The Korean War - Part II
On 15 September 1950, General Macarthur launched a daring sea-borne assault on Inchon, a coastal town located on the North Western coast near Seoul, 125 miles behind enemy lines. The military aim was to cut off the supplies and communications to the North Koreans and trap them in between the forces landing there and those located in Busan.
The assault was risky due to the nature of the unpredictable tides and rocky port, which made landing difficult. The waters of the Flying Fish Channel, which the assault would have to pass through, were only accessible for three hours a day at certain times throughout the year, depending on the season. For much of the time while the tide was out there were impenetrable mud flats, which extended three miles out from the headland.
Macarthur was eventually able to convince his superior officers that the assault was viable and preliminary naval gunfire and air bombardment began on 13 September. As Macarthur had predicted, the North Koreans were taken completely by surprise and the 13,000 troops involved in the landings met little resistance. There were few casualties and Inchon was quickly taken.
Troops fighting in Seoul
In contrast, the march towards Seoul was a slow and bloody as troops became engaged in urban warfare. At the same, forces located in Busan launched a push northwards. The North Koreans panicked and fled and on 25 September, Seoul was recaptured. Of the 70,000 north Korean troops who had been engaged in battle at the war front at the Busan Perimeter, over half were captured or killed, whilst the remaining 30,000 retreated back across the 38th Parallel into North Korea.
By 27 September, troops moving southwards from Seoul met those heading North from Busan. Proving the doubters wrong yet again, Macarthur had confirmed his place in history as one of the greatest military strategists to have ever lived.
With South Korea now liberated the Americans chose to continue past the 38th Parallel into North Korea. Their aim was to reunite the peninsula under a pro-western government, whereas the Chinese wanted North Korea to act as a buffer state.
Despite China’s threats to join the war if the UN forces entered North Korea, General Macarthur was confident of victory and believed China would not intervene. On 20 October, the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang, was taken and UN and Republic of Korea forces pushed northwards towards the Yalu River, which marked the border between North Korea and China.
The Allies reached the Yalu River on 24 October. At the same time, the Chinese began to send troops across the river, who engaged in a series of attacks under the name of the People’s Volunteer Army to officially avoid declaring war on US, Britain, France and other members of the UN. Macarthur paid little attention to these attacks, underestimating the strength and numbers of the Chinese soldiers in North Korea, a strategy that would ultimately prove to be costly.
Friday, August 10, 2012
The Korean War - Part II
Posted by steve at 3:27 pm
Thursday, July 12, 2012
The Korean War - Part I
North Korean troops entering Seoul
On the 25 June, 1950, North Korea, seeking to reunify the peninsula, launched a surprise, but well organised attack on the South and advanced towards the capital Seoul.
Using arms supplied by the Soviet Union, they were able to quickly penetrate and overrun the weaker South Korean forces. Seoul was captured in a matter of days as the North Koreans advanced southwards to the strategically important port of Busan.
Their superiority was a direct result of the American stance towards the South Korean government who wanted to reunify the peninsula. President Syngman Rhee had even openly declared his belief of national unity by force.
In response, the Americans, worried about the possibility of the South invading the North, had limited the army to 98,000 troops, who were barely anything more than highly trained policemen. With 135,000 soldiers, the North Korea People’s Army outnumbered South Korea’s troop total and they were also supplied with more weapons, tanks and artillery.
The United Nations unanimously condemned the invasion of South Korea
As a show of military strength, President Truman immediately ordered troops into action and and air and naval units were sent in from nearby Japan. The US appealed to the United Nations Security Council for support and a motion to brand the North Koreans as aggressors. Once this was passed, member countries were called upon to help with military assistance.
Fortunately at the time, the Soviet delegate, who no doubt would have vetoed the motion, was not present. This was in protest at the UN, for refusing to give a seat to China. 14 UN nations offered to help including the United Kingdom, France, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Thailand, South Africa, Turkey, Colombia, the Philippines, Ethiopia, France, Australia, Belgium and Greece.
In total 300,000 troops were sent, with 260,000 coming from America. The UN Security Council also asked the US to appoint a supreme commander for the UN force and Washington selected General Douglas Macarthur, who had famously helped to defeat Japan during the Second World War.
As the North Korean army drove south, the American personnel, hurriedly sent from positions in Japan, fared badly against the superior enemy troops. The North Koreans cared little for prisoners of war, breaking international law by killing them, as the war-machine marched ever onwards towards the south of the peninsula. On 20 August, General Macarthur issued a statement declaring that that Kim Il-sung would be held responsible for any further atrocities committed against the UN forces.
