Korean War

Dafato Team | Jun 4, 2022

Table of Content


The Korean War opposed, from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), supported by the United Nations (then without the representation of the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan) being then recognized), the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), supported by the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union. It resulted from the partition of Korea following an agreement between the Soviets, having liberated Manchuria and North Korea, and the victorious Allies of the Pacific War at the end of the Second World War. It was one of the first important conflicts of the Cold War.

The Korean peninsula had been occupied by the Empire of Japan since 1910. After Japan's surrender in September 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union shared the occupation of the peninsula along the 38th parallel, with U.S. occupation forces in the south and Soviet forces in the north.

The conflict had four main phases:

Negotiations then resumed and open warfare ended on July 27, 1953, when a cease-fire was signed. The agreement restored the border between the two Koreas near the 38th parallel and created the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a fortified buffer zone between the two Korean nations. With the two countries still officially at war, minor incidents continue to occur to this day.

From a military perspective, the Korean War combined the strategies and tactics of both world wars: it began as a rapid offensive infantry campaign followed by aerial bombardment, but became a static war from July 1951.

At the Yalta Conference (February 4-11, 1945), Stalin promised Roosevelt that the USSR would enter the war against Japan three months after the surrender of Germany. At the Potsdam Conference in July-August 1945, the Allies agreed that in Korea, Japanese forces north of the 38th parallel would surrender to the Soviets and those in the south to the Americans. The Soviets intervened in the north on August 9, 1945, the day after the declaration of war on Japan. For their part, the Americans landed on September 8, the day after the proclamation in Seoul of a short-lived "Democratic Republic" by the left-wing, communist-majority parties that had been active in the resistance to the Japanese occupation.

However, neither the United States nor the Soviets, let alone the Koreans themselves, considered the de facto partition of the Korean peninsula, which resulted from the dual American and Soviet presence, to be definitive: indeed, a joint American-Soviet commission was set up in January 1946, but its work was not completed because of the growing tension between the two superpowers. In September 1947, the Americans brought the Korean question to the United Nations. The UN General Assembly appointed a commission to organize and supervise free elections as a preliminary to the formation of a national government. However, the Soviets, who regarded the United Nations as a U.S.-linked organization (before decolonization, most of its members belonged to the Western bloc), refused to admit the commission to their zone of occupation.

Left-wing parties from all over the country, as well as nationalist anti-U.S. organizations, met in Pyongyang in April 1948 and decided to boycott the elections. The elections were finally held only in the U.S.-occupied zone, under U.N. supervision, and brought to power the old nationalist and anti-communist leader Syngman Rhee, who had been the head of the Korean government-in-exile formed in 1919. On July 19, 1948, the Republic of Korea was proclaimed in Seoul, which became its capital. In response, non-UN-supervised elections were held in the Soviet-occupied zone, which gave a majority to the left-wing, communist-dominated parties. At the same time, underground elections were held in the south, and the delegates elected came to Pyongyang, where the Supreme People's Assembly proclaimed the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Like the Republic of Korea, the DPRK claimed to represent the entire peninsula. The strongman of the new North Korean regime was Kim Il-sung, general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and former resister to the Japanese occupation. The leader of a small group of Korean partisans from 1930 onwards, Kim had led several raids against Japanese outposts in Korea from Manchuria, where he had taken refuge with his parents as a child. In 1941, he left Manchuria, which had become a puppet state called Manchukuo, and received military training in the Soviet Union. He returned to his country in 1945 as an officer in the Red Army.

Both Syngman Rhee and Kim Il-sung wanted to reunify the peninsula, but each according to his own political ideology. With conscription reintroduced in 1947 in the north, which provoked some armed resistance among part of the population (see UNPIK), the north Korean army, called the Korean People's Army, equipped with tanks and heavy weapons of Soviet origin, was better able to take the initiative, while the South Korean army, due to more limited American support after the withdrawal of the occupying troops (December 1948 and June 1949), was in a state of inferiority, materially (no tanks and no combat aircraft), but above all numerically.

The French historian Bernard Droz affirmed in 1992 that the American and South Korean responsibility appeared little credible: "Considering the state of unpreparedness of the South Korean army and the presence on the spot of only a few hundred American advisers, and since the opening of the Soviet archives, it is now established that the general offensive of June 25, 1950 was prepared for a long time by North Korea. According to Soviet archival documents, Kim Il-sung decided to invade South Korea by early September 1949 at the latest, even though "there have been no serious incidents at the 38th parallel since August 15." However, Stalin considered that for the moment such an initiative was not appropriate either militarily, politically or economically. He was worried about the unpreparedness of the North Korean army and a possible American intervention and therefore prohibited an enterprise whose full success was not assured. Indeed, in a telegram dated September 24, 1949, the Politburo instructed the Soviet ambassador in Pyongyang, General Shtykov, to inform Kim Il-sung that in the eyes of the Soviet leadership the "Korean People's Army was not ready for an attack, that such an attack would cause significant political and economic difficulties for North Korea" and that therefore such an attack was "not permitted. Subsequently, the North Koreans strengthened their army and transformed it into a formidable offensive instrument on the model of the Soviet Red Army's armored forces. Thus, by 1950, North Korea had a clear advantage in all categories of weaponry. The People's Republic of China was initially reluctant, because a war in Korea would destabilize the entire region. Mao Zedong also believed that such a conflict would encourage American intervention in the Far East and interfere with the planned conquest of Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang forces were entrenched. Nevertheless, China would not accept the presence of enemy troops on its borders, foreshadowing a Chinese intervention should it feel its territory was threatened.

