Korea's strategic position has for centuries been a troublesome position between its stronger neighbors. Korea had for a long time been a nominally subject state to the Chinese Empire. Japan's victory in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, ended this traditional relationship. After a short period of sovereignty, which was complicated by Russo-Japanese rivalries, Korea came increasingly under the influence of Japan. In 1910 Japan formally annexed Korea. Japan's tenure of a proud Korean nation went unquestioned by any foreign nation.
The first real commitment concerning a free and independent Korea, were stated by China, Great Britain and the United States at the Cairo Conference in December 1943: "The aforesaid three grate powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent." At the Potsdam Conference from 16 July to 2 August 1945 the Allies reaffirmed their adherence to the Cairo declaration. When the Soviet Union declared war on the Japanese 8 August 1945, they as well announced adherence to the Potsdam declaration.
Japans sooner than anticipated capitulation 14 August 1945, made it necessary to make an emergency partition of Korea in order to accept the surrender of Japanese troops in Korea. The Joint Chiefs of Staff therefore proposed that the Soviet Union, who were already entering Korea, should demobilize Japanese forces north of a dividing line drawn along the 38th parallel, and the USA south of it. The Soviets more than accepted this; in early December 1945 they were building field fortifications on their side of the parallel.
The United States occupation force for Korea south of the 38 parallel, did not begin arriving in Korea until 8 September 1945. The XXIV Corps was sent from Okinawa, established its headquarters in Seoul, and continued to be a part of Far East Command.
The foreign minister meeting in Moscow in December 1945 decided to establish a Joint American-Soviet Commission whose primary duty would be to assist the formation of a provisional Korean government. This joint commission functioned fruitlessly and it was never able to find solutions both the USA and the Soviet Union could accept. The United Nations' General Assembly decided in September 1947 over strong Soviet opposition that a national government for Korea should be established through nation-wide elections, supervised by a United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea. With the USSR view that General Assembly's action was illegal, the Commission was not allowed into North Korea. The Commission arranged elections were due to this only held south of the 38 parallel 10 May 1948. The new government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) took over civil responsibilities for South Korea. The regime at Pyongyang held elections in North Korea on 25 August 1948 for a Supreme People's Assembly.
20 September 1948, the Soviet foreign minister announced that all Russian occupation troops would be withdrawn from Korea by 1 January 1949. It invited the United States to do the same from South Korea. The U.S. welcomed this since they for some time had wanted to withdraw their forces. 25 September 1947 the Joint Chiefs of Staff informed President Truman: "From the standpoint of military security, the United States has little strategic interest in maintaining the present troops and bases in Korea." If hostilities broke out, the American forces in Korea would be a "military liability". American military manpower was at this time severely strained, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who viewed Cold War requirements from a global viewpoint or primarily a European perspective, considered the 45.000 men of the U.S. Army Forces in Korea could "well be used elsewhere".
President Truman had before the Soviet proposal of withdrawal, in April 1948 approved a planning paper saying the U.S. would train and equip a South Korean armed force. This force should be large enough to maintain internal order and public safety, but not so large as to strain the country's economy or so powerful as to provide means for aggression against North Korea. Japanese rifles and ammunition as well as American surplus equipment were used to equip Republic of Korea military forces. The most important of this had been 20 liaison airplanes, 90,000 rifles, 3000 machine guns, 700 mortars, 91 105-mm howitzers, 3000 radio sets and almost 5,000 trucks. The South Korean Coast Guard had received a total of 80 vessels ranging from mine sweepers to landing craft and picket boats. Republic of Korea's military force of June 1950 had 82.000 men, but no weapons like tanks, fighter aircraft, or medium and heavy artillery.
American troop withdrawal took some time. Except for Korean Military Advisory Group personnel, who were assisting in training and equipping the Republic of Korea Army, the last unit of American troops, approximately 7.500 men in a regimental combat team, left 29 June 1949. The advisory group numbered about 500 persons. Since it was responsible to the State Department, the U.S. ambassador in Seoul supervised its work. Also in this respect Far East Command lost its direct responsibility for the defense of Republic of Korea.
