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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Inchon Invasion, September 15, 1950

Today in 1950, United Nations forces, mostly United States Marines, landed at Inchon in South Korea. This landing turned the tide of the Korean War in favor of the South and broke the back of the North Korean army. The Inchon invasion was daring, dangerous and went against sound military common sense. The fact that it was successful speaks volumes about the planners of the operation and the men who carried the plan forward.

The Korean War began in June, 1950 when 90,000 North Korean troops streamed across the 38th parallel, the border that divides North and South Korea. The North's army was equipped with the finest Soviet weaponry and had been trained by Soviet military advisers. In fact, it is now known that Soviet fighter pilots flew many missions against UN aircraft and ground targets. The North also had the advantage of momentum and soon pushed the small number of South Korean and American forces on the peninsula back to the city of Pusan. It was there that a defensive perimeter was established while the UN mustered its forces. On July 7th, the UN Security Council recommended that all forces sent to Korea be placed under American command. The next day, General Douglas MacArthur was placed in command of all United Nations forces in Korea.

MacArthur came to the scene with a plan for a seaborne invasion far behind the North Korean lines. The logical place for such an invasion was Inchon, a small port on the west coast of the peninsula. But naval commanders warned MacArthur that Inchon possessed just about every flaw a port could have: wide-ranging tides, fast, unpredictable currents and a sea wall that surrounded most of the port area. It was also very well defended. MacArthur's response was that the North Koreans would not be expecting a landing there precisely because of the navies' concerns. The landing would be at Inchon. After meeting with MacArthur, one admiral proclaimed, “the best I can say about Inchon is that it's not impossible.”

The landings at Inchon actually began a week before the main force arrived. A team of guerrillas, men who would today be considered Special Forces, landed at an island in the mouth of Inchon Harbor. They gathered all the information they could about the area and restarted a nearby lighthouse. The North Koreans discovered the team and sent an attack boat to take them out. The boat was sunk, but the North Koreans killed 50 civilians in retaliation for the local help the guerrillas had received.

Over 200 ships were involved in the Inchon operation. The landings marked the first time Canadian forces fought in the war when three Canadian destroyers took part in the shelling of North Korean positions near the beachhead. The invasion area was divided into three beaches: Green, Red and Blue. The casualties for the landings were relatively light; MacArthur was correct in his prediction that the North Koreans would not expect a landing at Inchon. By the time the North sent armor and troop reinforcements, it was too late.

The invasion force continued to drive inland toward the South Korean capital of Seoul, liberating the city on September 25th. Eventually, the North Korean forces in the south were cut off and the UN forces drove into North Korea. By October, 1950, UN troops were facing the Yalu River, the boundary between Korea and China. The war seemed over. But China soon sent hundreds of thousands of troops across the border in support of North Korea and pushed the allied troops back across the 38th parallel. The war would continue until July, 1953, with neither side advancing further than a dozen or so miles on either side of the border that today still divides Korea.

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