in October 1950. As the allied troops pressed forward beyond Pyongyang they encountered Chinese forces in large numbers, who were in alliance with the North Koreans. Despite MacArthur’s intent to push northward to the Chinese border they ultimately retreated from the Chinese offensive and by early 1951 lines were again drawn at the 38th parallel (where they remain to this day) when the war entered a long period of stalemate.

Armistice and the aftermath

The end to one of the bloodiest wars of the century came with the signing of an armistice on 27 July 1953, three years and one month after the war began. Neither side had lost or clearly won the war. The former belligerent nations each withdrew two kilometres in accordance with the armistice agreement, forming the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which still exists today.

Whilst the guns have remained quiet since 1953, the absence of a formal peace treaty fuels continued tension between North and South Korea.

Australian Forces remained in Korea as part of the multi-national peacekeeping force until 1957 and US forces remain stationed in South Korea, monitoring the DMZ.

There is a feeling among some Australian Veterans of Korea that their war experience was forgotten – either lost in the aftermath of the Second World War or muddled with the beginnings of the Vietnam War. Thankfully, he sacrifices of that conflict have been commemorated in a new memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra, the National Korean War Memorial.

Sources:

Australian War Memorial “Out in the Cold: Australia’s involvement in the Korean War
Encyclopaedia Brittanica: Korean War

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