In a speech before the National Press Club in Washington DC on 12 January 1950, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson said the defensive perimeter of the United States ran from the Aleutians to Japan, then to the Ryukyus, and then to the Philippines. Acheson's speech was criticized by those who said it informed that the U.S. did not intend to defend Korea or Formosa. In the soft-spoken language of diplomacy, however, Acheson had actually stated that the United States would unilaterally defend areas, which were strategically important to it, and would participate with the United Nations to check aggression against other free peoples in the Pacific. But that was not something everyone understood easily.
Korean Military Advisory Group and other intelligence reports in spring 1950, made it clear that the transfer of North Korea soldiers released from the successful Chinese Communist campaign would increasingly threaten Republic of Korea. A report 10 March 1950 relayed an other report saying North Korea would invade sometimes in June 1950. Military intelligence agencies in the Far East correctly assessed the build-up of North Korea forces, but they were unable to agree as to the likelihood of a Korean War.
Other intelligence reported of a strong North Korean People's Army. It had field army of more than 100.000 soldiers. A quarter of the army had fought with the Chinese communist forces in China. Several thousand others had received extensive technical training in the Russian Army. North Korea had educated a comprehensive structure of officers from 1946 onwards. Their forces were equipped with modern Soviet weapon including more than 150 Soviet T-34 tanks and 600 pieces of artillery. Their airforce had fighter-ground attack aircraft and light bombers, totaling more than 130 combat planes.
As World War II was over, and with no new enemy in sight, a lot was done to get U.S. soldiers home as fast as possible. All the equipment produced to win the war, were the loser when all the skilled technicians went home and essential service units ceased to exist. A lot of supplies were scattered over the pacific islands. The intention was to bring it to bases near service units and close to civilian markets to be sold. While the soldiers went home, the equipment stayed were it where, and the "roll up" was still going on as the Korean War broke out.
The period from World War II to the Korean War was a long fight over military expenditure and budgets. The budget situation was so tight that newly developed equipment was bought in very limited numbers, and only a part of the equipment being worn out could be replaced. Money, or rather the lack of it, to maintain much of the property was one of three reasons mentioned by Huston, for getting rid of surplus military equipment from 1945 to 1947. The two other reasons were difficulties of estimating future requirements, and demands and pressure for quick release of items for civilian use.
In 1948, international development, particularly in Czechoslovakia, Germany and Finland, made U.S. military and political leaders increase the defense budget, and make the largest peacetime volunteer army in history with 660.000 soldiers. In addition peacetime draft were introduced. The Joint Chiefs of Staff prepared plans to meet a possible major emergency within the near future, and they reported logistical planning kept pace with strategic planning.
But by 1949 the cutbacks set in again and the military budget for 1950 dropped from the suggested $17,5 billion in January 1949, first to $16,9 billion, then $14,2 billion. Finally Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson in December 1949 said defense expenditures for fiscal year 1950 would be $13 billion. Such a cutback in the midst of an expansion program made military planners use most of their time to re plan and to reallocate men and materials to come within new limits. The total amount of money appropriated for all the armed forces during the five fiscal years 1946 through 1950 had been approximately $90 billion. Only 18 percent of this were spent on major procurement.
By spring 1950, effects of the build-up begun in 1948 had been almost wholly dissipated. Discussions were going on to eliminate one of the Army's 10 active divisions by reducing the number of divisions in Japan from four to three. Even active units of the Army could not be equipped to prescribed allowances with modern types of equipment. Some items, such as machine guns and towed artillery, were in plentiful supply. Others were plentiful enough but obsolescent. Some items, including heavy construction equipment, self-propelled artillery, new model tanks, and antiaircraft guns, were critically short. Although a large part of the reserve stocks was in good condition, all of it was World War II equipment. The Air Force and the Navy were not much better off.
The large stockpiles on hand at the end of World War II were rapidly being depleted as it was used for training activities, being deterioration, or transferred to foreign countries under military assistance programs. At the same time, limitations of the budgets had precluded any significant new procurement. The result was that stocks of several types of ammunition were falling far below what had been set as the needs for a mobilization reserve."
