BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MARINE CORPS DURING THE KOREAN WAR

Korean War Quotes

Korean War Highlights

On 25 June 1950, eight divisions of the North Korean People's Army, equipped with Soviet tanks, mobile artillery, and supporting aircraft, crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded the Republic of Korea. On 27 June, the United Nations Security Council proclaimed the North Korean attack a breach of world peace, and requested member nations to assist the Republic of Korea.

On 29 June, President Harry S. Truman ordered a naval blockade of the Korean coast, and authorized the Commander in Chief Far East, General Douglas A. MacArthur, to send U.S. ground troops into Korea. On 2 July, General MacArthur formally requested of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that a Marine regimental combat team be deployed to the Far East. His request was approved by the Joint Chiefs on the following day.

On 7 July, the lst Provisional Marine Brigade was activated at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. The primary core of the ground element was the 5th Marines, while Marine Aircraft Group 33 constituted the air element of the brigade. Just five days after its activation, the lst Provisional Marine Brigade, with a strength of 6,500, sailed on 12 July from San Diego, California, enroute to Pusan, Korea.

The first elements of the brigade came ashore at Pusan on 2 August. The next day, the first Marine aviation mission against North Korea was flown from the USS Sicily by gull-winged Corsairs of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 (VMF-214) in a raid against North Korean installations. They were subsequently joined by fighterbombers from Marine Fighting Squadron 323 (VMF-323), flying from the USS Badoeng Strait, as the two squadrons harassed enemy positions and installations. Marine ground forces first engaged the enemy on 7 August at Chindong-ni, some 50 miles west of Pusan. In twelve days of hard fighting, the North Koreans were driven back with heavy losses, and the Pusan Perimeter defense was stabilized.

During the grim opening weeks of the Korean War, while American forces fought desperately in defense of the Pusan Perimeter, General MacArthur was already conceiving a bold stroke that would crush the North Korean People's Army. He planned an amphibious assault behind North Korean lines at Inchon, the port for the city of Seoul and close to both the 38th Parallel and North Korean Army supply lines. The lst Marine Division would spearhead the assault. The attacking force would have to navigate a narrow channel with swift currents, while dodging islands and potential coast defense battery sites. Final approval for the operation, code-named "Chromite," was not given until 8 September.

On 15 September, the lst Marine Division, under the command of Major General Oliver P. Smith led the first major United Nations strike in North Korean territory, with an amphibious assault at Inchon that completely caught the enemy by surprise. In five days of textbook campaigning, the division closed on the approaches of Seoul, the South Korean capital, and in house-to-house fighting, wrested the city from its Communist captors on 27 September. On 7 October 1950, with North Korean forces in full retreat, the Inchon-Seoul campaign was formally declared closed.

In late October, the lst Marine Division made an unopposed landing at Wonsan, on the east coast, which initiated U.N. operations in northeast Korea, and established security for the port of Wonsan. The division was then ordered to advance northwest of Hungnam along a mountain road to the Chosin Reservoir, the site of an important hydroelectric plant; the Marines would then advance to the Yalu River and the border between North Korea and the People's Republic of China.

Despite intelligence in early November that Chinese Communists forces were massing in force across the Yalu River, the lst Marine Division was ordered to continue its progress northwest from Hungnam to the Chosin Reservoir. Elements of the division reached Hagaru-ri, at the southern tip of the Reservoir, on 15 November. The brief autumn weather was almost over, and the temperatures were turning bitterly cold. On 27 November, elements of the Chinese Communist People's Liberation Army struck Marine positions in force. In a carefully planned counterstroke, eight Chinese divisions charged down from surrounding mountains with the express mission of destroying the lst Marine Division.

Over the next four weeks, the Chinese and Marine forces engaged in some of the fiercest fighting of the Korean War. In an epic movement, the 1st Marine Division completed a successful fighting withdrawal through 78 miles of mountain roads in northeast Korea, that ended in mid-December with the amphibious evacuation of the Marines from the port of Hungnam, Korea. Although suffering over 4,000 battle casualties, and uncounted numbers of frostbite, Marine air and ground units had inflicted nearly 25,000 casualties on Chinese Communist forces.