American soldiers defending the Busan Perimeter
By September, the North Koreans had advanced so far they occupied all of South Korea save for a small pocket of resistance around the southern city of Busan, at what became known as the Busan Perimeter. 180km long, it extended to the Nakdong River which acted as a natural barrier, making it easier to defend.
For a period of 6 weeks throughout August and early September the North Korean troops attacked relentlessly, pushing the South Korean and United Nation forces to the limit. During this time the war came close to being lost, as inexperienced troops were thrown into combat against the highly organised North Korean army. Casualties were heavy, but fortunately the troops managed to hold the defensive line. Ironically, the withdrawal of the UN and South Korean forces created unintentional problems for the North Koreans as their supply lines became stretched and over extended and they ran short of weapons, food and ammunition.
Posted by steve at 2:26 pm
Thursday, June 14, 2012
The Japanese Occupation of Korea
Japanese troops marching through Seoul
During the 19th century, Korea became a geopolitical pawn as its strategic location made it attractive target for the neighbouring nations of Japan, China and Russia. After defeating China in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and Russia in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, Japan became the dominant military power in North East Asia. In 1905, Japan assumed control of Korea and by 1910 it had formerly annexed the country making it Japan’s first colony, bringing an end to the Joseon dynasty. This marked the beginning of a period of Japanese rule that would last over 30 years and is seen as being the darkest period in Korea’s history.
During this time Japanese became the official language and Koreans were not allowed to speak or write in their native tongue. Government functions and industries were taken over by the Japanese and the economy was geared to towards providing Japan with the materials and food to continue its imperialistic expansion.
Korean culture was suppressed and those who protested against colonial rule were either killed or put in prison. The exploitation and oppression of the Korean people continued up until the end of the Second World War, when Korea was finally liberated by the Allied forces.
Posted by steve at 12:31 pm
Thursday, June 07, 2012
Japan - Part II (26.54)
Here's part two in a series of films about Japan.
Posted by steve at 12:44 pm
Saturday, May 26, 2012
South Korea boasts breathtaking scenery, as well as a deeply fascinating history and culture. There is something here for everyone, from the beautiful royal palaces of Seoul that were once the homes of royalty, to the traditional dances that can be seen at many of the festivals held throughout year. It is a nation that has experienced much tragedy throughout its history and has emerged from the ashes of Japanese colonial rule and the Korean War to become one of the strongest economic nations in the world.
Legend has it that the Korean nation was born when a god named Hwan-ung came down from heaven and transformed a bear into a woman. They married and and together they had a son called tan-gun who established the capital of the Korean nation in 2333 BC and called it Joseon, which means land of the morning calm. He became a wise and powerful leader, living to the age of 1,908, whereupon he returned to Mount T'aebaeksan, on the border between North Korea and Manchuria, to become a mountain god.
From the first century AD onwards, dynasties blossomed and then vanished with the passage of time. Buddhism and Confucianism were widely introduced into the Korean peninsula as the nation grew.
At a time when Europe had descended into the dark ages after the fall of the Roman Empire, Korea was developing a strong central government, whilst the arts flourished and advancements were made in science.
Japanese rule continued until 1598, when they were finally driven out after years of fighting. This period in history renowned for Admiral Yi Sun-shin, who through his use of tactics and turtle ships, the worlds first ironclad war ships, inflicted great damage upon the Japanese fleet.
Posted by steve at 11:30 am
Monday, May 07, 2012
Japan - Part I
Here's the first part in a series of films I made whilst living in Japan.
Posted by steve at 11:48 am
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Unbelievably, I'm finally packed and ready to go. I've had a wonderful time in South Korea and it has been better in more ways than I could have ever imagined.
From the delights of traditional Korean cuisine in Jeonju, to the last remnants of the Cold War in the Demilitarised Zone, South Korea has proved to be a remarkably fascinating country that I have enjoyed enormously.
As always when travelling it wasn't just the places I visited, but the people I met along the way that made it all so special. Over the past few weeks it seems as if I have been endlessly saying goodbye to people and nearly every night has been a leaving party.
Only now, just before I catch my coach to the airport, does it feel as if it is beginning to sink in.
When travelling, bidding adieu to everyone you have met is always tinged with sadness, especially when you know that you might not see them again.
As I get older it unfortunately doesn't seem to get any easier.
I'm returning to Britain for a short time to teach and hopefully in a few months time I'll be on my way around the world once again.
You can all of the photos here.
Posted by steve at 4:22 am
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Return to the Demilitarised Zone
I first visited the Demilitarised Zone(DMZ) last September and on Saturday I returned, to find out more about the events that have shaped the Korean peninsula since it was first divided in two, following the Second World War.
