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ROK Army History

Koreans who had experienced military services abroad returned to Korea with the independence of Korea from Japan on August 15, 1945. Thinking over the painful experiences of the past, they organized a group for armed forces foundation.

On the other hand, a US military government established its laws on November 13, 1945 and under the provision of the BAMBOO plan, the US military government disorganized the group to absorb members into the defense force by establishing a military corps of 25,000 soldiers. The US military government established the Military English Academy on December 5, 1945 to train cadets for the defense force. The US military government selected young men who had military experiences in Japan, Manchuria, and China. 110 military cadets were commissioned after completing the basic English education. These officers were founders of the National Defense Force in Taenung, Kyunggi Province on January 15, 1946.

The ROK Army established its 1st National Security Regiment in Tae-neung, Seoul, in January, 1946 and a National Security Command was established in Seoul on February 1, 1946. By November 1946, ROKA established 2nd ~ 9th regiments in each province.

In May, 1946, Southern Cho-sun National Defense Security Military Academy was established in Tae-neung, Seoul and initially started to train military officers by accepting 88 infantry cadets.

The ROK changed the name of its National Defense Command to the Ministry of National Defense on March 29, 1946. Again on June 15, 1946, it was renamed to Chief Command. The National Security Regiments were renamed to Southern Cho-sun Security Force, and National Defense Security Military Academy was changed to Southern Cho-sun Security Military Academy as well. After the break-down of the US?Russia Conference, the Cho-sun Security Force expanded to 5 brigades, and 15 regiments (about 50,000 soldiers) in 1948.

As for a military educational facility, the Communications Academy was established after the Security Military Academy and later, Ordnance?Engineers?Military Police?Intelligence?Artillery?Staff?Infantry?Surgeon?Accountant?Logistics?Military Music Academies were established. ROKA also tried to enhance the quality of its officer corps by sending students to the US. By the end of the 1950s, 10,000 students were sent to US military schools.

As the official ROK government and its National Armed Force was established on August 15, 1948, the Cho-sun Security Force was integrated with the National Armed Force. Many experienced military seniors from the ROK Independence Force, Japanese Force, Manchurian Force and civilians from North and South Korea joined the ROK National Armed Force.

In November, 1946, the ROK congress passed a new law related to the National Armed Force organization. Thus, on December 15, 1948, Chief of Staff of National Armed Force was assigned to MND and Chief of Staff & Vice Chief of Staff to ROKA HQs. The first ROKA Chief of Staff was Brigadier Gen. Lee, Eung-joon and the first Vice Chief of Staff was Col. Jung, Yil-gwon.

In December, 1948, a Branch of Service System was introduced. ROKA was divided into Infantry? Armor?Communication?Aviation?Logistics?Accountant?Inspector?Surgeon?Military Police branches and enacted the general staff system. In May, 1949, Chief of staff system in MND ended and the Minister of National Defence became in charge of ROK Army and Navy.

ROKA promoted prior Brigades to Divisions and established 7th and 8th Divisions additionally. ROKA organized a Regional Army Command and National Defense Army to ensure sufficient reserve forces. Consequently, until the beginning of the Korean War on June 25, 1950, ROKA had a total of 8 divisions and 95,000 soldiers.

<Table of Division Promotion>

Army Division

Date Established

First Division Commander


1st Division

May 12 ,1945

Col. Kim, Suk-won


2nd Division

May 12 ,1949

Col. Yu, Seung-yul


3rd Division

May 12 ,1949

Col. Choi, Duk-sin


5th Division

May 12 ,1949

BG. Song, Ho-sung


6th Division

May 12 ,1949

Col. Yu, Jae-heung


7th Division

June 10 ,1949

Col. Lee, Joon-sik


8th Division

June 20 ,1949

BG. Lee, Hyung-geun


During the beginning stages of ROKA, many communists infiltrated into ROKA forces to plant communism and raise riots using various false propaganda and schemes.

Starting with the April 3rd incident in Je-ju island in 1948, these communists led riots such as October 19th incident in Yeo-suSun-chon, and the 6th regiment incident in Dae-gu. Thus, without enough time to self-organize completely, ROKA established a Battle Command and executed missions to repress these riots. ROKA also made efforts to weed out communists from within. As a result, ROKA arrested 1,300 communists through 4 iterations of self-inspection process from October, 1948, to the outbreak of the Korean War.

Prior to the outbreak of Korean War, North Korea sent guerrillas to South Korea through the East sea and Tae-baek Mountains so that they could join the communists in Ji-ri, Oh-dae, Tae-baek Mountains and create confusion in rear areas. Since early 1950, North Korea started to raise military confrontations along the 38th parallel.

For this, ROKA established a Sweeping Command against the communists in Tae-baek, Ji-ri Mountains and Ho-nam province to execute anti-communist operations. Before ROKA could finish anti-communist operations, the Korean War began with a sudden invasion by the North.