15 September 1950
INCHON, KOREA - Leathernecks use scaling ladders to storm ashore in an amphibious invasion. It is one of the fastest operations on record, perfectly timed, with waves of Marines almost stumbling over the preceding ones. The attack is being carried out so swiftly that casualties are surprisingly low.
Department of Defense Photo (U.S. Marine Corps)#A3190


1st Marine Division - Koto-ri 8 December 1950
First Marine Division takes to the road on withdrawal from Koto-ri.
Department of Defense Photo (U.S. Marine Corps)#A5358


1st Marine Division- Hagaru-ri
Leathernecks of the Seventh Marines catch a few minutes rest during their heroic breakout from Chosin.
#A5428


North Korea - 15 January 1952
Copter is hovered over drop zone, new style metal pallet is dropped ten feet with a cargo of 800 pounds during test on new piece of equipment. In background is the shore-party supply dump and the helicopter forward base in North Korea. Department of Defense Photo (U.S. Marine Corps)#A133987
During the first three months of 1951, the lst Marine Division participated in several United Nations offensive operations, first against North Korean guerrillas, and later in an advance through the mountains of east-central Korea. From late April to early July, the division took part in the United Nations defense against a Chinese Communist spring offensive, in which the enemy committed almost 500,000 men against U.N. forces. The Chinese offensive ended in mid-May with heavy enemy losses.

The lst Marine Division then participated in the Eighth Army drive northward past the eastern tip of the Hwachon Reservoir. By 20 June 1951, the division had taken its portion of the X Corps objective, a ridgeline overlooking a deep circular valley in the Korean mountains nicknamed the "Punchbowl." Truce negotiations now began, and the UN forces settled down into a defensive line.

In early September, the division was directed.to take the remainder of the Punchbowl. Hampered by rains, poor
roads, and a well entrenched enemy, the Marines nevertheless gained their initial objectives in hard fighting, when X Corps suspended offensive operations.

The first Marine mass helicopter resupply mission took place during operations at the Punchbowl on 13 September 1951, when Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 161 successfully executed Operation Windmill I. Eight days later, the same squadron landed 224 Marines of the division reconnaissance company and 17,772 pounds of cargo on an isolated hilltop at the Punchbowl. In November, the squadron would conduct the first frontline relief of a Marine battalion in Operation Switch.

The winter of 1951 found the lst Marine Division deployed along eleven miles of front just north of the Punchbowl. In mid-March, the division was reassigned from the X Corps' eastern position in Korea, to the I Corps area at the far western end of the Eighth Army line. On 24 March, the division assumed responsibility for approximately 35 miles of frontline, which overlooked Panmunjom and included the defense of the Pyongyang Seoul corridor. The pace of the war now slowed, with small, localized actions, replacing the earlier large-scale offensives.

In mid-August 1952, in the first major Marine ground action in western Korea, the 1st Marine Division began its successful defense of Outpost Bunker Hill. Two months later, during the Battle for the "Hook," the division again defended a segment of the United Nations Main Line of Resistance (MLR). A winter lull during January-February 1953 brought some relief to Marines at the front, while cease-fire talks at Panmunjom remained suspended.

The relative quiet on the front was rudely shattered in late March 1953, when Chinese forces mounted a massive offensive across the United Nations front line that hit 1st Marine Division outposts in their right sector. On 26 March, enemy forces attacked outposts "Reno," "Vegas," and "Carson" (the so-called Nevada Cities campaign), all manned by the 5th Marines. In particularly bitter fighting, Outpost Reno fell to the enemy, but the stubborn 5th Marines maintained control of Outposts Vegas and Carson. Marine casualties totaled over 1,000, with Communist losses at least twice as high.

In late April, truce talks resumed at Panmunjom, which again did not prevent a renewed outbreak of savage fighting in western Korea. While truce details were worked out by negotiators, Communist forces launched a regimental-strength attack against the I Corps sector. Heavy fighting took place in the Nevada Cities and Hook area outposts.

During the first week of July, the command outposts Berlin and East Berlin in the 7th Marines right regimental sector came under attack during the Marines' relief of the US 25th Infantry Division. The Marines did not concede any key terrain, and at 2200 on 27 July, the truce argued out at Panmunjom finally went into effect, ending three years of fighting in Korea.

During the Korean War, units of the lst Marine Aircraft Wing flew more than 125,000 sorties in support of United Nations forces. Almost 40,000 of these sorties were close air support missions. Marine helicopter squadrons evacuated more than 10,000 wounded personnel, and greatly increased the survival rate for wounded Marines.

The price of liberty in human costs is always high, and the Korean War was no exception; Marine casualties totaled over 30,000; just over 4,500 Marines gave their lives in Korea. Forty-two Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism above and beyond the call of duty in Korea; twenty-seven of these awards were posthumous. Though sometimes viewed as an "indecisive" conflict, the Marine Corps can truly be proud of its role in stemming the tide of Communist aggression during the Korean War.

Reference Section
History and Museums Division, USMC

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