Like a bizarre Cold War theme park, there are a number of tours you can take in the DMZ and one of the most popular ones is the Panmunjoem tour. During the Korean War, the village of Panmunjeom was at the centre of all peace negotiations from 1951 to 1953. It was here that the final armistice was signed on July 29, 1953, resulting in the creation of the DMZ, along the 38th Parallel.
After the signing of the Armistice Agreement, a new site was constructed approximately 1km south of Panmunjeom for further peace negotiations to take place in. Although the new site is often referred to as Panmunjeom, it is officially known as the Joint Security Area(JSA), an 800 metre square area of land that is policed by the United Nations and North Korea.
After boarding the coach in Seoul, we travelled north towards the Demilitarised Zone along the Freedom Highway. The Han River beside it was frozen and a layer of snow covered the landscape. Once again we passed through security checkpoints and the passports of everyone on the tour were checked by South Korean soldiers.
We then headed to Camp Bonifas, the base camp for the United Nations Joint Security Force, at the southern entrance to the DMZ. After changing coaches, we then went to the Ballinger Hall, for a briefing on the history of the area.
Once inside we were asked to sign a declaration form relieving the United Nations of any responsibility should anything happen. The slide show at the briefing proved to be extremely informative, giving a detailed account of the history of the DMZ and events that have occurred there.Home to 500 South Korean and US troops, Camp Bonifas was originally called Camp Kitty Hawk and was renamed in 1986 in honour of Captain Arthur G. Bonifas.
On August 18, 1976, a South Korean work party supervised by a United Nations Command(UNC) security force was attacked by a group of North Korean soldiers. There to prune a tree obscuring visiblity between two outposts near the Bridge of No Return, what ensued has become commonly known as 'The Axe Murder Incident' and is one of the most tragic events to have occurred in the DMZ since its inception in 1953.
When confronted by the North Korean soldiers, the 5 members of the work detail fled, leaving behind 14 UNC personnel. Outnumbered by the 30 Korean People's Army(KPA) soldiers, during the fight the Joint Security Force Commander, Capt. Arthur G. Bonifas and First Lieutenant Mark T. Barrett, were both killed by the KPA soldiers who used their own pikes and clubs, as well as axes left behind by the work detail.
The Joint Security Area
After the briefing we got back onto the coach and then headed towards Panmunjeom. On the way our guide pointed out 'the world's most dangerous golf course'. Located at Camp Bonifas, the one hole, par 3 course, was once surrounded by landmines on three sides and was famously featured in Sports Illustrated Magazine.
We then drove past anti-tank walls and through a gap in a minefield that stretches across the whole country. About seven metres wide, with huge, razor-sharp barbed wire fences on either side, the minefield provides one of the biggest disincentives for anyone wishing to enter South Korea illegally from the North. Along the base of each fence small stones were piled up, one on top of another, the purpose of which is to detect if anyone has infilitrated South Korea.
Upon arriving in Panmunjeom, we were advised not to smile or wave at the North Korean soldiers if we saw any. The reason for this was because if any photographs were taken, they could be used as a propaganda tool. For a brief moment the surreal thought of becoming a media celebrity in North Korea entered my head. We were also warned to only take photographs in the designated areas.
Once off the coach we were escorted to the Military Armistice Commission(MAC) building, which is definitely one of the highlights of the tour as it allows you to actually enter North Korean territory. One of three single storey structures that are light blue with corrugated rooves, it is here that the main peace discussions take place between North and South Korea.
A number of South Korean soldiers were on guard, all of them looking very serious in their dark sunglasses and standing in a taekwon-do stance, which our guide told us was to look more intimidating. Each one of the soldiers outside only had half their body exposed to the North Korean side, so that they could easily escape if they were shot.
Inside the MAC building there were two more South Korean soldiers, both in the taekwon-do stance. In the middle of the room was a table with the flags of the United Nations and North Korea on it, as well as a row microphones going down the centre of it, denoting the border between North and South Korea.
One soldier stood at the end of this table, whilst the other stood guard at the far end of the building in front of a door leading to North Korea. We were advised not to walk behind the South Korean soldier guarding the door, as this would probably be seen as trying to defect.
We then made our way outside to the Peace Pagoda, an observation platform to view the surrounding area. From here it was possible to see all around. On the South Korean side Freedom House and The Peace House. On the North Korean side the buildings of Panmungak and Tongil-gak as well as a guard post.
After taking photographs we were once again ushered onto the coach for the final part of the tour. After a short drive we passed Checkpoint 3, where visiting presidents and defence secretaries often go when they want to gain a closer view of North Korea.
