Thomas, Nigel, et al. The Korean War, 1950-53.

(Men-at-Arms series, 174) London: Osprey Publishing, 1986.

I’m an army brat and my father was in from the late 1930s to the mid-’70s, including direct participation in three full-scale foreign wars. But the one he always seemed to have the strongest memories of was Korea, where (having been in the occupation army in Japan) he was apparently the first medical officer on the beach in September 1950, waiting for the evac and hospital units to catch up with him.

Technically, he wasn’t a combatant, but — as the author makes clear — that was just the theory and most people with a red cross on their helmets also wore an M1911 on their hip.

The invasion of South Korea by the north was sudden and unexpected (it probably shouldn’t have been), and the reaction of the United Nations was quick and pointed. Four months after the invasion, UN troops had pushed the North Korean Army back nearly to its border with China and it looked like Korean reunification was about to take place. Then China got involved in defense of its North Korean client and it was a whole new war — which, technically, was “put on pause” but has never ended. Thomas does an excellent job of laying all this out, from both the Northern and the Southern perspectives, and making sure the other UN contingents are covered, and not just the much larger U.S. force. (There’s a tendency in this country to ignore the Canadians, British, French, Thai, Australian, and other units that participated.) Because of the terrain — and regardless of the original high hopes that the U.S. Air Force could just wrap things up with a minimum of hassle — it turned into a long, dirty, bloody infantry war, fought mostly by GIs and Marines. Most of the equipment on the UN side was World War II vintage, or even older, and while the North Koreans and Chinese were fierce fighters (don’t let anyone tell you different), their equipment was also pretty basic.

Osprey’s special thing, of course, is color plates of uniforms, insignia, and personal equipage, and all that is here. These uniforms, the summer khakis and the “pinks and greens” my Dad wore, are how I thought of “Army” when I was a kid. Korea is often referred to as “the forgotten war,” but it damn well shouldn’t be. This is a first-rate overview, especially for those for whom even Vietnam is ancient history.

Published in: on 15 August 2012 at 6:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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