Course of Korean War


Initial success

North Korea faced virtually no opposition from the south

North Korean troops were well armed with 7 combat divisions and an armoured brigade of T34 tanks

They had an army of 135000 men who had extensive combat experience

Kim expected South Korea to be defeated in three weeks before the USA could send forces

South Korean forces were under equipped, badly trained and poorly led

95000 men lacking tanks, anti tank weapons and spare parts (one third of their tanks were broken and awaiting repair)

Seoul was captured in a matter of days on the 29th of June

US troops were inexperienced and tended to stay within their vehicles leaving them vulnerable to attack by the North Koreans

General MacArthur contributed to US failures as he was over confident and arrogant and believed North Korea would be easily defeated - he underestimated the strength of the north Koreans

Eventually new USA equipment arrived and the US forces had complete control of the skies

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Increasing problems for North Korea

Mountainous terrain made supply difficult and the sheer firepower of the US Air Force and artillery began to take effect
The brutality of the nor Korean troops and secret police began to create a reaction in the south which was to create a new South Korean identity
North Koreans killed 26000 civilians in cold blood between June and September 1950

MacArthur planned to land forces at Inchon on 15th September 1950
The harbour had not been mined despite Mao's advice to Kim
Inchon was taken, US forces headed for Seoul
Seoul was retaken by the Americans

Kim's army now faced total destruction as they were cut off from supplies and threatened by US air power
North Korean army retreated back up the 38th parallel and MacArthur hoped to liberate the whole of Korea

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Attack on North Korea

Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson agreed with MacArthur's plan to attack North Korea - it made little sense to stop at the 38th parallel especially since the north were expected to attack the south once they had regrouped
Truman believed it was better to eliminate the threat

The USA believed that the USSR had lost credibility by not keeping to agreements made at the Moscow Accords and by encouraging Kim to attack the south and therefore the USSR should accept the loss of North Korea from their sphere of influence
Truman was cautious and warned MacArthur not to undertake any act that would risk extending the war with China or the USSR

MacArthur was determined to roll back communism and had enormous support in the USA from the general public

Within the state department the moderates such as George Kennan who saw the USSR as containable were being replaced by more aggressive Cold War officials such as Dean Rusk

There was a growing anti communist lobby led by senator Joe McCarthy and in a poll 64% of Americans said they favoured invading the north

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October and November 1950

Problems of supply and demand existed in invading the north
Winter was approaching and temperatures of less than 30°C were likely
The country was divided by a sub mountainous spine which divided the forces

MacArthur believed the North Koreans were defeated and that the Chinese would not intervene

By the end of October the narrowest point in the Korean peninsular had been reached and this was a logical place to stop
However MacArthur ordered troops onto the Chinese border
150000 Chinese troops inflicted a terrible attack on US forces
The Chinese them broke off their attacks to make the US think that Chinese forces were on the retreat

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Reasons for Chinese intervention

The Chinese had warned the USA that if american troops crossed the 38th parallel china would intervene in the war but Truman ignored these warnings

There was a real possibility of triggering a Third World War that could turn nuclear

This was avoided but the war did drag on until 1953

  • Mao was infuriated with the USA for protecting Chiang Kai-shek the nationalist leader

-the US 7th fleet protecting Taiwan made it impossible for Mao to invade Taiwan

-MacArthur made his support for Chiang and his opposition to communist China very clear

-Mao saw his chance to re establish China's prestige and status

-Mao felt an obligation to help the North Koreans as they had helped him when he fought Chiang Kai-shek

-Stalin had pressured Mao to intervene because he believed if China and the US fought each other it would strengthen the Soviets' global position

-Mao didn't want hostile US forces on the bored as this was where most of China's industry was located

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Chinese success

When MacArthur decided to send troops to the Yalu river, China moved 150000 men into North Korea and were undetected as they marched overnight, had no large artillery and few trucks

Americans were at a disadvantage as the winter was approaching and the troops had not yet received proper winter clothing

Chinese and North Korean troops were superior in numbers - 400000 against 270000 US troops

Americans suffered a 50% casualty rate

Longest military retreat in US history - 300 miles

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The end of the war

March 1951 America decided to seek an armistice and negotiations continued until 1953

USA wanted peace because:
-financial burden of war was great
-human cost had changed public opinion
-pressure from allies to end the war
-fear that the USSR may join in
-fear of conflict breaking out in Europe and the USA be overstrained

Communists wanted peace because:
-China needed to focus on domestic problems
-Stalin died in 1953 and there was a struggle for power
-north Korea had food shortages

North Korea was endlessly bombed to make them sign an armistice
Change in personnel: Eisenhower elected and Stalin died
Communists were exhausted by three years of fighting - 10% of Korean population killed, wounded or missing

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Changing aims of the USA

At the start of the war the USA aimed to restore the status quo and push the North Koreans back to the the 38th parallel, repel armed invasion and restore peace and stability

By the end of the war, a surge of optimism had made stopping at the 38th parallel seem foolish and instead the USA wanted the destruction of North Korea

They had a desire for revenge for American troops wounded or killed

Republican attacks of Truman for his loss of China had made him anxious to regain his anti communist credentials

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