The Bridge of No Return
The coach then stopped at an observation post from which we could see the North Korean propaganda village of Gijong, as well as the world's largest flag pole.
From here it was also possible to see the Bridge of No Return, which crosses the military demarcation line. After the Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953, prisoners of war from both sides were exchanged on the bridge. It gained its name as prisoners of war who voluntarily chose to return to the North, would no longer be able to return to the South.
The DMZ is one of the most interesting tourist destinations in South Korea, if not the world. Where else is it possible to visit one of the last vestiges of the Cold War and to see first hand a country which President George Bush as recently as 2002, described as being part of 'the axis of evil'?
Although the risk factor in the DMZ is almost negligible, it is still a place fraught with tension. North Korea's relationship with its neighbours and America remains a frosty one and little progress has been made in recent years regarding issues such as its nuclear programme, or the abduction of Japanese citizens during the 1970s. Despite hopes that the two Koreas will one day reunite, at present there sadly appears to be little or no resolution in sight.
You can see all of the photos here.
Posted by steve at 6:35 am
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Posted by steve at 11:50 am
Friday, February 12, 2010
Geunjeongjeon Main Hall(Gyeongbokgung)
Gyeongbokgung is by far the most famous and beautiful of all the palaces in Seoul and with a history spanning more than 500 years, it is also one of South Korea's most popular tourist attractions.
Built in 1395 by the founder of the Joseon Dynasty(1392-1910), King Taejo(r. 1392-1398), it served as the main residence for royalty, up until it was burnt down in 1592 during the Japanese invasions.
It lay in ruins for 300 hundred years until it was rebuilt in 1868 by Heungseon Daewongun(1820-1898), the regent and father of King Gojong(r. 1863-1907). During this time Changdeokgung was used as the main palace.
Under the colonial rule of the Japanese(1910-1945) many of the buildings were destroyed and the area became the site for the headquarters of the Governor General of Korea.
In recent years much effort has been made to restore the palace to its former glory, a process which it is hoped will be completed by the year 2020.
At the southern entrance to the palace grounds is the main gate. Known as Gwanghwamun, at various times throughout the day guard ceremonies are performed here, which really help to bring alive the pageantry of a past time.
Just beyond this lies the main hall, Geunjeongjeon, where the king would have held official functions and conducted state affairs.
Other buildings include the 48-columned Gyeonghoeru Pavillion, which was erected by King Taejo in the western section of the palace grounds. Built on a man made lake for festivals and entertaining guests such as foreign dignitaries, the king would also have used it for boating.
At the northernmost section of the palace grounds is the Hyangwonjeong pavillion. Built on a small isle, this two-storey hexagonal structure is situated at the centre of a beautiful lotus pond and rock garden. Despite the throngs of tourists and school parties, it's easy to imagine how the kings and queens of a bygone era would have come here to relax.
You can see all the photos here.
Here's a short film of Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Posted by steve at 9:24 am
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Posted by steve at 1:50 pm
Sunday, January 03, 2010
Statue of King Sejong(Deoksugung Palace)
On the grounds of Deoksugung Palace proudly sits the statue of King Sejong(r. 1418-1450). Born in 1397, he is widely regarded as one of Korea's greatest kings during the Joseon Dynasty(1393-1910) and is renowned for his cultural achievments, as well as improving the welfare of the Korean people.
His mastery of Confucian doctrine enabled him to successfully deal with the yangban scholars on an equal footing and he was resposible for a number of progressive ideas in administration, health, science and medicine.
During his reign he brought in many reforms relating to land tax and health, to improve the living conditions of his subjects, as well as establishing the Jiphyeonjeon (The Hall of Worthies). Comprised of twenty of the foremost scholars of the time, they were able to devote their full time to study, in order to promote research in institutional traditions and politico-economics.
Committed to improving the intellectual wellbeing of his people, he is probably most famous for creating the Korean Hangul alphabet. At the time of his reign the Chinese alphabet was used to document the Korean language and with its thousands of different characters, learning it provided a difficult task.
Based on a phonemic system consisting of 11 vowels and 17 consonants, it has since been reduced to 24 letters consisting of 10 vowels and 14 consonants.
When introduced in 1446, there was initially some resistance from scholars as it might limit the study of Confucian texts. However, King Sejong remained firm in his belief, paving the way for improved literacy and better education amongst the population.
Towards the end of his life he suffered from paralysis, which affected his motor skills and left him unable to speak. He finally died in 1450 at the age of 52, after developing cancer.
Here is a short film of Deoksugung Palace.
Posted by steve at 8:38 am