STATE OF KOREA AFTER WW2 ENDED
During the world war of 1939-45, the future of the Japanese empire was decided at Allied summit meetings. In the short term, pending the return of Korean independence, Korea, a Japanese colony since 1910, was to be occupied north of the 38th parallel by Soviet Russia. To the south, a United States military administration under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur would control the area from its headquarters in Tokyo.
HOW IT STARTED
After several years of increasingly bloody frontier incidents along the 38th parallel, the Republic of Korea was invaded by the North Korean Peoples' Army on 25 June 1950. Despite earlier indications, the Pentagon was caught off-guard. As the North Koreans swept south, overwhelming all opposition, the US called on the Security Council to invoke the United Nations Charter and brand the North Koreans as aggressors. This was done and member states were called on to send in military assistance.
CHINA JOINS THE WAR
In mid-September, General MacArthur brought off a masterstroke by landing two divisions 240km (150 miles) in the enemy rear at the port of Inchon. Their communications cut, and under heavy aerial bombardment, the North Koreans broke and fled back north; MacArthur ordered a hot pursuit which led across the 38th parallel and deep into North Korea. As the victorious UN forces drew near to the Manchurian border, there were ominous signals from Peking that communist China would intervene to defend its territory. In mid-October, MacArthur met President Harry Truman on Wake Island in their first encounter to assure him that a massive UN offensive was about to conclude the war victoriously by Christmas. No sooner had this been launched in November than the Chinese unleashed their armies.
Throughout the war, air power was decisive. The North Korean air force was driven from the skies by US Air Force, Navy and Marines, using their superior equipment and training. Heavy bombers razed the cities and industrial plants of North Korea. Continuous attacks on the transport system forced the Chinese to rely on the packhorse for much of their logistical support. A new phase of air war opened when American B-29 bombers and their fighter escorts were challenged by Russian-built MiG-15 fighters flown by Chinese airmen. The MiG-15's outflew first-generation American jet fighters until the introduction of the swept-wing F-86 Sabre tipped the balance. In the world's first supersonic air combats, the Americans prevailed.
HOW IT ENDED
In mid-1951, with the land battle in stalemate, both sides agreed to go to the conference table and armistice talks began. They dragged on for two years. The main haggling point was the future of the tens of thousands of communist prisoners held in camps on Koje Island off the coast of South Korea. While the communist negotiators were adamant that all were to be returned to their country of origin, thousands of prisoners were unwilling to be repatriated. There were several great mutinies in the Koje camps before a satisfactory formula enabled those who wished to be repatriated to go home and for asylum to be granted to those who wished otherwise. In July 1953, a great calm descended over the battlefields and in Operation Big Switch, thousands of former prisoners on each side were returned. A Demilitarised Zone or DMZ was established on the border. Both sides withdrew from their fighting positions, and a UN commission was set up to supervise the armistice.
No one knows exactly how many people died in this war. In a sense it was a civil war fought out with foreign participation on both sides. It was the first military test of the United Nations and also the last martial adventure of the old Commonwealth. The American Department of Defence acknowledges that almost 40,000 of its servicemen died, either in battle or of other causes. British casualties were 1,078 killed in action, 2,674 wounded and 1,060 missing or taken prisoner.
The true casualty figures for the North and South Koreans and Chinese will never be known. It is estimated that some 46,000 South Korean soldiers were killed and over 100,000 wounded. The Chinese are estimated by the Pentagon as having lost over 400,000 killed (including Mao Tse-tung's son) and 486,000 wounded, with over 21,000 captured. The North Koreans lost about 215,000 killed, 303,000 wounded and over 101,000 captured or missing.