On January 12, 1950, the new U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, told the National Press Club that the U.S. defense perimeter in the Pacific included the Aleutian Islands, the Ryūkyū Islands, Japan, and the Philippines: the explicit omission of Korea might have implied that, in the event of war, the Americans would not intervene. However, if this had been Washington's position at one time, the U.S. government renounced it by April 1950. Therefore, as containment remained the principle of American policy, Washington regarded South Korea as a bastion to contain the communist advance in Asia, especially after the Chinese communist victory in 1949. In the meantime, Stalin's attitude had changed: during a visit of Kim to Moscow in April 1950, the master of the Kremlin endorsed the annexationist plans of the North Korean leader because, after the departure of the American troops, he no longer considered a war to be a serious risk for North Korea, although he could not guarantee official support from the Soviet Union. Some have questioned whether Dean Acheson's public omission in January 1950 was not a provocation designed to encourage the North Korean annexationist military initiative, so that it could trigger the reverse American annexationist intervention. In a 1992 interview with the Russian historian Sergei Goncharov, Chung Sang-chin, a former brigadier general in the North Korean army, reported that, according to Kim Il-sung's interpreter, Kim Il-sung used four arguments to gain Stalin's support: the attack, unannounced, would be decisive, so that victory would be achieved in three days; in south Korea, the People's Army offensive would be accompanied by an uprising of the two hundred thousand Party members; the communist guerrillas would support the People's Army; and finally, the United States would not have time to intervene. Chung said that Kim had heard of the Acheson speech.

According to a report from the Soviet Foreign Ministry to Brezhnev in particular, dated August 9, 1966,

"the North Korean government planned to achieve its goal in three stages:

The reliability of the Soviet documents has been strongly contested by the North Korean authorities, as they call into question the country's official history. Moreover, according to the North Koreans, who invoke the presence of American advisers, the United States did not respect the terms of the Soviet-American agreement on the withdrawal of troops from the peninsula and increased its provocations and attacks, some of them on a large scale, in order to destabilize North Korea. For example, the War Museum in Pyongyang has archival documents on display that show plans to invade the DPRK.

For their part, the majority of South Korean historians, like leftist intellectuals in France, pointed to the increasing number of border incidents along the 38th parallel and Syngman Rhee's bellicose statements in the run-up to the war as early as the 1950s, and concluded that there was shared responsibility. According to Heo Man-ho, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at the Seoul College of Social Sciences who specializes in Korean history, "the warlike attempts prior to the Korean War had already resulted in over 100,000 deaths. In other words, according to Heo Man-ho, these border incidents were in some cases "full-fledged pitched battles involving about 6,000 men" (initiated by both the North and South Korean sides), making it increasingly likely that open conflict was being considered by both sides. "It is therefore difficult to decide with certainty who is the invader and the initiator of the war. The only criteria that can help to clarify this question are the military preparations made by the leaders of the two Koreas and the forms of support from the two superpowers to these same leaders. Therefore, concludes Professor Heo Man-Ho, "based on these criteria, we could support the thesis of the North Korean invasion on the South; indeed, the Korean War was prepared more seriously by the North Korean leaders with the Sino-Soviet support". Regarding the South Korean preparations, Harry S. Truman's special envoy to South Korea, Philip C. Jessup, in a memorandum to his government dated January 14, 1950, following a meeting with South Korean President Syngman Rhee, pointed out that Rhee had explained that the South Koreans "would have a much better strategic line of defense, if their forces moved into North Korea, that there was no planning to engage in any kind of conquest operation. Yet, the general impression of his speech is that he did not object when South Korean forces along the 38th parallel had taken initiatives from time to time." For his part, Mr. Muccio, the American ambassador in Seoul, reported that in 1948, during a reception at the South Korean presidential palace, the South Korean defense minister "told him with pleasure that his men had conquered Haeju," a town located on the Ongjin peninsula "just beyond the 38th parallel," and did not add that practically everyone there had been killed.

In any case, Kim Il-sung had given himself the means for a general offensive by reinforcing his army, and when he finally received, after 48 telegrams, permission from Stalin in April 1950, and from Mao Zedong a month later, he took the initiative on June 25, 1950, taking advantage of a situation he considered favorable - the material and numerical inferiority of the South Korean army, the presence on the ground of only a few hundred American advisers, and the apparent renunciation of the Truman doctrine concerning the Korean peninsula - and this in a context of repression of communist guerrilla movements, He took advantage of a situation that he considered favorable - the material and numerical inferiority of the South Korean army, the presence of only a few hundred American advisers on the ground, and the apparent renunciation by the United States of the Truman Doctrine with regard to the Korean peninsula - and this in a context of repression of the communist guerrilla movements that had dominated the South Korean political scene at the time of the Japanese surrender.

U.S. intelligence agencies were unable to properly assess Kim Il-sung's plans and did not believe that he would engage in such a conflict.

The date of 25 June 1950, chosen "at the end of May 1950 at the insistence of Kim Il-sung", marks the crossing of the 38th parallel by North Korean divisions; it is generally considered by Western and Russian historians as the beginning of the Korean War. For its part, North Korea maintains an earlier date of a few days, alleging that it was merely retaliating against a major South Korean incursion into its territory, an incursion carried out with the support of American advisors.

