On this day; 25 June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, signifying the start of the Korean War. As wars go this has become a forgotten one and in spite of having ended on 27 July 1953 the region has never really become safe. The North, governed by a dictatorship is constantly sabre-rattling against its more prosperous southerly neighbour.
Following the end of the Second World War, Korea was liberated from the Japanese invaders that had occupied the region since 1910. The United States and the Soviet Union agreed to divide Korea into two occupation zones due to concerns of ‘spheres of influence’. and a temporary internal border was created in 1948 between North and South Korea based on the 38th parallel – the circle of latitude that is 38 degrees north of the equator. The Northern part becoming a Marxist state under the dictatorship of Kim Il-sung and propped up by the Soviet Union, while the South was led by Syngman Rhee and propped up by America.
Following the invasion, The United Nations (UN) Security Council responded and called on all members to help the South. American quickly sent forces to support the country followed by further UN support of troops from 17 countries including Australia, Canada, France, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Turkey, New Zealand, South Africa, Colombia and Great Britain. By early September 1950, the South Korean and UN forces were facing defeat as North Korean forces pinned them against the southern coastal port of Busan. In response on 15 September 1950, the United Nations Commander General MacArthur ordered an amphibious landing at Incheon, a port halfway up the Korean peninsula, behind enemy lines. The landing allowed UN forces to make rapid progress north during the autumn of 1950, nearing the Chinese border by November. Alarmed by the proximity of South Korean and UN troops to their border China entered the war, sending forces into North Korea pushing the UN Forces back into the south.
Fighting stalled in early 1951 and armistice negotiations began. For the next two years troops faced a stalemate near the border, in trenches a little more than a mile apart they faced extreme conditions of cold and hot weather. Finally, in July 1953 an armistice agreement was signed, but there was no peace treaty. To this day the Korean War has not officially ended and tensions still run high between North and South Korea and US forces remain in the south serving along one of the most heavily militarised borders in the world. (https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/stories/the-korean-war)
South African involvement was limited to a SAAF fighter squadron, with 50 officers and 157 other ranks of 2 Sqn SAAF sailing from Durban on 26 September 1950. This initial contingent was commanded by Cmdt S. van Breda Theron DSO, DFC, AFC and included many World War II SAAF veterans. The squadron was deployed as one of the four USAF 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing squadrons flying P51 Mustangs and later converted to USAF F-86F Sabre fighter-bombers. The South Africans lost 34 SAAF pilots killed with eight taken prisoner. 74 Mustangs and 4 Sabres were lost. Pilots and men of the squadron received a total of 797 medals including 2 Silver Stars, the highest US military award given to foreigners, 3 Legions of Merit, 55 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 40 Bronze Stars. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_African_Air_Force#Korean_War)
In South Africa I am aware of two Memorials/Rolls of honour. The first being at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
The other is at the South African Air Force Memorial at Bays Hill in Pretoria.
The names of those killed in the conflict are also remembered on the memorial wall.
While in London in 2020 I managed to photograph the Korean War Memorial in the Victorian Embankment Gardens.
Sadly tension ebbs and flows on the tenuous border between North and South Korea, and there is a massive wealth gap between North and South. It is unlikely that they will ever be reunited and there is always a small chance that a major war could break out there at any time. The sabre-rattling continues, with China always in the background ready to lend massive military support to the dictatorship of Kim Jong-un. The war has never been forgotten in Korea, but elsewhere in the world it has faded into memory.
DRW © 2020. Created 24/06/2020