Korean War: Chinese Invasion October 1950 to March1951

Korean War: Chinese Invasion October 1950 to March1951

Gerry Van Tonder
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
Korea during the Second World War was occupied by the Japanese and after the war was divided into two countries at the 38th Parallel of latitude, becoming known as North Korea and South Korea, with the North becoming influenced by the Soviet Union and the Chinese while the South essentially relied on the backing of the Americans. Both governments asserted that they were the only government of all Korea and, because neither accepted the 38th Parallel as a border, there were almost continuous clashes all along the border between the two.

This is the fifth in a series of relatively short books written by Gerry Van Tonder about the Korean War, each book dealing with a particular aspect. The first four books cover:

the invasion of South Korea by North Korean troops (the Korean People’s Army, known as the KPA) in June 1950, reaching as far as Pusan (Busan) before the UN encouraged support of the South;​
the onslaught of the North Koreans held at the Pusan perimeter;​
the amphibious landing of troops commanded by General MacArthur invading at Incheon (Inchon) effectively dividing in two the KPA;​
the Allies of the UN pushing the KPA back into the North as far as the Yalu river which is the border between North Korea and China.​

This book covers the Chinese invasion and has a couple of very useful items before the Introduction, the Glossary of the abbreviations used in the book and the Timeline which is almost a diary of what has happened in Korea since 1910 until the end of March 1951. The Introduction itself briefly recaps the content of the previous books in what had happened since the KPA first attacked and the added assault by the Chinese to push the United Nations forces back from the Yalu river.

In the first chapter the author describes the origins and a background to the strength, weapons and composition of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (CPVA) that led to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Korean People’s Army which were North Koreans (KPA). The apparent success of the south Korean Army (ROKA) and the United Nations forces reaching as far as the Yalu river caused considerable concern to the Chinese leader, Mao Zedong (Mao tse tung) which gives rise to the contents of the second chapter.

Mao had long decided the best methods on such terrain were mobile attacks which would affect the morale of the enemy and this was obviously put to effect as General MacArthur found to his cost. Prisoners taken when the UN troops were successfully attacked indicated that the Chinese army was definitely involved even though General MacArthur’s own G2, Major General Willoughby, had stated there was no evidence that Chinese Communist units had entered Korea. Gerry Van Tonder fills the rest of this chapter with details as to just how much the United Nations troops were affected and pushed back and this “Red Phantom” was only held up somewhat by the air superiority enjoyed by the United Nations.

The author includes a complete chapter to describe how the UN air forces enjoyed victory after victory when engaging targets to the chagrin of Stalin who had already moved several USSR divisions ready to be used if necessary but now found it necessary to provide aircraft and training for the Chinese and ultimately North Koreans. In fact the Russians were deploying pilots to fly the MiG 15 jet fighters and caused the UN air forces to respond in kind with, among them, American Sabre jet aircraft. This gave rise to the term ‘Mig Alley’ which was the area over the Yalu river and although the UN air forces still bombed and strafed communist targets there was no longer any superiority. One of the main reasons being the fact that the communist aircraft could almost choose their own time to engage because their bases were so close to the Yalu. Even so the author makes it quite clear that the Chinese did accept that their MiG pilots would need more training.

In the next couple of chapters the author ponders on General MacArthur’s decision to split the forces available into two separate commands, one in the west and the other in the east with something like a hundred miles of inhospitable country between them, the resulting pincer movement ensuring victory for the UN as far as the border on the Yalu river. Instead of enjoying the same enthusiasm some of MacArthur’s subordinates were already talking of disastrous contact with the Chinese and problems of winter weather affecting troops and equipment. As a sort of anecdote he mentions 41 Independent Commando of the Royal Marines being trained and then issued with American winter dress which indicated there was at least anticipation of inclement weather. A combination of the winter and the Chinese methods of mobility and ambush caused the two commands to be reduced into tatters. In the eastern area the UN troops were harassed again and again by the CPVA while in the west a daring deployment of air power saved some units from total destruction. Similar operations in the east provided airdrop sorties of supplies in an attempt to provide materiel to the troops which in itself was a massive airlift to the point of actually providing an airstrip and the author covers this aspect in particular. Meanwhile, in many areas the Chinese moved in almost unopposed and effectively destroyed smaller isolated pockets of UN troops and vehicles.

In December HQ ordered the withdrawal of all UN forces from North Korea in what was unofficially known as MacArthur’s Dunkirk. In the west the withdrawal was such that operations continued from both Chinnamp’o and Inch’on until early January 1951. The author goes into more detail to describe the withdrawal on the east side of the Korean peninsular with the majority by sea at Hungnam, Wonsan and Songjin. To a lesser degree (though still large) a considerable amount was evacuated by air from the airstrip at Yonp’o. The whole of the eastern withdrawal was considerably hampered by the actions of the CPVA.

In the final chapter the author briefly explains what happened in the USA. (General MacArthur was recalcitrant with regard to the recent military disaster in Korea and was feted to the point of having parades in his honour and was asked to address Congress. President Truman was not impressed and in spite of public feeling, General MacArthur was relieved of his command.) The remainder of the chapter and book really looks forward to the final book in this series titled Imjin River.

This is an interesting book with a considerable number of photographs and comments by many who were there. In the centre are several colour plates but the main problem for me was the limited number of maps which did not give sufficient detail especially where names varied. However I did find a site with maps of the Korean war which the reader might find useful and the website is given at the end of this review. The author provided several references where necessary as footnotes and there is a Bibliography at the end for those who wish to read further. To my mind there is one major problem with this book and that is the relatively cheap binding used because my copy has several pages which soon came adrift.

Website for maps relating to the Korean War:


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