North Korean assault

In the hours before dawn on June 25, 1950, under the protection of a formidable artillery barrage, 135,000 North Koreans crossed the border between the two Koreas. The North Korean government announced that troops commanded by the "traitor and bandit" Syngman Rhee had crossed the 38th parallel, and that consequently the North had been obliged to retaliate "to a serious provocation by the puppets of Washington," according to L'Humanité of the following day. For his part, Jean-Paul Sartre, a fellow traveler of the French Communist Party, asserted that "it was South Korea that had attacked North Korea at the instigation of the United States. Advised and equipped by the Soviets, who would never openly commit themselves, the North Korean army lined up seven divisions, 150 T-34s, 1,700 artillery pieces, 200 fighter planes and large reserves. The North Korean attack was devastating. At least two-thirds of the small South Korean army (just 38,000 men in four infantry divisions) were on leave at the time, leaving the country largely unarmed. The North Koreans attacked at several strategic locations, among them Kaesŏng, Chunchon, Uijongbu, and Ongjin. Within days, the southern forces, outnumbered and outgunned, were routed and forced to retreat. As the ground attack progressed, the northern air force bombed Gimpo Airport in Seoul, where the 22 liaison and training planes of the southern air force were located. Seoul was taken in the afternoon of June 28. However, the North Koreans had failed to achieve their main objective, namely the rapid surrender of the Rhee government and the disintegration of its army.

South Korean and UN counter-attack

In the United Nations Security Council, the United States, taking advantage of the absence of the Soviet representative Yakov Malik (a policy known as the "empty seat", to denounce the American refusal to admit Communist China to the Council in place of Taiwan), had Resolution 83 adopted on June 27, 1950, condemning the North Korean aggression; On July 3, 1950, the USS Valley Forge launched the first naval air attack of the Korean War, followed by a raid of 21 planes from the HMS Triumph on an airfield in Haeju. On July 7, Resolution 84 gave them command of a UN force. Sixteen countries agreed to come to the aid of South Korea. Among them, the most important were the United Kingdom and various Commonwealth forces, including those of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Other participants in the UN force included the Philippines, Turkey, France, Belgium, Greece, Thailand and Colombia, which sent several thousand troops. The other participating countries limited themselves to sending medical teams.

On September 30, 1950, the strength of the United Nations forces, mainly American, was 230,000, including 165,000 ground units and 85,000 navy and air force personnel.

On October 1, UN troops captured Yangyang, crossing the 38th parallel in turn. From this date onwards, North Korean cities began to fall one by one: Goseong on October 4, Hwacheon on October 8, Cheorwon and Wonsan on October 10, Kumchon on October 14, Hamhŭng on October 17, Haeju, Sariwŏn, and Pyongyang on October 19, Anju on October 22, Kaech'ŏn, Tŏkch'ŏn, and Hŭich'ŏn on October 23, Unsan and Kujang on October 25. On October 26, a few units reached the town of Chosan (en) on the Yalu, the river delineating the Sino-Korean border. They were pushed back some 15 kilometers to the south the next day, but this did not prevent UN troops from taking other towns further east (Sŏngjin fell on October 28, Kilju on November 5, Hyesan on November 21, and Ch'ŏngjin on November 25) and further west (Chongju fell on October 30).

Chinese intervention


It was the Fourth People's Army, commanded by General Peng Dehuai. After fierce fighting against the Chinese forces, the Americans and South Koreans were pushed back. The Chinese withdrew and the Americans were able to resume their offensive until, on November 26, 1950, more than half a million Chinese soldiers of the People's Liberation Army supporting the North Korean army went on the attack again with air cover from the Soviet air force. The scattered and ill-equipped UN forces were driven back across the 38th parallel, dragging more than a million North Korean civilians fleeing the Communist regime into their retreat; Seoul was retaken by the North Koreans and their Chinese allies on January 4, 1951, after the withdrawal of General Ridgway's troops the day before. In the days that followed, the North Koreans swept into the southern part of the peninsula and succeeded in retaking Suwon and Wonju (January 7), Jecheon (January 10) and even Danyang (January 12). In addition, the evacuation by sea to Hungnam (about 105,000 soldiers, 98,000 civilians, 17,500 vehicles and 350,000 tons of equipment) and to Chinnampo of the American X Corps and the Korean I Corps surrounded by the enemy.

Return to the status quo ante bellum

To rectify the situation, MacArthur suggested on March 10, 1951, without success, the launching of dozens of nuclear bombs on Manchuria and the intervention of the Nationalist Chinese forces of the Guomindang. Disagreeing with Truman, MacArthur was dismissed on April 11, 1951 because the president feared a Sino-American confrontation from which the Soviet Union could have benefited. He was replaced by Ridgway. General Ridgway, then commander of the 8th Army, had succeeded in recapturing Seoul (March 14) and Chuncheon (March 21) during Operation Ripper and even pushed the communist forces back beyond the 38th parallel (March 25). The Americans continued their offensive after MacArthur's dismissal and arrived at the gates of Cheorwon and Hwacheon in mid-April 1951, prompting the Chinese to launch the Spring Offensive in which Chuncheon and Yangyang were quickly retaken. On May 20, 1951, they were about ten kilometers from Gangneung and about twenty from Seoul, when the UN launched its counter-offensive, which enabled it to seize several cities that had remained in the North Korean fold since the second Chinese offensive in December 1950, notably Goseong (taken on May 29), Cheorwon and Hwacheon (taken on June 11). This was the last major offensive of the conflict, and the front stabilized at the present demarcation line (UN forces managed to establish themselves on the right bank of the Imjin River in November 1952), and although the U.S. General Staff had planned landings in North Korea to reunify the peninsula, these were suspended by the political authorities, as the idea of a status quo ante bellum began to gain ground. Ridgway was replaced as commander of the U.S. 8th Army by General James Van Fleet, who left the service on March 31, 1953.

During this phase, the French battalion fought more important battles: from May 23 to June 5, 1951, the battle of Soyang also called the May Massacre, followed by a war of position. From October 5 to 10, 1952, the battle of Arrow Head stopped the Chinese attacks.

