Chapter 5 - The Korean War, The Opening Phases, 1950-1951
- Why was Korea divided into two states? When did this division occur? Who divided it? How is Korea's geographic location of strategic significance?
- How did the Korean War start? Why did the United States intervene?
- What was the condition of the United States Army at the start of the Korean War? Why was this the case?
- Who was General Douglas MacArthur? What was his plan for saving Korea?
- What was the significance of the Port of Pusan to the U.S. war effort? What was MacArthur's strategy for retaining control of the Port of Pusan?
- What was the Inchon Landing? What was its significance?
- Why did United Nation forces cross the 38th parallel? Was this decision in concert with the stated political goals of the United States and United Nations?
- Why did the Chinese Volunteer Army intervene in the Korean War? What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Chinese army? How did the Chinese Volunteer Army defeat the United States Army in November of 1950?
- Why were the U.N. troops surprised by the Chinese invasion? Explain this intelligence failure.
- Did the change to the strategic defensive during the Korean War mark a change in the American way of war? Why or why not?
U.S. Department of State. “Korea, North.”
U.S. Department of State. “Korea, South.”
Documentary film. “This is Korea; The Story of the 7th Fleet and 1st Marine Division.” 1951 documentary made by the U.S. Navy.
Fordham University. Modern History Sourcebook: Report of the United Nations Commission on Korea, 1950.
“Stand or Die – 1950 Defense of Korea’s Pusan Perimeter by David T. Zabecki.”
“Black Soldier; White Army; The 24th Infantry in Korea.”
Naval History and Heritage Command Center. “The Inchon Invasion, September 1950. Overview and Selected Images.” Also includes an overview of the Korean War.
Arlington National Cemetery Website. “Matthew Bunker Ridgway, General United States Army.”
Links to “Korean War Maps”.
The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. “Oral History Interview with John J. Muccio; Special Representative of the President to Korea, 1948-1949; Ambassador to Korea, 1949-1952; Envoy Extraordinary to Iceland, 1954.”
The Korean War
Prelude to the Korean War
USSR enters war against Japan, and enters Korea.
US General Order No. 1 calls for US to take Japanese surrender in Korea south of the 38th parallel, and USSR forces to take Japanese surrender north of the 38th parallel.
Republic of Korea (ROK) inaugurated in Seoul, under President Syngman Rhee.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea inaugurated in Pyongyang under Premier Kim Il Sung.
1950 Invasion and the Pusan Perimeter (Phase One)
At 0400 on Sunday morning the North Korean People's Army (NKPA) attacked across 38th parallel. At 0930 Kaesong was taken. United Nations Security Council called for an end of aggression and withdrawal of NKPA forces.
President Truman orders United States air and naval forces under the command of General MacArthur to help the ROK repel the NKPA. The US Seventh Fleet is ordered to defend the Formosan Straits. The UN adopted a US resolution, with the Soviet Union absent, proclaiming the NKPA attack a breech of world peace. UN member nations are asked to assist the ROK repel the NKPA invaders. Fourteen nations sent ground troops to assist the US and the ROK.
NKPA take Seoul, the Capital of South Korea. 40,000 ROK soldiers are missing, captured, or dead.
President Truman authorizes General MacArthur to send ground forces to Korea.
President Truman receives Congressional authorization to call into active service any or all reserve components of the Armed Forces for a period of 21 months.
First US Army combat unit, "Task Force Smith" (1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, 24th Infantry Division) arrives in Korea.
Inchon, a major port facility, falls to NKPA.
TF Smith fights first engagement in Korea to gain time for the deployment of the 25th ID and 1st Cavalry Division. The NKPA breaks through at Konji.
UN Security Council authorizes formation of a UN Command (UNC). UN flag flies over primarily American forces.
21st Infantry stalls NKPA advance at Chochiwon.
General MacArthur named Commander-in-Chief of UNC.
25th ID and 1st CD begin movement from Japan to Korea; 29th Regimental Combat Team sails from Okinawa for Korea; 2nd ID at Fort Lewis, Washington prepares to embark for Korea.
Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker appointed Commanding General Eighth US Army in Korea (EUSAK). US Army falls back to Kum River near Taejon.
