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KOREAN WAR

Introduction
1.
When Japan surrendered in WW II, the 38 degrees North latitude was established
as the dividing line in Korea, North of which the USSR would accept surrender and south
would surrender to US tps. The 38th parallel was to subsequently become the political
boundary. The Korean War started with the attack of the North Korean Army (NKA)
across the 38th Parallel, on 25 Jun 1950 with the political aim of unifying Korea under the
socialist banner. The South Korean Army (SKA) was caught unawares as it was not
prepared to fight a war and possessed only a rudimentary army.
2.
On 27 Jun 1950, the UN, in an emergency session voted for action against North
Korea, within 8 hrs the USAF went into action and UN forces comprising many nations
and led primarily by the US entered the war.
The Opposing Forces
3.
North Korea.
It had a well trained and Russian equipped army of 1,30,000
men in 10 Divisions. The Air Force consisted of some 180 Yak ac. The Chinese Air Force
had Mig-15 ac which also took part.
4.
South Korea.
The SKA, a little more than a police force, consisted of about
1,00,000 men in 8 Divisions. It lacked medium and heavy artillery, tanks, combat ac and
reserves.
5.

Naval forces on both sides were negligible.

Phases of the War


6.

The campaign can be divided into four phases:(a)

The North Korean Thrust (25 Jun 50 to 14 Sep 50).

(b)

The UN drive to the Yalu river (15 Sep 50 to 24 Nov 50).

(c)

The Chinese thrust to the South (25 Nov 50 to 24 Jan 51).

(d)

The war of Attrition (25 Jan 51 to 27 Jul 53).

7.
During the war the US far eastern Air Force (USFEAF) and elements of air force
from other nations ably supported the UN forces. Air power was used in almost all its

classical roles and the war saw the advent of the jet fighter in all combat and the
emergence of the heptr as a true battlefield ally.
The North Korean Thrust
8.
The NKA attack was in four thrusts, the main thrust being towards Seoul. The
well-trained NKA soon overwhelmed the SKA and Seoul fell on 28 Jun 1950. The North
Korean Air Force comprising some 150 obsolete ac supported the attack while the South
Koreans did not have any Air Force. UN intervention came on 30 Jun when the US forces
landed at Pusan. Thereafter the USFEAF carried out counter air missions on North
Korean airfields. Carrier based ac of different nationalities under the UN flag carried out
close air support and interdiction missions, but the speed with which the NKA moved
soon found the South Koreans pushed right across the peninsula to the south-east corner
near the port of Pusan. It was with active air support that the tps managed to hold out
until properly reinforced by the UN forces in what came to be known as the Pusan
perimeter.
9.
It was during this phase that the UN AF neutralized the North Korean Air Force
by bombing their airfields and soon achieved complete air superiority. This ensured
freedom of action for the UN AF and for the beleaguered tps the peace necessary to
consolidate their hold in the Pusan perimeter.
The UN drive to the Yalu River
10.
Once reinforced the UN forces broke out of the perimeter in conjunction with a
massive amphibious landing at Inchon, south-west of Seoul. With its rear threatened the
NKA was soon on the run and by 26 Sep 50 Seoul was recaptured. During this phase an
airborne assault was also carried out 30 miles north of Pyongyang, the North Korean
capital. The UN Air Force provided splendid support by way of CAS, interdiction of the
retreating NKA, counter air ops and tactical recce. By the third week of November the
leading forces of the UN had reached the Yalu River, that is the border between North
Korea and Manchuria and were now preparing for a final assault across the river when
China entered the war and completely changed its complexion.
The Chinese Thrust to the South
11.
The Chinese attack was sudden and took the UN tps by surprise. Despite all
efforts the UN force had to withdraw with heavy losses. Poor weather hampered air
support to the UN forces and by the end of Jan 1951 they were pushed back to roughly
along the 37th parallel, where they soon stabilized. Seoul had once again fallen to the
North Koreans.