Negotiations, prisoners' problem and armistice

On June 23, 1951, Jacob Malik, the USSR's permanent delegate to the United Nations, inserted a passage in a speech in which he suggested a negotiation on the basis of a return to the previous situation: such a scenario had resulted two years earlier in the lifting of the Berlin blockade. As early as July 10, 1951, delegates from both sides met in Kaesŏng, near the former demarcation line. But it was not until the death of Stalin on March 5, 1953, and the ensuing political change in the USSR, that negotiations were concluded on July 27, 1953, at Panmunjeom, ending a conflict that had lasted three years and caused at least one million deaths according to most Western historians (more than two million according to the North Koreans). The ceasefire marked a return to the status quo ante bellum: in fact, the Korean Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas (cutting the 38th parallel diagonally, along a strip 249 km long and 4 km wide) means that the surface area of each of the territories of the two Koreas will be more or less the same as it was at the beginning of the conflict, with a slight advantage for the South, as the front line has stabilized a little beyond the old border.

Of the 10,000 missing Americans, only one-third had been found. Not a single one of the 1,036 prisoners whose names had at one time or another been mentioned in the Eastern Bloc media appeared on the list. Of the 110 names given to the Red Cross, only 44 remained on the list. More seriously, 50,000 missing South Koreans had been "liberated on the front lines" according to North Korea, forcibly recruited into the North's army according to the United Nations. It was the methods of repatriation of the prisoners in the hands of the UN that held up the negotiations, with China and North Korea wanting all prisoners to be handed over unconditionally, while the UN advocated freedom of choice. In the end, the second solution was adopted, after compromises were made with the communist nations, who could try to convince their citizens to give up their choice. Of the 75,000 prisoners who had asked to remain in the Western camp, 5,000 gave up their initial plan. The return of the prisoners took place in two phases: the "Small Exchange" operation, in April 1953, where the United Nations returned 5,194 North Korean soldiers and 416 civilians while the North returned 471 South Koreans, 149 Americans, 32 British, 15 Turks, 6 Colombians, 5 Australians, 2 Canadians, 1 Greek, 1 South African, 1 Filipino and 1 Dutch. Then the "Operation Great Exchange" consisted of a massive exchange of prisoners after the armistice: 70,159 North Koreans and 5,640 Chinese were repatriated to their respective countries while 7,848 South Koreans, 3,597 Americans and 1,312 members of other UN contingents were released.

About 15,000 Chinese and 50,000 North Koreans chose to stay in the South, while 305 South Koreans, one Briton, and twenty-one Americans remained in the North (three Americans changed their minds afterwards).

Battle tanks

Although the mountainous geography of Korea severely limits the use of battle tanks and prevents major mechanized offensives, they are used successfully on both sides in infantry support. In addition to the T-34

Although the U.S. Air Force initially claimed to have destroyed the majority of North Korean tanks, studies of the 256 North Korean T-34 tanks lost between July and November 1950 show that only 63 were lost by the Air Force and 97 by tanks (32 by M26 Pershing, 19 by M46 Patton, 1 by an M24 Chaffee tank, and 45 by M4A3E8 Sherman tanks).

Air warfare

The conflict that broke out five years after the end of the Second World War shows how the search for air superiority became an absolute priority for the United Nations command, i.e. the Americans. It saw the first battles between jet aircraft, while propeller planes, veterans of the previous war, were widely used. Indeed, the quantitative ratio of ground forces appeared, from the beginning of the operations, overwhelmingly favorable to the Sino-North Koreans. In order to prevent this serious imbalance from causing a disaster for the UN ground forces, it was essential to prevent North Korean aircraft from supporting their ground troops. In fact, a significant portion of the North Korean air force consisted of Soviet and Polish pilots. Most of the air combat engagements against American F-86s were conducted by MiG-15s - which were among the most capable in the world at the beginning of the conflict - and were flown by Soviet pilots. Soviet squadrons were rotated every six weeks.

At the same time, the choice to intensify strategic bombing campaigns has resulted in more North Korean civilian deaths.

During the 37 months of this conflict, the United States armed forces of the United Nations Command in Korea used 576,000 tons of bombs, 412,000 of which were used by the United States Air Force, a large part of them in strategic bombing operations. 29,535 tons of napalm were also dropped.

According to the North Koreans, "more than 10,000 bombers (cumulative figure) carried out more than 250 air raids on the city of Pyongyang alone between mid-July and mid-August 1951, with "targets" ranging from hospitals to rural houses surrounding the city. The north of Korea, although only a third the size of Japan, was bombed according to them 3.7 times more than Japan in World War II, 600,000 tons of bombs (napalm and others)."

The American historian Bruce Cumings, known for his anti-American positions, considers that American experts in Korea developed a new form of air warfare, refining methods already used against Imperial Japan: "The Korean War is considered to have been limited, but it closely resembled the air war against Imperial Japan during the Second World War, and was often conducted by the same American military officials. While the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been widely analyzed, the firebombing of Japanese and Korean cities has received far less attention.

Still according to the same source, Bruce Cumings observes that these massive bombings did not correspond to the "precision bombings" invoked by the American army: "Within the American air force, some people revelled in the virtues of this relatively new weapon, introduced at the end of the previous war, laughing at the communist protests and misleading the press by speaking of "precision bombings".

If the Korean conflict is a special case, given the political and geographical data, it should be emphasized that the air chiefs, nourished by the rich lessons of the Second World War, knew how to adapt in order to quickly reach this imperative of air superiority, by completing the action of neutralization of the enemy grounds in North Korea by the fixation of the Soviet and Chinese air forces in a quadrilateral chosen by them. This strategy of fixation worked. Indeed, the airborne loss rate was low, less than half that observed during World War II, and the ground support of the numerically overwhelming North Korean forces was consequently insignificant.