In the morning of June 25, 1950, 200,000 soldiers from North Korea led by Russian tanks crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. In very short hours, they crossed our defense lines and infiltrated into Seoul at 1:00 a.m. on June 28, which was only 3 days after the outbreak. ROKA could only retreat until they reached the southern border of the Han river. ROKA settled down there and re-grouped its forces.

US Army Command was established in Su-won on June 27 and General McArthur himself inspected the battle lines on June 29. UN Allied Command was officially established in Tokyo. The 24th division of US Army was urgently sent to Korea and ROK?US combined operations started on the Keum-kang defensive line. However, the main forces of the enemy kept attacking along the Kyung-bu railroad. North Korean forces passed the Keum-kang defensive line on July 15 and on July 20, Dae-jon fell in their hands. By this time, the 25th division of the US Army and the 1st US Cavalry division, joined by ROKA and ROK?US combined forces, formed a strong defensive line along the Nak-dong river. They fought against the enemy's powerful destructive attacks and hindered the enemy from passing the defensive line.

At the time of the In-cheon Amphibious Operation, ROKA started to counter-attack the enemy along the Nak-dong river. On September 28, ROK's capital, Seoul was returned to ROKA's hands. On October 1, ROKA started to march north and seized Won-san, Ham-heung, and Pyung-yang on 10th, 17th, 19th of October respectively. ROKA advanced to Hyesanjin near the national border of North Korea and Manchuria on November 24.

Unfortunately, ROKA soon had to retreat back to the south because unexpected Chinese forces had reinforced the North Korean forces. In January, 1951, a new defensive line along Pyung-taek, Won-ju, Je-chun, Yung-wol and Sam-chuk was formed and ROKA counter-attacked the enemy forces and headed north.

ROKA retook Seoul on March 14, 1951. Though ROKA was able to keep marching north to pass the 38th parallel, it stopped at the line connecting Gae-sung, Chul-won, Keum-sung and Go-sung because truce negotiations began on July 10, 1951. As a result, battles were limited to those areas along the 38th parallel.

Afterward, the character of the Korean War was mainly to acquire the high lands such as the Capital, Baek-ma, sniper mountain etc so that ROKA would have more advantages in negotiations for armistice. The Korean War which was a bloody war between one nation was at last over as the Korean War Armistice agreement was reached on July 27, 1953.

During the Korean War, ROKA sacrificed about 257,000 soldiers including 29 % of soldiers at the advent of ROK National Armed Force for national security. ROKA proved to be the ROK official government's armed force during the war especially when 4 million North Koreans (which was the half of total number of North Korean citizens) followed ROKA soldiers when they retreated south from the Chinese forces.

Also, when the Chinese forces executed human wave tactics, though it was difficult, ROKA protected millions of North Koreans during their retreat. ROKA let 10,000 North Koreans from Heung-nam pier and 10,000 from Sung-jin pier board on the ROKA transport ships. Also, starting with Baek-ryung and Myung-chun islands that the ROK Navy had acquired, ROKA saved 60,000 civilians in the West Sea region and thousands of civilians in the East Sea region. Through these refugee rescue operations, ROKA proved to be the "National Army".

ROKA paid close attention to its expansion in size during the Korean War. At the beginning of the war, ROKA had only 8 Divisions. At the time of the Korean War Armistice, its size had expanded to 3 Corps, 18 Divisions, and 600,000 soldiers.

After the Armistice, ROKA rearranged scattered forces and organized itself into 5 Corps and 20 Divisions. For more effectiveness within the command system, ROKA established 1st Field Army, 2nd Field Army & Training HQs to divide itself into 3 functions: Operations, Logistics, and Training. Concerning modernization, ROKA worked on organization, unification and division of forces followed by the acquisition of new equipment.

On January 1, 1959, ROKA changed from Direct ROKA HQs Control System to Vice Chief of Staff System to command staffs' tasks by different projects. In October, 1959, Administrative & Technical schools, Women's Army Training Center etc(except for the combat branch) that were originally subordinates of Training HQs became ROKA's direct subordinates. This made chiefs of each branch become responsible for education/training in each branch thus, more appropriate education/training was given to branches.

In May, 1960, Training HQs was closed and on June 1, Training Command for Combat Branch was established at Sang-moo base under 2nd Field Army's command. Infantry?Artillery?Armor?Chemical?Aviation schools were assigned to the Training Command.

After 1961, ROKA mainly paid attention to enhancing and maintaining force power. In September, 1964, when the situation in Vietnam became worse, ROKA dispatched a medical force and a Taekwon-do (Korean traditional martialarts) Instruction force to Vietnam. In February, 1965, engineers and transportation forces were sent to Vietnam. Those forces were named "Dove Troops". ROKA also established ROK Military Support Group in Saigon.

In October, 1965, ROKA dispatched Capital Division(Brave Tiger Division) to Vietnam as a combat unit and in September 1966, the 9th Division (White Horse Division) was also dispatched. A total of 50,000 ROKA soldiers were sent to Vietnam during this period and ROK Military Support Group was renamed Vietnam ROKA Command.