NKPA crosses Kum River. All ROK forces are placed under MacArthur's command.
US reinforcements arrive in Korea.
President Truman authorizes the Department of Defense to call up reserve units and individuals.
US Army continues to retreat. NKPA takes Taejon. Major General William F. Dean reported missing.
NKPA in western Korea advance to southern coast, take Suchon, and attack toward Pusan, the last major port facility in South Korea.
Walker orders: "There will be no more retreating." First reinforcements from the United States arrive in Korea. MacArthur goes to Formosa to consult with Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist. This meeting was not approved by Truman, and was not in concert with his foreign policy.
Walker forms the Pusan defensive perimeter with US and ROK forces.
US and ROK forces retreat to Naktong River. NKPA attack to within forty miles of the Pusan--the only major port in South Korea.
MacArthur confers with Truman's military and political officials from the US (Generals Norstad, Almond, and Ridgway, and Averall Harriman) regarding the Inchon Landing.
US forces conduct limited counter-attack toward Chinju, west of Pusan.
X Corps activated for the Inchon Landing. It consisted of 1st Marine Division and 7th Infantry Division. It was commanded by Major General Ned Almond who was still MacArthur's chief of staff. The X Corps was constituted as a separate command, independent of Walker's EUSAK -- a violation of the principle of war unity of command.
First British troops arrive from Hong Kong. By the end of August UN strength is about 180,000 soldiers. NKPA strength is about 92,000 soldiers.
NKPA establish bridgeheads across the Naktong River and push to within thirty miles of Pusan. Walker's Pusan Perimeter holds.
Inchon Landing (Phase Two).
The Inchon Landing was a turning movement that landed UN forces in the rear of the NKPA, causing it to fight in two directions at the same time.
Inchon captured by X Corps. Walker's EUSAK attacks out of the Pusan Perimeter up the Korean Peninsula.
NKPA troops retreat from Pusan. NKPA troops trapped between EUSAK and X Corps.
Seoul retaken by X Corps. EUSAK links up with X Corps near Osan.
UN forces recapture almost all territory south of the 38th Parallel. Chou En Lai, Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China (PRC) warns: "The Chinese people will not supinely tolerate seeing their neighbors being savagely invaded by the imperialists."
Advance to the Yalu (Phase Three)
ROK Third Division cross the 38th Parallel.
UN General Assembly authorizes UN Forces to cross the 38th parallel into North Korea to complete the destruction of the NKPA.
US 1st Cavalry Division cross the 38th parallel.
Wonsan port on the east coast of North Korea captured by ROK Third Division. Chinese repeat warning of intervention in the Korean war. UNC ignores warning.
Truman and MacArthur meet at Wake Island. MacArthur informs the President that he does not believe the Chinese will intervene, and that if they do his forces can handle them.
Chinese Communist Forces (CCF), the "People's Volunteer" army secretly enter the Korean peninsula from Manchuria.
Pyongyang, capital of North Korea, captured by UN forces.
US 187th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team jumps at Sukchon and Sunchon, about twenty-five miles north of Pyongyang.
MacArthur orders his commanders to advance. He removed all restrictions on non-Korean forces. This was in violation of instructions received from the JCS.
Chinese Intervention (Phase Four)
ROK Sixth Division reaches the Yalu River at Chosan. CCF attack ROK forces.
CCF launch first phase of offensive.
UN forces reach the Yalu River on the Chinese border. UN pilots opposed for the first time by Soviet built MIG-15 jet fighter.
US 1st Cavalry Division suffers heavy casualties when attacked by CCF at Unsan, causing a withdrawal across Chongchon River.
MacArthur notifies UN that CCF are conducting operations in Korea.
MacArthur warns JCS that movement of CCF across Yalu threatens the position of UN forces.
CCF forces break contact with UN forces.
Elements of 1st Marine Division reach Chosin/Changin Reservoir.
Elements of US 7th Infantry Division (7th ID) occupy Hyesanjin on banks of Yalu River.
MacArthur flies from his headquarters in Tokyo to Korea to announce "end of war" offensive, having concluded that, "the Chinese are not coming in." EUSAK again advance toward the Yalu.