At the end of July 1953, at the conclusion of the war, the United Nations air forces were as follows: 128 B-26 Invaders, 218 F-84 Thunderjets, and 297 F-86 F Sabres; P-51 Mustangs and F-80 Shooting Stars also participated in the war in large numbers, not to mention a few night fighters and B-29 helicopters and four-engine planes based in Japan or Okinawa. Several hundred embarked aircraft also participated in the conflict (F4U Corsair, F9F Panther, Supermarine Seafire and Fairey Firefly). A total of 800 pilots, supported by 59,700 ground personnel, served in Korea on behalf of the United Nations. These were primarily American personnel.

North Korea started the war with a relatively modest air force, composed of 239 aircraft, all with piston engines. There are 129 Yaks, 43 Il-10S (an improved version of the famous Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik), as well as a few Po-2 and other aircraft. In the first weeks of the conflict, the North Korean air force was greatly outnumbered by the United Nations forces, so that by July 22, 1950, it was reduced to only 65 aircraft. In fact, the North Korean air force itself played only a minor role during the conflict. It was the Chinese and especially the Soviets who did most of the fighting, although this was not made clear. Indeed, if it had been publicly acknowledged that Soviet pilots and machines were fighting in Korea, the United States might have been led to declare war on the Soviet Union, despite the nuclear threat. At the end of the war, approximately 125 Mikoyan-Guruvich MiG-15s were under direct North Korean control.

In the last days of June 1950, the Chinese air force deployed its first air brigade to North Korea. It was composed of :

On September 1, 1951, it is estimated that as many as 525 MiG-15s were serving under North Korean cockades. At the beginning of June 1952, the People's Republic of China's air force numbered about 1,830 aircraft, including about 1,000 fighters. On July 31, 1953, the People's Republic of China still had nine fighter corps (nearly 500 MiG-15s) and two bomber corps (54 Tu-2s) in the Korean theater. In spite of their size, the Communist air forces were never able to effectively support their ground forces, let alone strategically attack the American rear.

The Soviets, along with the Chinese, provided much of the air war effort. Indeed, North Korean pilots were not nearly as well trained in the handling of the famous MiG-15s as the fighting suggested. On several occasions, Western pilots reported clear sightings of MiG-15 pilots who were too big for Asians, probably Soviets. On October 10, 1950, Stalin promised to send military equipment to North Korea and to transfer no less than 16 Soviet air force regiments to ensure the protection of Chinese and North Korean territories. About 72,000 Soviets served in Korea and China over three years. Soviet historiography was quick to recognize and claim this participation as a way to fulfill its internationalist duty. There was also a land intervention by the Mongolian People's Republic: a country that was the second socialist country in chronological order of formation (1924). This added to the superior quality of the Chinese and especially Soviet pilots, which made the North Korean Air Force a formidable opponent for the UN forces.

This is especially true since, prior to the introduction of the F-86 Sabre, the United States and its allies had no aircraft capable of competing with the MiG-15, the best fighter in the world at that time. In order to be able to fight the MiG-15 more effectively, the United States made every effort to obtain an intact copy. Due to the lack of defections from the Communist ranks, in April 1953 the United States offered a reward of $100,000 - a large sum of money for the time and the promise of political asylum - for an intact aircraft. However, no MiG-15s showed up before the end of the war, and it was not until September 1953 that an aircraft was delivered by a deserter, who claimed not to know about the promised reward.

As of June 25, 1951, the United Nations claimed 391 aircraft destroyed or damaged during the first year of the war. The losses were as follows: 188 fighters, 33 bombers, 9 transports and 17 miscellaneous. By that day, 89 F-86 Sabres were deployed in Korea and the total number of MiG-15s available to the Communists was around 445. On July 1 of the same year, the United Nations acknowledged the loss of 246 aircraft (mainly due to flak, according to the UN), 857 dead and missing. More than 200 MiGs are claimed to have been destroyed. In April 1952, the United Nations reported 243 destroyed and 290 damaged aircraft in one month. A total of 771 aircraft were destroyed by North Korean flak from September 1, 1951 to April 30, 1952. The Americans further claimed that the ratio of destroyed MiGs to destroyed F-86s was eleven to one. On June 26, 1952, the following statistics were published by the United Nations:

These figures should be considered with caution, as the announcements of victories compared to the losses suffered by the two sides are discordant. While the USAF announced that it had lost 16 B-29 bombers in combat, the Soviet pilots claimed 66 destructions of this aircraft in aerial combat, without counting the Chinese and North Korean claims. The United States Far East Air Force (FEAF) lost a total of 1,406 aircraft (including accidents) and had 1,144 men killed and 306 wounded during the war. Thirty FEAF men who had been reported missing were eventually returned to military control, 214 prisoners of war were repatriated under the terms of the armistice agreement, while 35 men were still held in captivity in June 1954. From the time the Communist forces retreated, most of the aerial combat between UN and Communist fighters took place in the area known as MiG Alley. Operating from bases on Chinese territory, the MiG-15s successfully opposed the Western forces, forcing the B-29 bombers to operate only at night. Even when the situation on the ground was largely unfavorable to them, Communist pilots continued to fly sorties to challenge the air superiority of the United Nations.

The MiG Alley area is everything west of the triangle formed by the cities of Hŭich'ŏn, Changju, and Sinanju (in present-day North Korea). Western aircraft were prohibited from crossing the Chinese border to attack MiG squadron bases, but in the heat of battle several aircraft did cross the border.

