10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH

10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH

Larry Holzwarth - March 28, 2018

Twenty nations engaged in the Korean War, often considered the forgotten war, though none of them declared war on one another. Another dozen provided medical and logistical support to the United Nations troops. The United States was the primary provider of combat troops for the UN forces deployed to aid the South Koreans. When it began the United States was woefully unprepared for war. Demobilization following the Second World War and major cuts in defense spending had severely reduced all of the armed forces, with the exception of the expanding nuclear forces. The South Koreans were even less prepared, possessed no heavy weapons such as tanks, and many of its troops were of questionable loyalty to the regime of South Korean leader Syngman Rhee.

During the first year of the war the fighting swept down, up, and back down the Korean Peninsula. The capital of South Korea, Seoul, was captured by the communists, recaptured by the United Nations, taken again by the communists, and then retaken again by the UN. Bloody massacres of civilians were undertaken by both North and South Korea. Winters were bitterly cold. During the first winter of the war, South Korean officers embezzled the funds intended to pay for food for newly drafted troops, and more than 50,000 South Korean draftees died from malnutrition while retreating before the Chinese assault.

10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH
The Korean War was first conflict fought following President Truman’s Executive Order 9981, leading to desegregation of US Forces. US Army

Here are some facts from the Korean War you didn’t learn from MASH

10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH
The destruction of the docks and port facilities of Hungnam following its evacuation in 1950. US Navy

The United States was totally unprepared for war

After World War II the massive military presence which the United States had established in the Pacific largely stood down. There were occupation troops in Japan, under the command of Douglas MacArthur, but air and naval forces were scant, and American military preparedness was poor. MacArthur, whom had been in Japan since the end of the war as the country’s de facto ruler, was taken by surprise when the North Koreans invaded the South, as he had been when Japan invaded the Philippines nine years before. When the United Nations asked the United States to designate a commander of the UN Forces, the Joint Chiefs of Staff named MacArthur.

MacArthur remained in Tokyo and deployed American troops to Korea. At first the Americans could do little but join the South Koreans in retreating before the enemy onslaught. It was a fighting retreat, but through July of 1950 the Americans lacked the heavy weapons to counter the Russian built T-34 tanks which were the spearhead of the North Korean drive to the South. The US Air Force and US Navy launched airstrikes to slow the communist advance as hurriedly mustered and equipped American units were rushed to Korea. Tanks and other heavy equipment were shipped from ports on the American west coast.

By August nearly all of South Korea had been overrun by the communists, and US and the remaining South Korean forces were trapped within the confines of Pusan, in the Southeast corner of the Korean peninsula. Here supporting units arrived from Japan and the United states, as well as from some of the other United Nations. The number of troops from allies was relatively small, the United States would account for almost 90% of all UN troops which deployed to Korea, and the percentage of combat units was even higher. The Pusan perimeter held and the communist advance was halted.

The United Nations held only about 10% of the total Korean peninsula by the end of August 1950, only two months following the North Korean invasion. Meanwhile, in the territory of South Korea overrun by the communists, the seizure and execution of academics, civil servants, and other perceived enemies of the communist state had begun. Laborers and technicians were forcibly removed to the North to aid in the North Korean industries and construction projects. Many of these became casualties as UN bombing of infrastructure in North Korea and some of the occupied regions of South Korea began to take hold.

As UN forces held the perimeter around Pusan, the region they were defending was teeming with refugees. By September, the UN forces in the region exceeded 180,000 troops, supported with heavy and light tanks. Supplies from Japan and the United States were arriving steadily. By comparison the North Korean invaders facing them counted about 100,000 combat ready troops, but they were severely undersupplied as US air attacks destroyed the North Korean resupply capability. Within the Pusan perimeter Korean secret police began the arrest and execution of suspected North Korean sympathizers as UN forces prepared for an offensive.

10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH
US Marines storming ashore at Inchon in 1950. US Navy


Beginning in July, as UN forces retreated through South Korea, MacArthur readied a seaborne invasion near Seoul to cut off the North Korean forces in the South from their supplies in the North. The area he selected was Inchon. He began the planning phase of the operation despite the opposition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior Army and Navy officers, the former objecting to the difficult terrain and the latter concerned about the high tides and tricky currents the landings would encounter. In the end, MacArthur persuaded the opposition to go ahead with the landings, arguing that they would cut off the North Koreans around Pusan and avoid the necessity for a winter campaign.