12.
The UN air forces had been carrying out attacks against the North Korean
industry and road/rail communications from Jul 1950, but could not prevent the Chinese
from advancing southwards.
The War of Attrition
13.
With fresh reinforcements the UN forces soon counter-attacked and recaptured
Seoul on 15 Mar 1951. Thereafter the fighting generally reduced in intensity except for a
few forays by the UN forces across the 38 th parallel and the front soon stabilized along
this parallel while cease fire negotiations dragged on for over two years.
Air Ops
14.
Fight for Air Superiority. The hundred odd obsolete ac of the North Koreans
were destroyed in the opening phases of the war and the UN AF enjoyed virtual air
superiority over the entire area of ops. This was, however only until the Chinese entry,
when the Chinese fielded nearly 1500 Mig-15 ac and operated them from bases in
Manchuria. Although the Chinese airfields could not be attacked the UN AF had
complete freedom and control of the airspace over almost the entire Korean theatre
throughout the war. The North Koreans started construction work at 34 airfields with the
aim of inducting Chinese ac. The UN AF, however, kept a close watch on this activity and
bombarded these airfields systematically so that none of these become operational.
15.
Strategic Air Ops. A very large number of bomber sorties were flown against
chemical industries, refineries, ordnance factories and electric power plants. The attacks
did not have any direct effect on the war as the North Koreans were getting all their
supplies from China. Later some dams were targeted. The consequent bursting of the
reservoir caused much flooding and disrupted surface communication and the agricultural
sector.
16.
Close Air Support.
The Forward Air Controller (FAC) concept was fully
developed during this war. Throughout the war the UN AF provided intimate CAS and in
fact the NKA was checked at the Pusan perimeter largely because of this. During the
active phases of the war CAS accounted for over 50% of all sorties.
17.
Interdiction. Throughout the war a large portion of the Tactical Air Effort was
devoted to interdicting the enemys lines of supply. The North Koreans used many novel
methods of camouflage and concealment, until, in the later stages, they moved major
supplies by night. The overall effect of these operations however was not as significant,
as the colossal effort was not commensurate with the results.
18.
Recce.
The UN AF maintained a close watch over the North Korean airfields
and other tgts through extensive air recce. Photo recce also helped to decipher the
effective camouflage and concealment of the NKA.

19.
Tactical Air Lift. Korea is a hilly country and air tpt was often the only means
of conveyance. The war saw large scale tpt support ops, especially for the airborne
assault near Pyongyang and after the breakout from Pusan.
20.
Heptrs Ops.
The heptr emerged as a true and reliable battlefield ally during
this war, it was used for Cas Evac, rescue of downed pilots, FAC and communication
duties. The heptr proved versatile, flexible and dependable with the minimum of
infrastructure.
Lessons Learnt
21.

The various lessons learnt from this conflict were:(a)


Political Constraints. Political constraints will have a restrictive effect
on the employment of Air Power, but the air force commanders must learn to
operate within these constraints.
(b)
Strategic Bombing.
strategic nature exist.

Strategic ops are effective only when tgts of a

(c)
Centralised Command.
The war highlighted the need for centralised
command of the air forces and a joint land/air structure for offensive air support
ops.
(d)
Long Range and All Weather Capability.
fighters with all weather capability.

The need for long range

(e)
Heptrs.
The heptr emerged as a true and reliable battlefield ally and
proved to be highly versatile, flexible and dependable.
(f)
Air Tpt Support Ops.
Tpt ac were used in a big way to enhance
mobility in the inhospitable and hilly terrain of Korea.
(g)
Recce.
Aerial recce was used extensively to gather int and note the
movements and disposition of the enemy by the UN forces.
(h)
CAS.
The FAC concept was fully developed during this conflict and
was used very effectively during the defence of the Pusan perimeter.
Conclusion
22.
Korea was the first major struggle in the nuclear age. While no nuclear weapons
were used the threat of the bomb hung heavy over all concerned and throttled the
exploitation of success. Political considerations overshadowed the strategic and tactical

considerations. The selection and maintenance of aim was poor and this led to the
dragging-on of the conflict.
23.
The Korean War reaffirmed the critical importance of air power. It, however, also
brought in a lesson applicable at that time, that air power alone cannot bring about the
final decision in land warfare, where the army has to move to hold land. This contention
does not seem to hold in the present context of massive air power, high technology and
smart weapons.
24.
The air environment in Korea was free of ECM, radar, missiles and ground
control. The Air Force was employed in the classic concept as in WW II. However the
gains made by air action were often diluted by political considerations. This was the
major reason that despite use of air power, it did not have the desired effect and the
Korean War ended with an uneasy armistice in Jul 1953. It brought out that air power
should not be constrained. It should be used in a manner guided more by tactical
considerations and less by political considerations. In hind sight, it is easy to criticize the
political decision not to attack tgts beyond the Yalu, but it must be remembered that by
then the USSR was also a nuclear power and there was a danger of a wider conflagration.