Air power played a key role: for the first time in history, jet fighters were used in operational conditions (except for the Me 262 during World War II). China had become a major air and military power. Half of its 1,400 fighters were Soviet-built MiG-15s, considered the best in the world. Operating from bases in Manchuria and rarely venturing over UN lines, the MiG-15s nonetheless threatened UN air supremacy, especially over MiG Alley. It was not until the United States produced the F-86 Sabre that UN forces finally had an aircraft capable of competing with the MiG-15.

Accusation of the use of American biological weapons

In a memorandum dated December 21, 1951, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to provide guidance "for the use of chemical and bacteriological weapons." From 1938 to 1945, faced with the same problem of China's enormous numerical superiority, the Imperial Japanese Army had repeatedly employed these weapons against enemy troops and civilians, notably at the Battle of Changde. The Americans had subsequently carefully recovered the results of Shirō Ishii's work in exchange for an exemption from prosecution before the Tokyo Tribunal, granted to all members of his research units by Douglas MacArthur. According to China and North Korea, these weapons were used by the Americans on a large scale around the beginning of 1952. The use of biological weapons was falsely mentioned on February 22, 1952, when North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Hon-yong officially accused the Americans of spreading "vector insects" that spread plague, cholera and "other diseases" in North Korea. Two days later, Zhou Enlai made the same accusation, and on March 8, he claimed that between February 29 and March 5, U.S. planes had spread disease-carrying insects over Manchuria on 68 occasions.

On March 12, 1952, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson formally requested the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to conduct an investigation in the areas reported by the North Koreans and the Chinese. The ICRC presented its request on the same day to North Korea and China, and again on March 28, March 31 and April 10. The ICRC never received any response from the Chinese and North Korean authorities. The United States then submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council inviting the ICRC to conduct investigations in China and North Korea. Despite ten votes out of eleven in favor of the U.S. motion, the draft resolution could not be adopted because the USSR vetoed it. After a new American initiative at the UN in April 1953, the USSR declared itself ready to withdraw its accusations, provided that the United States, on its side, would give up its demand for an investigation. By this time it was clear that North Korea's allegations were based on fabricated evidence. Indeed, Soviet documents published in 1998 evoke a macabre staging organized by the North Koreans and their Soviet advisers. Thus, on April 18, 1953, Lieutenant-General V. N. Razuvayev, Soviet ambassador to North Korea, informed Beria, member of the Politburo and head of the State Security, the future KGB, that in February

On May 2, 1953, the Kremlin instructed the Soviet ambassador in Peking, V. V. Kuznetsov, to convey the following message to Mao: "The Soviet government and the Central Committee of the CPSU were misled. The press reports about the American use of bacteriological weapons in Korea were based on false information. The accusations against the Americans were false. And to the Soviet chargé d'affaires in North Korea: "We recommend that the question of germ warfare should no longer be discussed in international organizations and UN bodies. Soviet workers involved in the manufacture of the so-called evidence of the use of bacteriological weapons will be severely punished."

The Chinese and North Korean thesis was taken up in 1998 by two Canadian historians, Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, professors at York University (Toronto) and authors of The United States and Biological Warfare. Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea (Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1998), then again in an article published in the Manières de voir collection of Le Monde diplomatique (August-September 2003). In this article, Endicott and Hagerman claim to have relied on American archives "sparingly disclosed" (see below the commentary by Professor Ed Regis) and on documents from the government and military archives in Beijing. They also quote an excerpt from a letter of April 12, 1977 sent to Endicott by John Burton, the resigned head of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs in 1952 and a member of the International Scientific Commission that examined the bacteriological "material" provided by the Chinese (see Razuvaev's report to Beria above). I went to China in 1952," writes John Burton, "to evaluate the claims of germ warfare. Without detailing the evidence, I returned convinced that Chinese officials believed it to be conclusive. On my return, Alan Watt, my successor as head of the Australian Foreign Department, informed me that, in the light of my statements, he had sought answers in Washington and had been informed that the Americans had used biological weapons in Korea, but only on an experimental basis."

American archival documents and testimonies collected by Professors Endicott and Hagerman show a complete biological weapons program: "feather bombs" carrying anthrax spores, aerosols causing respiratory tract infection, and "insect vectors" capable of spreading cholera, dysentery, typhoid and botulism. These weapons were to be operational by July 1, 1954, "with capabilities that could be implemented as early as March 1952. "Did the Americans conduct experiments in Korea to test the effectiveness of these weapons?" ask Endicott and Hagerman. The answer is yes, they say, "according to documents in Chinese government and military archives" and according to the report of a Canadian expert who concluded that, "despite some anomalies, the Chinese evidence was reliable." Endicott and Hagerman admit, however, that "among the best-known rebuttals" of the Chinese and North Korean accusations is "a report written by three Canadian scientists at the request of the U.S. government." In a June 27, 1999 article in the New York Times, Rutgers University professor Ed Regis, author of The Biology of Doom: The History of America's Secret Germ Warfare Project (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999), points out that in their work, Endicott and Hagerman implicitly acknowledge that twenty years of research have not uncovered a single American archival document that would prove any use of germ warfare in Korea and China. They accept the circumstantial documents provided by the Chinese and North Koreans without any analysis of their reliability," Regis said, "when it is well known that the Chinese and North Koreans were rewriting history for propaganda purposes, and that they had the means, motives and opportunity to forge the evidence. Therefore, he concluded, Endicott's highly questionable allegation

Massive use of napalm

A total of 29,535 tons of napalm were dropped during this war.