Before the landings American and South Korean infiltrators landed near Inchon to observe the tides and the defenses around the area. US bombers used napalm to burn much of the terrain in the area, to open a path for the landing troops. US and Canadian destroyers shelled North Korean batteries in the area for several days before the landing, sustaining casualties from the return fire. The destroyers also destroyed mines, supplied by the Soviets in the early days of the war, using gunfire.

On September 15, following a naval and air bombardment of the landing areas, the landings at Inchon were met with relatively light resistance. The North Koreans had been led by an American disinformation campaign to expect a landing, but elsewhere, and Inchon was defended by significantly fewer troops than were landed by the UN. The invading force outnumbered the defenders by more than six to one. The following day the North Koreans launched an armored counterattack with Soviet built T-34 tanks, which were destroyed by air and ground attacks.

On September 17 US Marines attacked the airfield at Kimpo, the largest aviation facility in Korea, and captured it relatively intact, giving US Air Force fighter and attack planes an operational base and opening a logistics facility through which supplies and equipment were delivered from Japan. With Inchon secure and an operational air base in UN hands, the drive to recapture Seoul began. It was a hard fought and bloody operation to enter the city, and once US Marines were in Seoul they were involved in difficult, house to house fighting.

Seoul was declared to be under UN control on September 25, 1950, while there were still some pockets of resistance in some areas of the city. As the fighting for Seoul was underway the American and other UN troops in Pusan broke out of the pocket, driving the North Koreans out of South Korea. In the first two weeks of September, 1950, up to 41,000 North Korean troops were killed or captured, and about 30,000 escaped the UN forces to return north of the 38th parallel into North Korea. There they were resupplied with weapons and equipment provided by the Soviet Union. US troops were not authorized to pursue them above the parallel, but the South Korean army was, and did.

10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH
Marines move through the Chinese lines after their breakout at Chosin Reservoir. They are heading to Hungnam and evacuation. US Navy

Chinese Intervention

On October 1 the South Korean army moved into North Korea as MacArthur issued a demand for North Korea to surrender. North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung requested help from China and despite Zhou En-Lai’s warning of Chinese intervention should UN troops enter North Korea they did so beginning on October 7, with US and supporting forces driving up both coasts, separated by mountainous terrain. Within two weeks Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, was captured and UN troops were nearing the Chinese border. MacArthur was already lobbying to enter China and destroy supply depots north of the Yalu River.

Josef Stalin informed Chinese and North Korean leaders that the Soviet Union would not send troops to intervene in Korea, and suggested that the Chinese send several divisions into Korea. On October 19, 1950, 200,000 Chinese troops, designated by Mao as the People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) began entering Korea, undetected by US reconnaissance aircraft. Only four days earlier MacArthur met with Truman on Wake Island, assuring the President that the Chinese were unlikely to intervene and that if they did they would be easily defeated by the UN forces.

The first attack by the Chinese was against South Korean units in late October. On November 1 the Chinese troops attacked an American unit, the Eighth Cavalry Regiment, and sent it into retreat. The Chinese did not pursue the retreating Americans, instead withdrawing into hiding in the mountains. On November 24 the Americans launched what was believed to be the final assault of the war, attacking on both coasts. The Chinese were waiting in ambush. Chinese counterattacks drove the US Eighth Army into what became the longest retreat in the history of the United States Army.

That the Eighth Army was able to retreat at all was thanks to the rear guard action fought by Turkish troops, which bought the withdrawing UN forces time at the cost of heavy casualties among the Turks. On the eastern side of the Korean Peninsula US Marines and Army units were encircled by Chinese troops at the Chosin Reservior. For seventeen days in the bitter cold and snow, they executed a fighting retreat. It was so cold that batteries failed, medical supplies like plasma and morphine froze, and frostbite occurred on exposed skin quickly.

UN forces across North Korea withdrew in fighting retreats, and after establishing a defensive perimeter around the port city of Hungnam MacArthur ordered the troops evacuated. Nearly 200 ships of all types took part in removing the troops and bombarding the Chinese troops with Naval gunfire. After destroying the port facilities to deny their use to the Chinese and North Koreans, the last UN forces were evacuated on Christmas Eve, 1950. The Chinese occupied the city the next day. The UN forces had surrendered all of the gains made after crossing the 38th parallel, despite inflicting heavy casualties upon the enemy.

