Korean War, 1950-53
Prelude to war
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, as this ideological conflict extended beyond Europe and broke out in warfare, transforming a civil conflict into an armed confrontation between the major powers of the world.
Crossing the “line”.
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.
Soldiers also had to cope with climatic extremes. 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.
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. Over 17,000 Australians had served during the Korean War, of which 340 were killed and 1,216 wounded.
The former belligerent nations each withdrew two kilometres in accordance with the armistice agreement, forming the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which still exists today. 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.
Whilst the guns have remained quiet since 1953, the absence of a formal peace treaty fuels continued tension between North and South Korea.
Australian War Memorial “Out in the Cold: Australia’s involvement in the Korean War
Encyclopaedia Brittanica: Korean War
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