Beyond Endicott and Haverman's "highly questionable allegation" (Ed Regis), napalm was, according to American revisionist historian Bruce Cummings, used on a larger scale than during the Vietnam War and the damage was greater because of the greater concentration of the Korean population: "The industrial city of Hungnam was the target of a major attack on July 31, 1950, in which 500 tons of bombs were dropped through the clouds. The flames rose up to a hundred meters. The U.S. military dropped 625 tons of bombs on North Korea on August 12, a tonnage that would have required a fleet of 250 B-17s during World War II. By the end of August, B-29 formations were dropping 800 tons of bombs per day on the North. This tonnage consisted largely of pure napalm. From June to the end of October 1950, the B-29s dropped 3.2 million liters of napalm.

Nuclear Weapons

In a press conference on 30 November 1950, President Harry S. Truman declared that the United States could use all the weapons available in its arsenal, including nuclear weapons. On the same day, the U.S. Air Force was ordered to be ready to drop atomic bombs in the Far East without delay.

On December 9, 1950, General Douglas MacArthur declared that he wished to have command over the use of nuclear weapons at his sole discretion, and on December 24, 1950, he submitted a list of targets for which he said he needed 26 bombs, plus 8 bombs to be dropped on "invading forces" and on "critical concentrations of enemy air power. In interviews published later, Douglas MacArthur claimed that 30 to 50 bombs would have been enough to end the war in ten days: he would have created a radioactive belt between the East Sea and the Yellow Sea, which would have prevented all life in this human region for 60 to 120 years and forbade the penetration of Chinese and Soviet troops through the north of the peninsula.

On March 10, 1951, General MacArthur asked to be allowed to conduct an "Atomic D-Day" but was dismissed by President Truman on April 11, 1951.

In early 1953, the commissioning of the M65 Atomic Cannon, the first tactical nuclear weapon delivery system, and rumors propagated by the U.S. administration of the positioning of bombers in large numbers on Okinawa played a role in the negotiations leading to the Panmunjeom armistice.

These events will help motivate North Korea to acquire nuclear weapons.

This murderous and fratricidal war, which brought almost no territorial change, left the impression of a national suicide for which the dominant historiographical current in the West and in Russia attributes the main responsibility to North Korea. Before the opening of the Kremlin archives, historians had been able to hold external powers responsible, Truman's United States but especially Stalin's USSR, which had turned a simple local ideological opposition (communism against capitalism) into an open war. However, Soviet archival documents, although contested by the North Korean authorities, attest on the contrary that North Korea had been planning the June 25, 1950 offensive for a long time, in consultation with the Soviets, who only gave "a half-hearted endorsement following constant requests. Therefore, according to the current state of the documentation, "the hypothesis (...) that the Korean War was a Stalin initiative is incorrect.

Heo Man-Ho emphasized, however, that the North Korean initiative should not obscure the preparations, at this stage much less advanced, of South Korea, as well as the numerous border incidents that would have caused nearly 100,000 deaths before the date of June 25, 1950. Raymond Aron speaks of the "Korean accident" of American diplomacy, in order to emphasize that the latter bears a share of "political responsibility": Dean Acheson's speech would have conveyed a message to the Soviet government that was open to misinterpretation and, moreover, the Americans, by withdrawing their troops from South Korea, would have created a vacuum that North Korea was tempted to fill by an aggression "in the crudest sense of the word. During the war, massacres of civilians and prisoners occurred on both sides, for example the Geochang massacre and the Sancheong and Hamyang massacre.

The North Koreans, on the other hand, accused the UN forces, and especially the Americans, of similar crimes. For example, U.S. archival documents cited by the BBC prove that U.S. soldiers killed an "unconfirmed number" of refugees at Nogun-Ri in July 1950. Prisoners, such as the North Korean Ri In-mo, remained imprisoned in the South for more than thirty-four years after the armistice, where they were subjected to a "conversion" program involving the use of torture in order to make them renounce their communist beliefs: many prisoners died as a result of the ill-treatment to which they were subjected (beatings with sticks, forced ingestion of water through the nostrils, burns, electrocution...). The aim is to eliminate the threat posed by the infiltration of North Korean soldiers into the refugee groups. According to Yvan Cadeau, racist prejudice against the "Gooks" on the part of Americans who were unpleasantly surprised to find themselves confronted with combative and effective Asian armies in a poor country had a hand in the crimes. The stakes of the Korean War - the reunification of the peninsula in a context of tensions between the superpowers - and the practical difficulty of conducting historical research that would compare direct sources, both in the North and in the South, must however lead to a certain caution in taking a position, particularly with regard to the question of responsibilities - without, however, denying the documentary evidence, because "the renunciation of the historian to his profession risks leading to the worst ideological use of history.

With approximately five million dead and an unchanged military situation (tension between the North and the South is still high), the country suffered the worst material and human destruction in its history. This conflict was the first of international importance after the end of the Second World War. It was also the first UN armed intervention in an open conflict. The cost of the conflict was estimated for the United States alone at approximately $50 billion at the time, or approximately $215 billion in 2010.

In total, the South Korean army lost 147,000 soldiers, the North's at least 520,000. The UN forces count 55,000 dead, mostly Americans. Chinese losses are estimated at 200,000 killed. 315 Soviet soldiers died in the conflict.

But the civilian losses were even more considerable: between 2 and 3 million dead out of the 30 million inhabitants of the peninsula. The massive bombing devastated North Korea. Most of North Korea's cities and almost all of its major buildings were destroyed. According to the official US statistics, the US Air Force dropped at least 454,000 tons of bombs and the American historian Bruce Cumings calculated that 3.2 million liters of napalm were used by the US Air Force during the Korean War.

The armistice did not put an end to border incidents; Northern commandos carried out raids in the South; tensions remained high between the two Koreas.