10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH
US Marines engage in street fighting in Seoul during its first recovery in September 1950. US Navy

Seoul falls to the Chinese and North Koreans

On New Year’s Eve 1950 the Chinese began their third offensive in the war. Earlier in December the commander of the US Eighth Army, General Walton Walker, had been killed in a traffic accident caused by a wayward South Korean Army weapons carrier which collided with his Jeep. Walker was replaced with General Matthew Ridgway. The Chinese attacked his positions around Seoul using encirclement tactics at night, attacking with superior numbers. The attacks were heralded with bugles and gongs, which disrupted communications between positions and inflicted terror and panic.

In early January the United Nations proposed a cease fire with both sides withdrawing behind the 38th parallel. At the same time MacArthur was planning a withdrawal of all UN forces to the Pusan area. Eighth Army had retreated to defensive positions around Seoul and MacArthur ordered Ridgway to hold Seoul as long as possible in order to facilitate the withdrawal of troops in other areas. Although Eighth Army was still relatively well equipped, most of their heavy equipment and guns were ineffective due to the bitter cold. Gun oil became thick from the cold and hampered operation.

China did not have the resources to press a full invasion of South Korea in place, but Seoul is located only 30 miles south of the 38th parallel, and the Chinese leadership believed they could capture it while the UN troops were still recovering from the shock of the December retreats. Ridgway’s troops were positioned along the parallel, supported by South Korean troops, most of whom were recently conscripted and with little or no combat experience. Eighth Army was suffering from the cold, the low morale caused by their recent defeats, and a belief that they were to be evacuated soon. This belief led them to avoid contact with the Chinese.

On New Year’s Eve the Chinese attacked the South Korean positions protecting Ridgway’s flank, destroying one division, routing another, and forcing the whole of the South Korean Army Corps along the parallel into a headlong retreat. Ridgway tried to intervene to stop the withdrawal to no avail, the South Koreans simply threw away their weapons and fled. “I’d never had such an experience before, and I pray to God I never witness such a spectacle again,” Ridgway said of the retreating army. Without the South Koreans to protect his flank Ridgway’s UN troops were at risk of being surrounded in Seoul.

On January 3 1951 Ridgway ordered the Eighth Army and other UN forces around Seoul to abandon the capital for the second time and withdraw to defensive positions. The Chinese attacked the evacuating UN troops and US and British units engaged them in a fighting withdrawal. The combat in the brutal cold was often hand to hand between UN and Chinese troops. The city of Seoul was left largely in flames during the withdrawal and most of its citizens fled before the Chinese entered the city. The Chinese began planning for another offensive when the weather improved in the spring.

10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH
A US Pershing tank follows a line of prisoners of war down a street in a shattered village. Wikimedia

Fourth Battle of Seoul

Immediately after completing the withdrawal from Seoul Ridgway set about improving the morale and combat readiness of his command. Ridgway adopted the policy of attrition, meaning that the superior numbers of the enemy would be met with superior firepower from artillery, naval bombardment, and air power supporting the combat troops. Two smaller offensives in January and February 1951 pushed the Chinese troops back to positions above the Han River, which flows through Seoul. These offensives demonstrated to the troops of the Eighth Army that the policy of attrition worked, and Chinese casualties were high.

The Chinese were having problems of their own with morale, as UN bombing, primarily by the US Air Force, were pounding their logistics capability and the troops in Korea were inadequately equipped for winter combat. Food and medical supplies were becoming scarcer by the day. Although Stalin had provided the Chinese with heavy trucks and other support vehicles the US bombing destroyed roads and bridges, and UN air forces strafed and bombed supply columns whenever they were found. Many of the supplies had to be moved all the way from the Yalu River by bicycle. Each combat with the Americans reduced the fighting ability of the Chinese, since as material was expended it could not be replaced.

In March the largest artillery bombardment of the Korean War began Operation Ripper, designed to force the Chinese to withdraw from Seoul and push them back over the 38th parallel. Following Ridgway’s policy of attrition the plan was for UN forces to move forward in steps, arriving at preplanned positions and then stopping. This allowed for the support of heavy artillery to move forward with the front and placed into position to break up Chinese counterattacks. As the UN troops moved forward, the Chinese abandoned their positions rather than launch counterattacks which would expose their dwindling military resources.

The Chinese defense was strong in some areas, especially in the mountainous regions, where they used the terrain to establish defensive positions which required time to reduce. As UN troops threatened to surround Seoul the Chinese abandoned the city and withdrew to the north. It was the fourth and final time that Seoul changed hands during the 1950-53 Korean War, which at the time was less than one year old. Operation Ripper continued to push the Chinese and North Korean troops north towards the parallel.

