Sunday, July 05, 2009

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.