CCF, under command of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China, launches a violent counter-offensive on both the EUSAK in the west and X Corps in the east. UN forces caught totally unprepared to defend, even after numerous warnings of a pending attack. UN forces start to withdraw. 1st Marine Division cutoff at Chosin Reservoir.
28 November-11 December
1st Marine Division breaks out of encirclement, and move south to rejoin the X Corps at Hungnam.
EUSAK and X Corps in general retreat. Truman suggests that the Atomic Bomb might be used.
Pyongyang captured by CCF.
UN forces begin evacuation of Hungnam, Songjin, and Wonsan.
UN forces begin establishing a defensive line near the 38th parallel.
CG EUSAK, General Walker, is killed in a jeep accident. Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway named new commander.
Navy completes evacuation of 105,000 soldiers of X Corps from Hungnam beachhead.
Ridgway arrives in Korea and takes command of all UN ground forces -- X Corps and EUSAK.
CCF prepare for major new attack across the 38th parallel into South Korea.
CCF attack across 38th parallel. Ridgway orders retreat.
CCF take Seoul.
UN forces on Pyongtaek-Wonju Line halt CCF offensive.
Ridgway's Offensive (Phase Five)
Ridgway initiates a series of offensives designed to halt the retreat, restore the confidence of the Army, destroy enemy forces, and regain lost territory south of the 38th parallel. The first limited offensive was "Operation Thunderbolt."
Ridgway launches offensive, Operation Roundup.
CCF launch offensive. US 23rd Infantry Regiment of the 2nd ID with an attached French Battalion is surrounded at Chipyong-ni. In a desperate battle the CCF offensive is defeated.
Ridgway launches Operation Killer, a general offensive to annihilate enemy forces and re-establish UN line east of Wonju.
Ridgway launches Operation Ripper to outflank Seoul and capture Chunchon.
Seoul retaken by UN forces.
US 187th Regimental Combat Team jumps at Munsan to cut off enemy forces south of Han River.
Advanced elements of UN forces reach 38th parallel.
UN forces in Operation Ripper clear most CCF from South Korea, south of Imjin River.
President Truman relieves General MacArthur of command for insubordination.
General Ridgway becomes Supreme Commander of UN forces. General James A. Van Fleet assumes command of EUSAK. Ridgway places tight control measures over Van Fleet's operations.
UN forces establish defense along 38th parallel, the Kansas Line. CCF establish the "Iron Triangle" assembly area, Chorwan-Kumhwa-Pyonggang.
CCF launch all-out spring counter-offensive.
UN forces halt CCF advance, after a limited withdrawal, just north of Seoul and 40 miles south of the 38th parallel.
UN forces launch a limited offensive to regain former positions and reestablish contact with the enemy.
Second phase of CCF spring offensive initiated. CCF penetrate 15 to 20 miles into the south along a 75 mile front.
UN forces halt enemy drive on western front and conduct a counter attack.
Far East Air Force (FEAF) initiates Operation Strangle, a massive air effort to interdict logistic and other types of resources flowing from the north to CCF at the front.
UN forces counter-attack.
UN forces regain Kansas Line.
UN forces take Chorwon and Kumhwa in the Iron Triangle. UN forces start to construct a deliberate defense along the 38th parallel--generally along the same line that existed before the NKPA invasion.
Truce Talks, Negotiating while Fighting (Phase Six)
Jacob Malik, Soviet UN representative, calls for cease-fire in radio speech.
Ridgway proposes meeting with CCF leaders to discuss armistice, suggest Danish hospital ship in Wonsan harbor as site.
CCF commander proposes meeting at Kaesong near 38th parallel.
First meeting takes place between UN and CCF delegations. Admiral C. Turner Joy heads the UN delegation. LTG Namm Il, NKPA heads the CCF delegation.
After ten meetings, the two delegations announced agreement on five-point agenda.
UN delegation suspends armistice negotiation because of CCF violations into neutral area.
FEAF continue Operation Strangle.
CCF break-off talks because of FEAF violations of neutral area.
UN forces begin attack at Heartbreak Ridge.
Armistice talks resume at Panmunjom. Delegates meet for the 27th session.
