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Carrier Operations in Korea

Before dawn on Sunday, 25 June 1950, the North Korean army moved forcefully into the South, whose outgunned defenders were generally overwhelmed. Seoul, capital of the Republic of Korea, fell in four days. Half a world away, the United States and the United Nations decided to actively defend South Korea, quickly bringing air, sea and land forces of the U.S. into the war, along with ships and aircraft of the British Royal Navy.

The light cruiser USS Juneau (CLAA-119) began U.S. Navy active involvement with a sweep up South Korea's east coast, starting on 28 June. Initial naval air strikes were carried out by USS Valley Forge (CV-45) and the British light carrier Triumph on 3-4 July. Other U.S. and Royal Navy ships supported the evacuation of refugees and the movement of U.S. Army forces and supplies from Japan to Korea. Inshore along the coasts of the embattled nation, the ROK Navy vigorously interdicted North Korean amphibious warfare efforts.

By early July, it was clear that the invaders would not back down in the face of foreign involvement. During that month, though control of the air and sea was decisively seized by the United Nations' forces, the North Koreans steadily pushed ROK and U.S. ground forces into the southeastern corner of the Korean peninsula.

August 1950 and the first half of September saw a doggedly successful defense of that corner, the Pusan Perimeter, as an increasingly desperate North Korean army tried mightily to break it. Meanwhile, reinforcements, including more aircraft carriers and the first U.S. Marines, arrived from across the Pacific. Air and sea attacks on the enemy cut deeply into his offensive capabilities. In Japan, a daring amphibious counterattack was in preparation, an operation that would end the war's defensive initial phase and open its second.

North Korea's summer offensive was brought to an abrupt end on 15 September 1950 with a daring amphibious landing at Inchon. Within a few days, the much-battered North Korean army was disintegrating as it retreated from the Pusan perimeter, pursued by the U.N. Eighth Army. Seoul was liberated by month's end. In October, a further amphibious operation directed against the east coast port city of Wonsan was overtaken by events, as the South Korean army pushed into the objective area well before the planned landing date.

Offshore, four U.S. fleet aircraft carriers, smaller U.S. and British carriers, several cruisers and numerous destroyers hurled airborne weapons and naval gunfire wherever enemy targets could be found. The available firepower was so abundant that some ships, rushed out during the summer crisis, were released to return home for a well-deserved rest or returned to their normal duties.

Generally described as an "amphibious operation in reverse", the evacuation of Hungnam 10-24 December 1950 encompassed the safe withdrawal of the bulk of UN forces in eastern North Korea. Though the Chinese did not seriously interfere with the withdrawal, the potential threat they represented necessitated a vigorous bombardment by aircraft, artillery ashore and ships' guns. Air cover was available from nearby Yonpo airfield until that was abandoned on 14 December. Thereafter, for the final ten days of the operation, Navy and Marine carrier-borne planes handled the job. Naval gunfire was provided by two heavy cruisers and a battleship plus several destroyers and rocket ships.

After two months of costly attacks, the Chinese army was exhausted. Starting on 25 January 1951, Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgway's Eighth Army, assisted by land and sea-based airpower, pushed northward in a sharp series of carefully-planned offensives. At sea, the navies sharpened the focus of their air and gunfire efforts. With three or four big carriers, a battleship, some cruisers and many destroyers on station, the U.S. Navy undertook long campaigns to deconstruct North Korea's eastern railway system and other elements of its transportation and industrial infrastructure. British and smaller U.S. carriers, plus gunfire ships, worked in the Yellow Sea. Minesweepers maintained firing channels for the gunnery ships, and small combatants of many nations enforced a rigorous blockade of the North Korean coast.

The Air Force concentrated on targets in the western side of Korea, used its B-29s for heavy bombing raids, ably kept the MiG-15 threat safely to the north and provided the great bulk of air transport services. The Air Force and planes from other UN nations joined U.S. Marine aviation in directly supporting troops on the ground. USMC and USAF night fighters struggled to counter the only enemy airplanes that dared to approach the front lines, small propeller-driven "night hecklers" that made very challenging targets.

By late June, the most recent Communist ground offensive had been decisively defeated. North Korea was being steadily punished from air and sea. Since the US and UN had decided not to advance further into the North, and with the enemy clearly unable to push South, there seemed little point in continued hostilities. Armistice feelers received favorable responses, and truce talks were in the offing. Most observers expected an early end to the fighting.




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