When Ridgway called a halt to the advance, which in little under a month advanced the UN forces about thirty miles from their lines when they began, all of the objectives of Operation Ripper had been met other than the complete destruction of the Chinese and North Korean armies, who withdrew in order under the UN attack. US troops had borne the brunt of the operation and had sustained casualties including 566 dead and more than 3,000 wounded. The total number of Chinese and North Korean casualties is unknown, but the number of Chinese dead was probably in the thousands.

10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH
These North Korean refugees were fortunate enough to be evacuated by the Americans. Both North and South Korea killed hundreds of thousands of their own citizens. US Navy

South Korean Massacres 1951

While UN troops were pushing back against the Chinese and North Korean incursion into the south, the South Korean Army took action to destroy guerrilla activity in the areas under its control. This operation was placed in the hands of the South Korean 11th Army Division, under the command of General Choe Deok-sin. On February 7, 705 South Korean men, women, and children were rounded up in the area of Sancheong and massacred by troops of the division. More than eighty percent of the victims were women and children, or elderly men. None of them were armed and all of them were civilians.

Between February 9 and 11 another 719 civilians were rounded up in the region of Geochang, including 385 children, and executed by troops of the division. Once again all of the victims were civilians and none of them were armed. This massacre was reported to the South Korean National Assembly which responded by having an investigative group look into the accusation. The investigators were stonewalled by the South Korean Army. The assemblyman who had reported the massacre was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. When a later investigation reported the Army involvement in the massacre two officers were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. Syngman Rhee commuted their sentences.

Syngman perpetrated several massacres of civilians and suspected communist supervisors during the first year of the Korean War. One of the worst was the massacre of the Bodo League. The Bodo League was a re-education organization formed prior to the Korean War for communist sympathizers to be purged of their ideas and educated in the political system and philosophy espoused by Syngman. At the time the North Koreans launched their attack on the South in 1950 there were about 300,000 people enrolled in the Bodo League. Two days after the invasion of the south Syngman ordered the execution of anyone involved in the league.

As the South Korean army retreated before the North Koreans that summer, they participated in the executions of the Bodo League members, as well as those suspected of being communist sympathizers who had not yet been enrolled in the league. There were no trials. Anyone accused of being a communist or a sympathizer was summarily executed by South Korean forces. When Seoul was recovered the first time at least 30,000 civilians were executed for the crime of being a collaborator. Most of the executions were performed by the South Korean Army.

American, British, and French officers and civilian officials witnessed some of the executions and reported them. When the reports of the executions reached MacArthur he dismissed it as something which was a matter for the South Koreans to deal with. British troops witnessed executions about to take place and intervened to protect the prisoners. The British also had their Ambassador to the United States raise the matter with the American Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. Rusk assured the British that the United States was doing what it could to end the executions. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were executed by the South Korean Army during the war.

10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH
US Navy F9F fighter bombers over Wonsan in 1952. They were operating from the USS Boxer. US Navy

War in the Air

The Korean War was not the first appearance of the jet fighter. That had occurred in the waning days of the Second World War. The Korean War was however the first time jet fighters encountered each other in combat. Most of the North Korean Air Force was propeller driven when the war began, and the US and British jets made quick work of the slower, Russian built airplanes. When the Chinese entered the war they brought with them the Russian MIG 15, which at the time was one of the most advanced aircraft in the world. The MIG was capable of defeating the earlier American and British jets and US aircraft losses increased.

The MIG was so effective against the main workhorse bomber of the US Air Force, the B-29 Superfortress, the Americans had to abandon daylight bombing for a time. In late 1950 the US Air Force sent three squadrons of its newest fighter, the F-86 Sabrejet, to counter the MIGs. US pilots found that they could engage the MIG on nearly equal terms and the area over the Yalu River separating Korea from China began to be called MIG Alley by the UN forces. Besides supplying their best fighter to the Chinese and hence to the North Koreans, the Russians supplied pilots.

Russian pilots were trained to communicate via coded signals so as not to reveal their presence in the air war, but during the heat of combat this system soon broke down, UN pilots could overhear communication in the Russian language during operations. Over 1,100 UN airplanes were destroyed by Russian aviators. Even with the Russian involvement the United States Air Force maintained an advantage with the F-86 destroying enemy aircraft at a ratio of nearly ten to one. Still, over fifty Russian pilots achieved the status of being an air ace, which required a minimum of five kills.