Military demarcation line agreed upon. The line of contact is the cease-fire line.
Ridgway orders EUSAK to cease all offensive operations, and initiate active defensive operations. Stalemate develops. Both sides begin to construct substantial defenses that makes taking the offensive extremely costly.
Prisoner lists are exchanged. UN listed 132,474 communist soldiers, Chinese and Korean; and the CCF listed 11,559 UN soldiers.
UN delegation proposes principle of "voluntary repatriation" in POW exchange.
CCF rejected proposal.
POWs uprising in UN camps on Koje.
CCF charge UN forces with using "germ warfare."
Brigadier General Francis T. Dodd, commander of UN Prisoner of War Camp Number One on Koje-do, is taken hostage by prisoners, and held for 78 hours.
General Mark W. Clark takes over from General Ridgway as Supreme Commander. Ridgway assumes command of NATO from Eisenhower.
Major General K. Harrison succeeds Admiral Joy as chief UN negotiator.
General stalemate along front. Armistice talks deadlock on POW issue.
Operation Break-up, the resettlement of Koje Island prisoners into 500 inmate stockades, is completed.
FEAF destroy majority of North Korea's power plants.
Truce talks enter second year.
FEAF attack North Korean capital, Pyongyang with 1,403 sorties, the largest one day air assault of the war.
Air Force reports record one day kill of thirteen MIGs.
CCF launch largest attack of the year.
Truce talks suspended indefinitely, deadlock over POW return policy.
Eisenhower elected President.
Eisenhower begins three-day tour of Korea.
President Eisenhower ends neutralization of Formosa Strait with the 7th Fleet, creating the possibility that Chiang Kai-shek's forces might be used against the PRC. Eisenhower also made known to the Chinese that the war might be expanded in areas and methods of his choosing. In other words, he threatened to use the atomic bomb if an armistice agreement was not reached in an expeditious manner.
General Maxwell D. Taylor takes command of EUSAK.
UN and CCF delegates open talks on exchange of sick and wounded prisoners.
Agreement reached on limited prisoner exchange, 605 UN soldiers and 6,030 CCF and NKPA soldiers.
Operation Little Switch, the exchange of POWs takes place at Panmunjom. The exchange consisted of 471 South Koreans, 149 Americans, 32 British, 15 Turks, 6 Colombians, 5 Australians, 2 Canadians, 1 Netherlanders, 1 Filipino, 1 South African, and 1 Greek. Truce talks resume at Panmunjom.
CCF accept UN proposal that war prisoners unwilling to return to Communist control be placed in neutral custody within Korea.
Fighting intensifies as negotiations approach final phase.
CCF and UN delegates sign agreement on prisoners of war exchange policy. President Syngman Rhee and South Korean government vehemently oppose the agreement. Rhee wants Korea unified.
ROK National Assembly unanimously reject truce terms. General Clark attempts to negotiate with President Rhee.
CCF renew attacks along the front.
South Koreans release 25,000 North Korean anti-communist prisoners in the general population. President Rhee ordered the release demonstrating his opposition to the armistice agreement.
CCF accuses UNC of conspiring with the ROK to release the prisoners, and suspend negotiations.
CCF attack ROK position. Anti-armistice demonstrations take place in Seoul. Walter Robinson, US Assistant Secretary of State, and General Clark negotiate with Rhee to gain his compliance.
CCF agree to resume talks.
Robinson announces that he has gained the support of President Rhee.
CCF launch major attack, driving back ROK forces to adjust the cease-fire line.
Armistice agreement signed at Panmunjom. Fighting ends at 2200. No permanent treaty was ever signed. In the days following the CCF returned a total of 12,773 UN prisoners, including 3,597 American (General Dean among them), 7,862 ROKs, 945 British, 229 Turks, and 140 others. The UN returned a total of 75,823 prisoners, including 70,183 of the NKPA and 5,640 of the CCF. The US suffered 54,246 dead (32,629 killed in combat and 20,617 from other causes). The Pentagon estimated that military casualties on both sides were approximately 2.4 million. Korean civilian casualties were roughly 2 million men, women, and children.
Thousands of US soldiers and airmen currently serve in Korea.