Last modified on 2 July 2014, at 09:36

The Cold War/Korean War

Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910 onwards until the end of World War Two. Soviet troops liberated the North of the country from Japanese occupation and set up a communist government there under Kim II Sung, whilst the Americans liberated the South and put an anti-communist government there, under Doctor Syngman Rhee. The division between North and South was expected to be a temporary one before elections took place - but things didn't turn out as expected.

The ProblemEdit

The plan was that the Soviet and American troops would leave the country soon, elections would be held and the type of government with the most votes would get to be leader of a united Korea - but there was one problem - the elections never took place. The situation was made even more sticky when both leaders claimed to be the rightful leader of the whole of Korea and the painstaking decision of who would rule was up to the United Nations.


But behind the scenes, the North Korean army was arming itself to the teeth with Soviet-made heavy tanks, artillery, MiG fighter-planes, bombers and small arms. By early 1950, it had built itself into a formidable fighting force and had a clear head-start over the South Korean army in every category of weaponry and arms. After a visit by Kim II Sung to the Soviet Union, he was granted approval by Stalin to invade and unite South Korea.

Invasion of South KoreaEdit

On June 25th 1950, North Korea launched an invasion of the South and thousands of tanks and other armoured vehicles crossed into South of the 38th parallel (border line between North and South). The South Korean army (or R.O.K) was swiftly swept aside by the much more powerful North Korean forces, and were forced to retreat south.


Seoul, the South Korean capital was captured on the 28th June and the ROK was eventually squeezed into a small and tight corner, in the south-east of Korea, around the port city of Pusan. But they weren't defeated yet - with the help of US army re-enforcements from nearby Japan, they managed to cling on to the strip of land and establish a defence perimeter around the city.

The U.N. IntervenesEdit

When the UN heard about the invasion, they voted to defend South Korea by military force. At the time, the Soviet Union was boycotting the UN because it removed the People's Republic of China from the veto security council seat - if they hadn't been boycotting it, then they could have easily prevented the intervention of the UN by just simply voting against it.


There was a desperate fight for survival going on in Pusan, where the South Korean/American forces were trapped. The defence perimeter around Pusan was the only obstacle in Kim II Sung's way, in uniting all of Korea under communist leadership. If this fell, it would confirm the West's worst fears - another country fallen victim to the "global communist invasion".


In order to relieve pressure on Pusan and save South Korea, General MacArthur, commander-in-chief of the UN forces had a cunning plan. Even though the North Korean army had succeeded in over-running most of Korea, they had a sensitive weak spot - the army and supplies were stretched thin. On realizing this, he decided to take his chance. He ordered a UN force to land at Inchon, a coastal city in the north-west of South Korea and perform an amphibious invasion, like the one on Normandy in WW2, deep behind the enemy lines which would :


  • cut off the supply lines of the North Korean army
  • surround and then destroy the invasion force in South Korea


The invasion passed the test perfectly and succeeded in the above goals. The North Korean army was on full retreat northwards to tackle the new UN threat, while at the same time the forces at Pusan broke free of the encirclement and chased them on their heels. The UN force up north, and the ROK/US force down south eventually managed to surround and destroy the North Korean army in South Korea.


But it didn't stop there. Truman, the US president at that time was convinced that the whole of Korea should be restored into a unified nation under democratic leadership. With UN approval, the UN forces crossed north of the 38th parallel and invaded North Korea itself. But meanwhile, North Korea's huge communist neighbour was keeping a very close eye on the unfolding events. A capitalist Korea under UN occupation right next to its border was something that greatly frightened them.

China Enters the WarEdit

The existence of a UN controlled Korean peninsula on its border and the threat of an invasion by the UN of its own country was unacceptable to Mao Zedong, the leader of China. In late November 1950, he decided to take drastic action and with 270,000 People's Voluntary Army troops (PVA) he attacked the UN forces on the other side of the Yalu River (Chinese border with North Korea) and drove them south.


Caught off the guard by the sheer, overwhelming number of troops and the skilful tactics the PVA used, the UN forces were pushed back just below the 38th parallel, and on January 4th 1951, Seoul was re-captured by a combined force of Chinese and North Korean troops. But unfortunately for them, they couldn't go on further than that because they were at the end of their supply line. The UN was forced to evacuate the capital and retreat south. The situation was so gloomy that General MacArthur openly criticized the US government and called for nuclear weapons to be used against China - this was the last straw. On April 11 1951, he was sacked and replaced by Matthew B. Ridgeway.


The new general set about restoring the morale and fighting capabilities of the battered UN force, and regrouped them for a counter-strike against the PVA. This succeeded in re-capturing control of the capital Seoul and driving the PVA forces some miles north of the 38th parallel.

Stalemate & CeasefireEdit

The changes in territory stopped there. For the rest of the war, both sides were dug in trenches and no side appeared to be winning. Almost as many bombs that had been dropped on Germany during the whole of World War Two was dropped on the cities in North Korea. Peace negotiations started on July 10th 1950 and it took over three years before a ceasefire was finally reached, on 27th July 1953.


Map of the Korean DMZ

It was agreed that a buffer zone, called the DMZ (de-militarized zone) would be built between North and South Korea, running from the north-east of the 38th parallel to the south-west. It still stands today as the most heavily defended border in the world, defended by South Korean/US troops on one side and North Korean troops on the other. No peace treaty was signed between North and South - just a ceasefire - so technically they are still in a state of war.

Results of the WarEdit

The USA lost about 54,000 troops in the conflict and 7000 other UN troops were killed. The casualty figures were even higher for the Chinese/North Koreans - an estimated 2 to 4m were killed or wounded. Millions more Korean civilians died.


The Korean war was the first time the Truman Doctrine, the containment of the spread of communism, was put into action. It was also the first ever time that the U.N. undertook a military operation. The war had mixed effects - it sent a clear message that the West would not tolerate any threat to its allies or sphere of influence no matter how far away they were on the map, and were prepared to defend it using force if necessary. But it also made even more enemies, this time with China and North Korea and doomed an already strained relations with the Soviet Union.