Not only because these detachments to Vietnam were ROK's first foreign operation but also holding responsibility in the allied defense line was inspiring, these experiences meant much to ROKA although 4,000 ROKA soldiers were sacrificed during this period.

In 1965, ROKA established the 222nd Air-Defense Artillery Force (named "'NIKE' Guided Missile Forces") which was capable of modern air defense functions. In 1966, ROKA established Troop Information & Education Branch to contribute to the enhancement of fighting spirit and organized the 333rd Air-Defense Artillery Force(named the "'Hawk' Guidance Missile Battalion"). In 1967, ROKA established a "Microwave" system to modernize military communication.

On January 21, 1968, North Korea sent a group of Special Warfare Force to assault the Blue House(the Presidential mansion). In April, ROK Homeland Reserves were established as North Korean soldiers penetrated into South Korea more often. Within ROKA HQs, the Reserve Command was established. The East Sea Security Command and the 1st & 2nd Ranger Brigades were established in 1969.

The 1970s were a very stirring period. In early 1971, 7th Division of US Army in Korea was sent away from the Armistice Line and ROKA became fully responsible for the line. In September of the same year, Planning Meeting for South?North Red Cross Conference was held and Red Cross Conference and South?North Korea Controlling Committee Conference debating on July 4th treaty was held in 1972.

However, while there were communications between two Koreas, North Korea made underground tunnels to invade South Korea. South Korea found the first tunnel in 1974, and in '75, '78 and '90, found the second, third, and fourth tunnel respectively. This shocked the ROK and its people. To make it even worse, on August 18, 1976, North Koreans initiated an incident called "Bloody Axe Murder at PanMoonJum" and this almost led to another Korean War.

ROKA felt the need for a self-reliant national defense since the early 1970s. Thus, in 1973, ROKA brought back forces from Vietnam and rearranged them to form a Mechanized Infantry Division to fight against North Korea's armored forces. From 1974 to 1981, ROKA set up the '1st Yul-gok Plan' to build up self-reliant, national defense capability thragh innovative developments such as enhancing rear area divisions' force power, rearranging 4 company system of divisions near the Armistice Line, upgrading personal weapons, organizing additional artillery forces and increasing Army aviation ability. Along with these developments, ROKA was able to produce not only light personal weapons but also various crew-served weapons, large caliber artilleries and upgraded armored vehicles & tanks. In 1978, ROKA first produced mid and long-range guidance missiles and multiple rocket launchers.

In July, 1973, 3rd Army Command was established. ROKA also established 4 training bases and built 40km-long tactical defense walls near main roads in the mid-west area.

In 1976, ROK?US Army started 'Team Spirit' exercises and expanded the exercise size every year. In November, 1978, ROK?US Combined Forces Command was established to strengthen security relationship between the two nations.

ROKA endured several tragedies at the hand of North Korea, such as "Bombing Terror in Miyanmar" in 1983 and "Korean Airline Explosion incident" in November, 1987. Though North Korea repeatedly provoked South Korea, ROKA kept safety and development at the forefront as it executed its duties. As a result, Korea successfully hosted the Asian Games in 1986 and the 24th Olympics Games in Seoul, 1988.

ROKA continued developing a self-reliant national defense and set up 'Offensive Defense Tactics.' Based on this notion, ROKA focused mainly on creating superior force power and built self-reliant ground battle abilities. In May 1981, ROKA Training Command was established to organize command systems for development of suitable doctrines for Korea and combat abilities required for the future environment. Also, in 1989, ROKA moved its HQs to Kyeryongdae area to strengthen its tactical geographic advantages.

Along with the developments in force power, defensive ability was advanced as well. After ROK Air Force introduced KF-16 Fighters in 1982, ROKA domesticated 500MD helicopters equipped with TOW missiles. ROKA succeeded in domesticating high-tech electronic weapon systems as well. For example, ROKA produced K-1 tanks and mid range surface-to-surface missiles and finished actual fielding of them on the battlefields in 1985.

In the 1990s, ROKA strengthened ability for achieving National Defense Objects & Readiness to War and enhanced combat powers by organizing the main forces. The Joint Chiefs of Staff was enhanced and ROKA became fully ready to execute self-reliant national defense. Along with this, ROKA put efforts into establishing an independent and self-reliant operations execution system. Also it tried to ensure victories in intelligence and unified system battles and establish a structure to maximize effectiveness and transparency of national defense management and operation.

Building upon its overseas deployment experience in the Vietnam War, ROKA dispatched a medical support group to the Gulf War as a member of Multinational Forces which were made of 33 nations fighting for world peace. Also ROKA Engineers and a medical support group were sent to Somalia?Angola and to Western Sahara respectively after 1993. These deployments proved that ROKA is a responsible member of the international community. In 1999, ROKA's Evergreen Unit was deployed in East Timor as a member of the Multinational Force.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:08:30 ZULU