The Crab War since the 1990s has resulted in several naval battles. On June 13, 2000, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il - son and successor of Kim Il-sung - and South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung met at the first-ever summit between the leaders of the two Koreas. A joint declaration was adopted, committing the two countries to seek peace and work toward eventual reunification. At the end of the second inter-Korean summit of heads of state on October 4, 2007, Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun committed themselves to a peace agreement on the Korean peninsula. However, in 2009 and 2010, maritime clashes took place along the Northern Limit Line (NLL), proving once again that inter-Korean conflicts are still ongoing. On May 27, 2009, in the context of the North Korean nuclear crisis, North Korea declared that it was no longer bound by the armistice that ended the fighting in the Korean War.

In late March 2013, North Korea (now ruled by Kim Jong-un, son of Kim Jong-il and grandson of Kim Il-sung) ended peace treaties with South Korea and announced that it was back in a state of war.

At the end of May 2013, Pyongyang offered to sign a peace agreement with Seoul to officially end the war between the two states. However, from a legal point of view, the "Korean War" was not a war in the sense of international law, but an internal conflict, with each of the two governments considering itself the sole legal representative of that country, and a war involving confrontation between two states. These three years of fighting were therefore legally an operation, for both the North and the South, aimed at restoring the government's authority in a rebellious territory and thus in the whole country (i.e. the whole peninsula, north and south), a type of conflict at the end of which no peace agreement was ever signed.

French participation

Engaged in the Indochina War, France made a small but significant contribution to the United Nations appeal. This was reflected in the detachment of the colonial aviso La Grandière in charge of maritime convoy protection missions, participating in the reinforcement of the Pusan perimeter and the Incheon landing, as well as in the dispatch of 3,421 men forming the French UN battalion, which was integrated, along with Korean reinforcements and two American battalions, into the strength of the 23rd regiment of the 2d "Indianhead" Infantry Division. This division distinguished itself in several feats of arms that earned it several commendations. At the end of the war, the battalion had 287 killed, including 18 Koreans, 1,350 wounded, 12 prisoners and 7 missing.

Belgian and Luxembourg participation

When the United Nations launched an appeal for military aid to South Korea, the position of Prime Minister in Belgium was held by Joseph Pholien (PSC), a convinced anti-communist. Together with the government of Luxembourg, he decided, in the name of the Belgian government, to respond to the UN's appeal and to recruit a Volunteer Corps for Korea (Belgian United Nations Command) made up of Belgian and Luxembourg volunteers. More than 2,000 Belgians immediately volunteered to serve in the corps. The Minister of Defense, Henri Moreau de Melen, resigned to join. Of these, only 700 were selected for the first contingent, which arrived in Pusan on January 31, 1951. The last Belgian soldiers left Korea on June 15, 1955. In total, 3,171 Belgians and 78 Luxembourgers were involved in supporting South Korea.

Turkish participation

Turkey was not yet a member of NATO. However, the newly elected Demokrat Party government considered the Soviet threat to be the country's primary danger. The UN's call to send military support to South Korea was seen as an opportunity to prove itself for future membership of NATO, which would be effective in 1952.

Under the leadership of Brigadier General Tahsin Yazıcı, the first Turkish contingent consisted of one battalion, composed of 5,090 volunteers, including 259 officers, 18 military officials, 4 civilian officials, 395 noncommissioned officers, and 4,414 soldiers. The Turkish contingent landed on October 12, 1950 in Pusan. It was equipped by American logistics. Later on, the number of soldiers in the Turkish contingent was increased to that of a regiment, and then to that of a brigade.

The Turkish contingent will have a total of 741 dead and 2,147 wounded during the war, but also 234 prisoners held by North Korean forces and 175 missing.

After the armistice, a unit of 200 men was maintained on the demarcation line until 1971.

Philippine participation

The Philippine Army sent from 1950 to 1955 an expeditionary force (the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea - PEFTOK) composed of 1,468 men. 7,420 Filipinos participated in the conflict in total.

The latter distinguished itself on several occasions against the Chinese People's Volunteer Army. During the battle of Yultong in April 1951, Captain Conrado Yap lost his life to rescue his soldiers trapped by the Chinese advance. He was awarded the Medal of Valor by the Philippines, the Distinguished Service Cross by the United States and the TAEGEUK Order of Military Merit by South Korea. In May 1952, the Philippine troops faced the Chinese again during the battle of Hill Eerie during which the future president of the Republic of the Philippines Fidel Ramos, then lieutenant, distinguished himself by his courage, for which he received the Military Merit Medal of the Philippines.

Australian participation

When the United States offered assistance and the United Nations Security Council asked its members to help repel the North Korean attack, Australia immediately contributed with the 77th Air Force Squadron and the 3rd Infantry Battalion that were stationed in Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF).

The 77th Squadron had been equipped with P-51D Mustangs before arriving in Japan in February 1946 to participate in the BCOF. Occupation work went smoothly, and the squadron was preparing to leave Japan for Australia when the Korean War broke out. It was immediately sent to Korea where it became the first United Nations air unit to enter the war, primarily in ground troop support operations, countering enemy air patrols and escort missions.

The 3rd Infantry Regiment was also quickly prepared to become the primary Australian ground force contributing to the United Nations forces in the Korean War. After a period of intensive training and reinforcement in Japan, the battalion arrived in South Korea in late September 1950.

The battalion was part of the 27th Commonwealth Brigade and took part in the United Nations offensive in North Korea and the retreat from South Korea following the Chinese offensive in the winter of 1950-51. It was one of three units to receive the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation after the Battle of Kapyong.

In addition to fighting personally, this Australian Army battalion provided the majority of the troops and equipment for the BCOF, which was replaced in 1952 by the British Commonwealth Force in Korea (BCFK). Australian, British, Canadian, Indian and New Zealand soldiers were part of the BCFK units.


  1. Korean War
  2. Guerre de Corée

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