The US took on the primary role in regards to bombing of North Korea and dropped over 600,000 tons on North Korean towns, cities, and infrastructure. The bombing was so extensive that almost all structures of the North were destroyed. North Korea became a country forced to live underground. Napalm was used to both clear terrain and to fire bomb cities. As the bombing campaign went on the Air Force began to find it difficult to locate worthy targets. No North Korean city escaped bombing and many were almost completely destroyed. The North Koreans had to rely almost completely on their Chinese and Russian allies for supplies.

Prior to the Korean War the helicopter had seen limited use in warfare. During the Korean War the roles for the helicopter began to emerge, as a means of evacuating wounded to hospital ships or to MASH units. It was especially valuable in areas where poor roads made evacuation by truck or by ambulance difficult. The US and other UN troops began to experiment with the use of helicopters for quick redeployment of troops and for close support of troops on the ground during the Korean War, but attack helicopters weren’t developed until after the ceasefire which ended the stalemate Korea.

10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH
A captured North Korea T-34 85 heavy tank is examined by US soldiers. The North Koreans abandoned most of their armor when they ran out of fuel after Inchon. US Army

Defeat of North Korean Armor

When the Korean War began the invasion by North Korean troops into the south followed some of the features of the German blitzkrieg in the Second World War. The communist columns were spearheaded by tanks, Russian built T-34 85s. The South Korean army had nothing with which to stop them. Nor did the early UN troops arriving in the south. The T-34 was virtually unopposed during the initial thrust into the south. The first American armor to be sent to Korea were light tanks which could not engage them in battle with any likelihood of success. Air strikes could stop the T-34 and they began to be used as the UN forces gathered strength.

It was the Inchon landings which stopped the North Korean armor. After the UN troops began to drive into North Korea following the invasion the supply lines to the North Korean units in the south were cut. Without the means of getting fuel for the tanks they simply ran out of gas and their crews had to leave them where they were or accept being captured by the advancing UN forces. The North Koreans lost nearly all of their armor following the Inchon landing and it was never replaced. The Chinese did not deploy large numbers of tanks in their Army.

The lack of armor on the side of the communists led to the first major ground war since the First World War where there were no major tank battles. The UN troops used several tanks in the war, mainly as mobile artillery, without the need to carry armor piercing rounds, since the enemy had little armor to pierce. Tanks were used as flame throwers and as machine gun emplacements as well. Several different types were deployed but the use of heavy tanks as attack vehicles was limited due to the type of terrain on which much of the war was fought.

The use of mobile artillery was likewise limited in much of the terrain, particularly in the mountains, where mortars were more readily deployed. The use of aircraft as ground support also supplemented the infantry on all areas of the front. Naval bombardment in areas within range of the US Navy’s big guns also broke up enemy formations ahead of the infantry advances, and Navy battleships, cruisers, and destroyers engaged ground units on both coasts of the Korean Peninsula. After the invasion of Inchon the US and British navies were virtually unopposed at sea.

Most of the heavy armor that was used in Korea was supplied by the United States Army, including its main battle tank, the M26 Pershing, and the venerable M4 Sherman tank which had been in the American arsenal since the early days of the Second World War. The British likewise deployed tanks which were veterans of World War 2, the Centurion and the Churchill. The British also deployed Cromwell tanks. British and American tank units operated independently of each other, under the overall command of the head of the UN forces, first MacArthur and after his firing by Truman, General Ridgway.

10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH
MacArthur reviews the 24th Infantry during a visit to the front. MacArthur maintained his headquarters in Japan during the Korean War. US Department of State

Politics of the Korean War

The political situation during the Korean War was infused with the awareness that Stalin possessed the atomic bomb, though his means of deploying it was limited. Nonetheless the UN keenly wanted to keep the Russians from entering the conflict with its military. War with the UN in Korea was likely to lead to war with the Allies in Europe, especially in Germany, and the UN wanted to prevent the Korean War from expanding. For that reason, despite the knowledge that Russian pilots were engaged in the air war over Korea, the UN Forces leaders looked the other way.

The firing of MacArthur was considered to be over political issues by many, and although politics was certainly involved MacArthur was fired for other reasons. MacArthur wanted to expand the war into China and believed that the Chinese nationalists under Chiang Kai Shek would aid in overthrowing the communists there. In testimony which at the time was kept secret from the American public, the Joint Chiefs of Staff informed the Senate that the Chinese Nationalists then on Formosa (now Taiwan) were incapable of providing much aid and that MacArthur’s military grasp of the situation was incorrect.

