The Korean War in Perspective

John R. Bishop

This article is an overview of the entire conflict almost 55 years after commencement of the Korean War. As this significant event took place only five years after WWII, all the senior commanders were most experienced in the art of war. This meant that the conduct of the war was carried out most aggressively and the overall casualty rate will confirm this fact. In the interests of clarity and reader understanding, vital events will be numerically referenced to the following map. 


How big a conflict was Korea? It was Canadaís Third Bloodiest Conflict, after WWI and WWII, with 516 killed and 1558 wounded between 1950 and the date of the Cease-fire in 1953. 
Not quite true: A minimum of 33 of those who were killed occurred after the cease-fire during the Peacekeeping Medal phase, 1953 to 55/56, making it Canadaís Bloodiest Peacekeeping Mission.

Total casualties including civilians in Korea were more than four million. Let us now make a comparison of casualties for the US forces in Korea and Vietnam to clearly show the intensity of each conflict to place history in its proper perspective. In Korea, over 3 years, the US military had 50,000 fatal casualties. In Vietnam over 10 years, 60,000 were killed. Therefore, if Vietnam had been at the same overall intensity as Korea over 10 years, US casualties would have been over 150,000 killed in Vietnam. Not quite true! 8,207 U.S. military were missing in action (MIA) in Korea are still not included in the above official U.S. statistics. Total casualties including civilians in Vietnam was approximately two million. President Clinton made an official proclamation in 1998 that indeed the Korean Conflict was a war.

How big a country is South Korea where most of the fighting took place on the Korean Peninsula?  Lets pretend that Vancouver Island is a peninsula attached to North Korea. The distance from Victoria to the north end of Vancouver Island is approximately 250 kms, the same length (N/S) as South Korea. South Korea is more than twice as wide as Vancouver Island; however, as most fighting was up or down the peninsula, like an accordion being played, it is a useful comparison.

What was Canadaís Contribution? First of all, I should mention that Canadaís armed forces were not large enough to easily meet the authorized commitment in Korea. I am sure that statement is no surprise to the average Canadian. Our Navy commitment was three ships almost immediately, with a total of eight ships during the course of the war.  In the case of the army in 1950, depending on which reference you use, fewer than 7,000 at the sharp end to as low as approximately 5,000.  The army commitment on the ground in Korea, six months after commencement of the conflict, was an infantry battalion to be followed later by the balance of an Infantry Brigade. The RCAF; immediately provided a transport squadron followed by 22 RCAF pilots who flew with the U.S. Fifth Air Force.

It is important to note that Canada provided the third largest foreign commitment of the 22 nations on the UN side, after the U.S. and U.K.  Sixteen countries provided combat troops. Two were not UN members, Italy and South Korea who paid the highest price in all respects. One other interesting fact, Canadaís agreed to land commitment, a Brigade, arrived in the front line almost one full year after the conflict commenced. We, who were in Korea at the time, were glad to see them arrive; however, even 2PPCLI had only been in country for six months, prior to the arrival of the complete Brigade.                                 

The conflict officially started with the crossing of the 38th parallel by North Korean forces on 25 June 1950 (Circle1on map). This statement is not entirely true as South Korea made many sizable land incursions into the North prior to that date. Policy of Syngman Rhee was to march North at a time of his choosing. In fact, the US refused to provide major weapons, such as, tanks, long range artillery and aircraft to South Korea as they were afraid Syngman Rhee would attack North Korea without prior approval by the U.S.

North Korean Forces capture Seoul on 28 June (Circle 2 on map), just three days after crossing the 38th parallel, forcing US and South Korean Forces to retreat to the South. Seoul is only 40 kms from the North Korean border, so it was not a lightening strike by highly mechanized forces from North Korea. A comparison: if you pretend for a moment that Victoria, B.C. is Seoul, the border with North Korea would be a line between Mill Bay, Shawnigan Lake and the Jordan River on the West coast of Vancouver Island .

During the period 4 August to16 September (Circle 3 on map), US and South Korean Forces established a defensive perimeter around Pusan. The North Korean advance was stopped only 80 kms north of Pusan (now called Busan). In perspective, if Pusan was Victoria, the Pusan Perimeter to the North would be about Ladysmith, just north of Duncan. To the west, the North Koreans were less than half that distance from Pusan, that is, 40 kms, approximately the Jordan River.

US Forces landed at Inchon 15/16 September (Circle 4 on map) with one of the largest amphibious landings in history. In perspective, Inchon would be around Quatsino Sound on the West coast of Vancouver Island , just South of Port Hardy, distance of 175 kms north of Pusan . A brilliant operation opposed by almost everyone in Washington and in Japan at MacArthurís Headquarters. General MacArthurís forceful personality carried the day. A considerable portion of the landing craft and fighting ships were Japanese and; in fact, one Japanese Minesweeper was sunk by North Korean forces. 

UN Forces break out of Pusan Perimeter, attack north and recapture Seoul between 16 and 22 September 1950 (Circle 5 on map). U.S. Army history shows that, but in fact the Marines, advancing from Inchon , also played a major role in the capturing of Seoul .  (Relative history!) It is interesting to read the United States Air Force (USAF) history of the war that seldom gives aircraft and personnel casualties. I was able to find one reference that states the USAF lost a total of 300 aircraft in the war. Records show that the USAF had 1,198 battle deaths, 5,884 non-battle deaths, 368 wounded and 929 missing in action. Therefore, the loss of 300 aircraft could be reasonably accurate.

On 25 November (Circle 6 on map) the Chinese Army enters North Korea
and pushes UN Forces back from the Yalu River. Actually the Chinese entered the war approximately 1 November but MacArthur was in denial. At this time, UN forces totaled 425,000 troops (US 178,000) and the Chinese had 180,000 troops.  25 November is also the exact date that 2PPCLI, Canadaís initial land commitment departed Seattle
on the Private J.P. Martinez, a troop ship.

-continued on page two



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