Military


Korean War - June 1950

On 12 January 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave his famous Aleutians speech at the National Press Club, Washington, DC. Acheson said that United States would adhere to the principle of non-interference with respect to the Chinese question and that the American defense line in the Pacific was one that connected Alaska, the Japanese archipelago, Okinawa, and the Philippines. He said the US Pacific "defense line" or "defensive perimeter" "runs along the Aleutians to Japan and then goes back to the Ryukyus.... We hold important positions in the Ryukyu Islands, and these we will continue to hold... The defensive perimeter runs from the Ryukyus to the Philippine Islands," he said. This -- Acheson tried to explain much later -- was no more than what the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and Gen. Douglas McArthur held at the time, "that the U.S. line of defense starts from the Philippines and continues through the Ryukyu Archipelago, which includes its main bastion, Okinawa. Then it bends back through Japan and the Aleutian Island chain to Alaska." But just because he did not include South Korea as part of his "defensive perimeter," it was said later on that such omission had served to give the communists "the green light" to try to overrun Korea.

Emboldened by the exclusion of South Korea from the American defense line in the Pacific zone in the so-called Acheson Declaration, Kim Il-sung decided to launch an outright invasion of the South. The 3,000 Soviet military advisors assigned to help train the North Korean forces were withdrawn as a smokescreen to cover the impending invasion. Information uncovered in 1992 confirmed that both the Soviet Union and China were aware and supportive of North Korea's invasion plans in 1949. Yu Song Cho, deputy chief of staff of the KPA at the time of the invasion, revealed that Soviet military advisers went so far as to rewrite his initial invasion order. Russian statements in 1992 revealed that Soviet air defense and fighter units totalling 26,000 men participated in the Korean War.

In the predawn hours of Sunday, June 25, 1950, the North Korean forces, spearheaded by tanks and self-propelled guns, unleashed all-out attacks across the 38th parallel.

The only unforeseen event complicating North Korea's strategy was the swift decision by the United States to commit forces in support of South Korea. The time, place, and type of war that broke out in Korea came as a surprise to American policy makers and strategists. They were caught materially and intellectually unprepared. The erratic course of the American intervention in Korea provides a look at the United States trying to handle the complexities of a strange kind of war, the first "limited war" the United States Army had ever fought. President Truman and his advisors had decided that to defeat the North Koreans would be too costly; instead, the United Nations forces would try to maintain the prewar border at the 38th parallel. The Truman Administration had great difficulty in calibrating political objectives, keeping strategy in line with policy, and isolating the adversary. The dispute between Truman and MacArthur highlighted the apparent disarray within American policy-making circles.

The United States, with other United Nations, came to the aid of South Korea. On June 26, 1950, Truman ordered the use of United States planes and naval vessels against North Korean forces, and on June 30 United States ground troops were dispatched. The United States, fearing that inaction in Korea would be interpreted as appeasement of communist aggression elsewhere in the world, was determined that South Korea should not be overwhelmed and asked the UN Security Council to intervene. When the Soviets made the mistake of walking out of an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, that body directed that the United Nations would send troops to South Korea.

The UN, in accord with its Charter, engaged in its first collective action by establishing the UN Command (UNC), under which 16 member nations sent troops and assistance to South Korea. At the request of the UN Security Council, the United States, contributor of the largest contingent, led this international effort. On August 29, 1950, the British Commonwealth's 27th Brigade arrived at Pusan to join the UNC, which until then included only ROK and U.S. forces. The 27th Brigade moved into the Naktong River line west of Taegu. Troop units from other countries of the UN followed in rapid succession; Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand and Turkey. The Union of South Africa provided air units which fought along side the air forces of other member nations. Denmark, India, Norway, and Sweden provided medical units. Italy provided a hospital, even though it was not a UN member.

A 3-year "police action" resulted.

The events following the June 1950 invasion proved the superiority of North Korean military forces and the soundness of their overall invasion strategy. The North Koreans quickly crushed South Korean defenses at the 38th parallel. Spearheaded by tanks, the army of North Korea crossed the 38th parallel at several points on June 25 and plunged southward into the Republic of Korea. Caught unprepared, the South Korean army of Gen. Chae Byong Duk reeled back from the 200-mile border. South Korea's army was simply overwhelmed. The capital of Seoul fell in three days as the North Koreans under Gen. Chai Ung Chai bridged the Han River on June 30 and pressed forward down the length of the peninsula.

The speed of the North Korean drive and the unreadiness of American forces compelled MacArthur to trade space for time. Under the auspices of the United Nations, Gen. Douglas MacArthur flew in United States troops from Japan to aid the South Koreans. The first American ground forces (700 men from the 24th Infantry Division under Col. Charles Smith) took up positions at Osan, 30 miles south of Seoul, on July 5. Without effective antitank weapons, the combined American-South Korean forces could not halt the armored thrusts of the Russian-made T-34 tanks employed by the North Koreans. About 150 Americans were killed, wounded, or missing in the first Communist attack. By midafternoon, Task Force Smith was pushed into a disorganized retreat with the loss of all equipment save small arms.

As more United States units arrived by air and sea, Gen. William Dean of the 24th Division committed them in a series of delaying actions along the vital Seoul-Taejon-Pusan axis. But the retreat continued. Taejon fell on July 20. Dean himself was wounded and later captured. Meanwhile, on July 13 Gen. Walton Walker had assumed command of the United States Eighth Army in Korea, which soon included the 1st Cavalry and 25th Infantry (and later the 2nd Infantry) divisions, as well as marines.



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