MacArthur’s firing remains one of the most controversial events of the Korean War and much of what the public knows of what led to it is incorrect. The secret testimony of the Joint Chiefs was declassified and released many years later. The Joint Chiefs provided the Congress with information regarding the Russian strength in the region, including the number of submarines which they could deploy to the Pacific. They also pointed out that nearly 85% of the tactical strength of the US Air Force was already engaged in the Korean War. They unanimously agreed that invading China would bring Russia into the war.

When MacArthur continued to advocate for widening the war and made policy announcements which contradicted his orders Truman was advised by all of the Joint Chiefs, including Omar Bradley, that he should be fired. They advised the Congress that the Chinese were actually fighting a limited war in North Korea, and that if there was an expansion of the war into China the Chinese would certainly attack American support bases in Japan, supported by the Soviet Union. After MacArthur was fired by Truman advocates for expanding the war lost much of their support in Congress, as did MacArthur.

Firing MacArthur and the loss of public support likely caused Truman to decline to run for a second elected term as President and when Eisenhower entered the office in 1953 he replaced the Joint Chiefs, whose support of Truman led them to be seen as more political than military. Eisenhower did what Truman did not and went to Korea to see for himself the situation there, which by then had become a stalemate. In Truman’s defense, Eisenhower was experienced with major military command of an international force and Truman was not.

10 Facts About the Korean War You Didn’t See on MASH
Wounded are assisted by medics into a vehicle for transportation to a MASH unit in 1952, with the war at a stalemate. US Army

The Stalemate

By July of 1951 the opposing forces more or less strung out along the 38th parallel, engaging in combat, but seizing little new ground. Both sides fought more for the avoidance of losing any ground, with the UN forces attempting to recover all of South Korea. As they fought each other some of the more famous actions of the Korean War took place. These include the Battles of Bloody Ridge, Heartbreak Ridge, and Pork Chop Hill. As the battles took place the front gyrated back and forth. Casualties on both sides continued to mount. Meanwhile negotiations for a ceasefire were conducted, starting at Kaesong.

The Chinese suffered far higher casualties than the UN forces opposing them. Part of this was due to the length of their supply lines and the inadequate means of traversing them. The ongoing bombing of all of North Korea added to their supply problems. The Chinese were simply not able to get sufficient supplies to the front throughout the war and the lack of medical supplies and faulty military gear increased the casualties in their ranks. Attempts to provide better anti-aircraft defenses were unsuccessful as 1951 ground into 1952, and the two opposing forces simply added to the attrition.

The negotiations for a cease fire broke off and then were restarted in Panmunjon, a village on the border between the two Koreas. Little progress was made when the talks were restarted. Neither North nor South Korea wanted to release the prisoners of war they had taken to the other side. The problem was that many captured communist troops did not want to return to either China or North Korea, according to the South Koreans. The North Koreans did not want to repatriate South Korean laborers they had forcibly sent to the North in the early months of the war.

When an agreement was finally reached it was based on a proposal made by the Indian government, and divided the two Koreas along the 38th parallel, creating a demilitarized zone between the two nations. It has been monitored by both the North Koreans and the United Nations since. The war ended in an armistice signed by all parties on July 27, 1953, and North Korea claimed victory. There has never been a peace treaty between the two countries, nor between the United Nations and North Korea. Since the signing of the armistice to the present day, acts of aggression by the North Koreans have taken place along the DMZ and on the seas around the Korean Peninsula.

The United Nations and the South Korean Army suffered a combined 178,000 dead during the three years of the war, with more than 550,000 wounded. Another 32,000 were missing in action. The communist forces had between 400,000 and 800,000 killed, and up to an estimated 800,000 wounded. More than 2.5 million civilians were killed in the conflict. More than half of the civilians killed in the war were North Korean. The Korean Peninsula was divided before the war and remained so, on more or less the same lines, after the war. US troops have maintained a continuous presence in South Korea ever since.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War”, by David Halberstam, 2008

“South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu”, by Roy E. Appleman, United States Army Center of Military History, 1961, online

“A Short History of the Korean War”, by James L. Stokesbury, 1990

“Korea: The Limited War”, by David Rees, 1964

“The Redacted Testimony That Fully Explains Why General MacArthur Was Fired”, by H. W. Brands, Smithsonian Magazine, September 28, 2016

“Wrong Turns in Korea”, by Robert Dallek, American Heritage Magazine, Fall Issue, 2010

“Echoes of a Distant War”, by Bernard A. Weisberger, American Heritage Magazine, July/August 1994

“New Evidence of Korean War Killings”, BBC News, April 21, 2000