"The attack of North Koreans across the 38th parallel, on 25 June 1950, did more than bring the U.S. flag back to the Asian mainland. It also brought our national military thinking back to the facts of life." These are the words of Lieutenant Colonel J. D. Hittle, U.S. Marine Corps, and he continues: "For all too long too large a portion of our national military thinking had abandoned the principles on which our national security is based, abandoned those immutable axioms of common sense for the siren song of those advertising that security could be bought in the bargain basement where patent medicine for victory was available without paying the historic price of adequate ground troops and sea power."
The Korean War itself started with North Koreas sudden and all-out attack on South Korea at 04.00 on the overcast, showery morning of Sunday 25 June 1950, local time. On the initiative of the USA, United Nation's Security Council approved a resolution the same day as the attack. It stated that the action of the North Korean forces constituted a breach of the peace, called on the invaders to withdraw north of the thirty-eight parallel, and called on the members of the United Nations to give assistance in executing the resolution. The Soviet Union would normally have stopped a resolution like this, but they boycotted the Security Council as protest against failure to seat a Chinese Communist delegate. The Security Council adopted its second resolution 27 June, calling upon every member state of the United Nations to assist Republic of Korea towards the aggressor.
Republic of Korea's military forces, which were completely inferior to the North Korean Peoples Army, retreated rapidly southwards after heavy losses. It was disposed in depth with no concentration of troops. Of the seven Republic of Korea field divisions, only four were forward in defense. The three others were well to the south engaged in counter-guerrilla operations or in the completion of training. Seoul fell 28 June. A large part of the military equipment that the Republic had received from the USA, was lost in the first few days of the North Korea attack.
The first U.S. troops, from the occupational forces in Japan, were overrun by the North Koreans north of Osan 5 July. New U.S. units from Japan were hastily thrown into the battle, fighting desperate, delaying action. The 24th Infantry Division was defeated at Pyongtaek towards the middle of July, with the loss of all division artillery guns. Fierce fighting took place also at Taejon with severe losses of personnel and equipment. The United States had its first major victory in the Korean War at Yechon 20 July. By 4 August the Pusan Perimeter in the southeastern Korea had been established. A fierce battle took place at the Naktong Bulge from 5 to 19 August. The Perimeter Battle, probably the heaviest fighting of the war, raged from 27 August to 15 September, with the North Korean Naktong Offensive from 1 to 5 September.
The landing at Inchon 15 September 1950 took the North Korean Peoples Army completely by surprise. They had overstretched their resources and were not able to hold back. More then half of the North's army in Republic of Korea ended up as prisoners or lost their lives. The first UN forces crossed the 38. parallel and into North Korea 7 October. The first Chinese Communist Forces entered Korea 12 October. The capital of North Korea, Pyongyang, was taken 19 October and X Corps landed at Wonsan on the east coast of North Korea 26 October. Towards the end of November, X Corps in the east and Eight Army in the west were closing the Yalu, the border river to China.
The day after the jump off of MacArthur's "final offensive" 24 November, more then 300.000 Chinese soldiers struck against Eight Army, and two days later against X Corps. This "surprising intervention" by the Chinese Communist Forces, drew the UN forces south in hastily retreat. They crossed the 38. parallel and Seoul was lost again 4 January 51. The UN forces were reinforced, reassumed the offensive 25 January 51, and retook Seoul 14 February 51. Four months later, 13 June 51, the UN forces were back on the 38 parallel.
The Soviet delegate to the SC proposed truce talks on the 23 June 51, which began at Kaesong 10 July 51. UN forces used the autumn of 1951 to straighten out the lines in bloody battles over Heartbreak Ridge. In the end of November 1951, a cease-fire line was agreed upon at the line of contact. 1952 brought riots among prisoners of war, and truce talk deadlock over their repatriation. Towards the end of the conflict, the Korean War was primarily an artillery war, with both sides dug in and cannonading each other rather than employing maneuver. Sick and wounded prisoners were exchanged at Panmunjom in April 1953. The battle for Pork Chop Hill raged the same month. In May 1953 there were savage fighting along the stalemated line, while details of truce ironed out at Panmunjom. The cease-fire agreement was signed 27 July 1953 at Panmunjom, where the screening and repatriation of prisoners of war began in the beginning of September 1953. The United Nations suffered 142,000 casualties in the Korean War, and North Korea and Chinese Cumminst Forces a much larger numer.
There have to this date not been signed any peace treaty for the Korean War.
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