Forty Five years ago, in June 1995, saw the beginning of three long years of war on a small peninsula jutting from the Asian mainland toward Japan. That country was Korea, a peaceful little nation that never seemed to have a destiny of its own. When World War 2 ended, Korea was occupied by troops of both the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1948, the United Nations decreed that Korea be unified under its own government, with both occupation armies leaving as soon as elections were held. The elections were held, but only south of the 38th Parallel. The Communists didn't want to take a chance on losing their portion of Korea, north of the 38th Parallel. The 38th Parallel became a dividing line between the (now) two Koreas.
Both sides wanted to unite Korea under one flag. South Korea, being a free democratic nation, wanted negotiations and free elections - the UN policy. The North, being forcefed the communist manifesto from Moscow and Peking, was adamant not to let that happen. Their goal was re-unification too - under communist rule. And they began building an army that would do just that by military means.
At 0400 hours on 25 June 1950, almost one year to the day after the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea, North Korean tanks crossed the border into South Korea There wasn't a whole lot that South Korea could do to stop the communist takeover. The South Korean Army wasn't much more than a police force, with no tanks or heavy artillery. They had virtually ro air force at all, with only a dozen light Piper Cub types, and three T-6 Texan trainers.
The North Korean invasion went unchecked, and the heavy tank spearhead rolled into the capitol city of Seoul. When news of the invasion reached President Truman in Washington, he had only one thought, the safe evacuation of US citizens in South Korea. President Truman ordered the Far East Air and Naval Forces (FEAF and NAVFE) to begin the evacuation as soon as Possible. When FEAF C-54s touched down at Kimpo AB in the morning of the 25th, it was the first US reply to the invasion. it wouldn't be the last.
Although North Korean Air Force (NKAF) Yaks destroyed a FEAF C-54 at Kimpo, the evacuation was completely successful. But the North Korean tanks rolled on. Early in July, the first US ground troops deployed to Korea. But the rust of occupational duty in Japan, plus a lack of intelligence regarding the strength of the North Korean Army, took its toll andTask Force Smith was wiped out By September, the UN forces were holed up in extreme southeastern Korea, around the port city of Pusan. It was known as the Pusan Pocket
Here the line held. With US airpower blunting the Red tank spearhead, US Army and Marine troops held a line along the Naktong River.. General Douglas MacArthur now began thinking of retaking South Korea. MacArthur gambled that the Red advance left their rear completely unprotected. He was right! On 15 September US Marines landed at Inchon, deep in the rear of the Red advance. The next morning elements of the US 8th Army broke out from the Pusan Pocket. The Red armies, caught by surprise, were cut off from their supplies and reinforcements. FEAF and Navy fighter-bombers swept the roads clean of North Korean tanks and troops attempting to escape. Seoul was retaken on 28 September, and the invasion forces linked up with the advancing 8th Army a couple of days later.
Now it was the UNs turn to reunite Korea. A week into October 1950, UN forces crossed the old border at the 38th Parallel and began advancing north. The North Korean Army had been decimated during the invasion and subsequent encirclement by UN forces. UN airpower had literally destroyed the North Korean heavy tank force. Nothing was in the way of a UN victory. Or so it seemed.
Late in October a new element entered. Fresh troops began to appear. And these fresh troops were NOT Korean, they were Chinese volunteers. The UN forces continued their advance north. On 19 October the North Korean capital of Pyongyang fell. US troops of the 7th Division were soon overlooking the Yalu River near Hysanjin. They would be the only UN forces to actually look across the Yalu.
The UN forces had split during the advance. A mountain range lay between the US 8th Army on the west coast, and the 10th Corps, including the 1st Marine Division, on the east coast. In these mountains the Chinese were assembling - hiding during the day and silently moving into position at night. On 26 November they attacked! Half of the Chinese forces, 250,000 men, attacked the positions held by the 8th Army. The other half attacked the 10th Corps.
The Chinese 9th Army, totaling well over 100,000 men, cut off the 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir. It was during these attacks that the term 'horde' was born. "Boy, what a night!", the Marine told the reporter, "I killed 2 or 3 hordes!" The Marines were cut off and surrounded. Only gallant fighting, the will to survive, and some timely air drops by Air Force cargo planes, allowed the Marines to escape the trap.
The Chinese advanced back down the peninsula, recrossed the 38th Parallel, retaking Seoul and Kimpo in early January 1951, before finally being halted on 25 January south of Suwon. The UN troops held and slowly began retaking what they had lost the last two months. By early April, UN forces were again across the 38th Parallel. The line stabilized in this area, remaining so the rest of the conflict
. Throughout the war, the air over Korea was controlled by UN air forces, mainly US fighters and bombers. FEAF at first ruled the skies with F-80 Shooting Stars, which kept the NKAF grounded. The NKAF Yak was a good match for FEAF and NAVFE propeller aircraft, but no match for the F-80 jets. The Chinese intervention in November 1950 brought with it the Soviet MiG-15 jet fighter.
At first the MiGs were flown by Soviet pilots, who quickly gained air superiority. Had the MiGs been deployed further into North Korean as the Chinese ground troops advanced, it would have made the retaking of South Korea much more difficult, But they weren't, instead they were launched from Red bases safely across the Yalu River. They made life miserable for F-80 and B-29 crews operating anywhere near the Yalu. But as soon as the MiG made an appearance in the Korean skies,FEAF requested the latest, and best, fighter be sent to Korea - the F-86. For slightly more than a month, the Red air forces had air superiority over Korea. By mid-December F-86As from the 4th Fighter Interceptor Group were flying missions against the MiG threat. As quickly as they had gained it, the Reds lost air superiority. The MiG and the F-86 were a pretty good match in performance. The Sabre was faster, but the MiG was more maneuverable. The American pilots were better trained and more aggressive. But as was shown in Bruce Hinton's account in Sabrejet Classics, vol 3-2, the Red pilot could be quite good.
However, despite fighting at great odds (out-numbered and fighting at extreme range, MiG sanctuaries, etc), the F-86s prevailed, regaining air superiority. By the end of the war F-86s had shot down a confirmed 792 MiG-15s, for the loss of only 78 F-86s - a 10-1 ratio. At least 47 Sabre pilots were killed in action, with a further 65 being listed as MIA.
Forty five years ago the Korean War began. It ended three years and one month later. The cost was tremendous. America lost 54,246 young men, including 33,629 killed in action. Well over 100,000 were wounded. South Korea lost an estimated 400,000 men in the struggle to remain free. North Korean and Chinese losses have been set at over 2,000,000. The results of three bloody years of war - South Korea remains today a free nation, albeit under the constant -threat of attack from North Korea.
This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War 2, America is finally becoming cognizant of what is known as The Forgotten War. On 27 July 1995 a memorial was unveiled in Washington to express the gratitude of the American and Korean people to the 1,319,000 US servicemen that braved the extreme cold of the Korean winter to stop communist aggression. The Korean War ended in July 1953, not in complete victory as in World War 2, but certainly not in defeat. The UN accomplished its goal - restoring South Korea's freedom. Let us drink a toast to all who served there, and another to those who never came home.
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