(With her brother on the back a war weary Korean girl trudges by a stalled M-26 tank, at Haengju, Korea. c. June 9,1951. Maj R. V. Spencer, USAF, [Public Domain-US] via Creative Commons)
This extremely effective military operation turned the tide of the Korean War.
War After War
At the end of World War II, Japan lost control of the empire it had acquired throughout the Pacific Ocean. One of the regions that gained freedom after WWII was Korea. Like much of the rest of the post-war world, Korea was divided between communism (in the north) and capitalist democracy (in the south). Though Japan had been expelled from Korea, and World War II was over, peace did not last long—in June, 1950, North Korea invaded the south, catching the South Korean military inexcusably by surprise.
The North Korean Army rode its momentum to the brink of an overwhelming victory. By the end of the month, it managed to push the South Korean Army further and further south, boxing them, and hastily deployed United States troops, in the right-hand corner of the Korean Peninsula. The sympathizers of the south worried that the South Korean forces, and their allies, would be ‘pushed into the sea.’
From late June through early September, the United Nations began to mobilize reinforcements for the defense of South Korea. General Douglas MacArthur, a no-nonsense war hero from the two world wars, was in charge of the UN forces. By September, MacArthur and the UN reinforcements were ready to enter the fray.
The war looked grim, at least to the civilians reading about the Korean War in newspapers. Even though most of the UN forces had not yet been deployed, the United States had already suffered a massive hit to its prestige. A spectacular change in momentum was needed, and that was exactly what General MacArthur planned to accomplish. He conceived of a landing audacious enough to bring back renown to the United States military, but also effective enough to swing the momentum of the war back in favor of the South Koreans. With this in mind, MacArthur drew up a plan for his Inchon Landing, also known as Operation Chromite. A plan the he, alone, had faith in.
The target of General MacArthur’s Inchon Landing was the South Korean capital, Seoul, which was occupied by the North Koreans. The North Korean Army had pushed so far into the south that they had left Seoul relatively undefended. While the North Koreans focused solely on the small remaining portion of South Korean-held territory in the Pusan Perimeter, MacArthur’s goal was to quickly deploy a force at Inchon, in an effort to take Seoul and cut off the North Korean supply line. MacArthur planned for the Inchon Landing to do all this in one swift, decisive motion, before the North Koreans could react.
The main setback of the plan was the geography of Inchon (now known as Incheon). At Inchon, the tides could rise up to 11 meters (around 36 feet). Terribly powerful currents were caused by these tides, and Inchon had mud flats, which could make navigation difficult, or even cause ships to run aground. To top it all off, the Inchon Landing was scheduled to take place in a colder month, making the water frigid, choppy and even more hazardous to navigate. Despite all of these complications, General MacArthur’s faith in the plan remained strong as steel. The other leadership figures of the UN forces hesitantly agreed to the plan, and the Inchon Landing was set in motion.
The landing occurred on September 15, 1950. Before any ground troops touched the beach, the U.S. Navy bombarded the coastline around Inchon and the Air Force sent bombers to strike inland. With the target softened, the U.S. Marines spearheaded the Inchon Landing, supported by tanks. The 1st Marine Division made landfall in the early morning, occupying Wolmi-do, just south of Seoul. As the Marines pushed into Seoul, the infantry of the 7th Division landed at Inchon and pushed south towards the position of the North Koreans surrounding the Pusan Perimeter. Despite the difficult geographic conditions of the Inchon Landing, General MacArthur was able to land a large force behind enemy lines, encircling his enemy and cutting off their supply. After Inchon, it was the UN’s turn to ride the momentum to the brink of victory.
The entirety of the North Korean Army was caught in a pincer attack between the South Korean and UN forces in the south and the fresh troops that landed at Inchon. The army of North Korea broke completely on September 23, under pressure from hostile forces above and below their position. When the North Koreans broke, they suffered enormous casualties, and the remainder of the gutted North Korean Army fled back north, or hid in the mountains of the south.
Following the defeat of the North Korean Army, the liberation of Seoul from communist occupation was completed on September 28, 1950. General MacArthur and the UN forces pushed relentlessly northward, easily advancing against the broken forces of North Korea. The UN captured the capital of the north, Pyongyang, on October 19, and by November, General MacArthur’s men had made their way nearly to the Chinese border with Korea.
All of the UN successes linked back to the Inchon Landing. By achieving an impressive amphibious landing behind the lines of the North Koreans, MacArthur was able to drastically alter the balance of power in the Korean War. The Inchon Landing brought South Korea out of a dire strategic defensive position in the southeast of the peninsula and totally reversed the situation of the war—South Korea went from being the occupied country to the conqueror of Korea in mere months. There is no denying it; the Inchon Landing was a monumental victory. However, because of General MacArthur’s arrogance, there was about to be another swift momentum shift.
A New Offensive
As the UN forces pushed ever closer to the Chinese border in late 1950, China became more and more uneasy. By November 1, around 180,000 Chinese troops had amassed at the border, ready to spring into action if the UN troops threatened China.
General MacArthur misread the situation, ignored his intelligence briefings, and pressed northward toward the Chinese border much too fast, and much too soon. On November 24, 1950, the U.S. Eighth Army advanced toward the Yalu River, on the border between China and Korea—right where the horde of Chinese troops happened to be camped. This final movement by MacArthur’s troops triggered the Chinese to enter the Korean War with their own ground forces. The UN troops were surprised by the massive Chinese charge, and were not able to stabilize the situation until they had already fallen back to the 38th parallel.
General MacArthur, still arrogant and in a mindset more suitable for his world war days, wanted to regain momentum by attacking the Chinese mainland. In effect, he wanted to enact another Inchon Landing scenario, where he would land troop behind the Chinese Army and defeat them by means of a pincer attack. This plan of his, combined with his publicly stated intention of bombing China, was what caused General MacArthur to be relieved of his command of the UN forces in 1951. The stalemate at the 38th parallel continued until an armistice was reached on July 27, 1953. The war between North and South Korea, to this day, has still not officially ended.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Warfare in the Western World: Military Operations Since 1871 by Robert A. Doughty and Ira D, Gruber et al. Massachussetts: D. C. Heath and Company, 1996.