1951 Korea Peter and Dan Snow: 20th Century Battlefields


1951 Korea

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On the banks of this River in Korea in 1951,

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America, Britain and their United Nation allies

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were locked in a battle with tens of thousands of Communist troops.

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What moved the Allies to cross the world to fight here in Korea,

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only five years after the bloodshed of the Second World War,

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was their drive to stop Communism spreading further.

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I'll be revealing the dramatic reversals in military fortunes

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of the armies of the Capitalist West and the Communist East.

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And telling the story of how events in Korea

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nearly spiralled out of control, raising the spectre of nuclear war.

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The Korean war was waged

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by men from 24 different countries around the world.

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Men divided by ideology but also by the way they fought.

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On one hand, massive firepower, on the other, overwhelming numbers.

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SHOUTING

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I'll be telling the story of what it was like for the ground troops

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when these two very different armies clashed.

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And describing the brutal fighting often waged in extreme conditions across the Korean peninsular.

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This is the story of a largely forgotten conflict

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and of a battle that took place here on the Imjin River during the Communist spring offensive of 1951.

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A battle that was to be a turning point in the war for Korea.

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I'm on a journey to perhaps the world's strangest border, the border between North and South Korea.

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Right now, I'm about to enter the South Korean side

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of the four-kilometre-wide security zone that straddles the entire length of the boundary.

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This zone is effectively a no-go area, policed by troops from the United Nations,

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marked out by miles of barbed wire fences and defended with landmines.

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At the border itself, there are no fences or gates.

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Here the border is simply marked by this block of concrete just

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four inches high, yet absolutely no-one is allowed to step across.

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Guarding the border on the south side stand the soldiers of the South Korean army.

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Immediately opposite the men of the North Korean army.

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The only place along the entire border that the two sides

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are in direct communication,

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is on this spot where a few huts literally straddle the border.

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Strictly speaking standing here, I'm in South Korean territory,

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but if I step beyond this table, in theory, I'm inside North Korea.

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Although practically speaking, the mysterious country

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of North Korea lies beyond that guarded and locked door over there.

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So, how come such a bizarre situation exists here?

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Well, the fact is that North and South Korea

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are still officially at war and have been for over half a century.

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Before the second World War, the entire Korean peninsular was under the control of Japan.

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But when Japan was defeated, the victors divided the country

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along this line of latitude here, the 38th Parallel.

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The Soviet Union sponsored a Communist regime up here in the north,

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under Kim Il-sung and his capital, Pyongyang,

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and the Americans put Syngman Rhee, a fiercely right-wing Nationalist

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in control of South Korea in his capital, Seoul.

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Syngman Rhee wanted to govern not just South Korea but the entire peninsular.

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He wanted to unite North and South under a capitalist regime.

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In the North, his opposite number and bitter enemy, Kim Il-sung,

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also wanted to unify the Korean peninsular but under the banner of Communism.

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Each man had his dream of unifying Korea under his rule but neither of them did very much about it,

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until just after 4am on the 25th of June 1950,

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when without any warning, North Korea invaded the South.

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Within hours, 130,000 men of the North Korean army were pouring across the border.

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The North Korean army caught the South Koreans utterly unprepared,

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the South Koreans could barely muster a fighting force.

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Outgunned and overwhelmed by enemy tanks, the ill-equipped army were rapidly forced back.

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Even though we fired our guns at them,

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the tanks were not damaged at all, we could not destroy them.

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We were in a panic. We couldn't resist the enemy.

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It was terrifying.

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In just 48 hours, the Communist soldiers were poised to attack the South Korean capital, Seoul.

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Seoul was the jewel in the crown of South Korea

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and the North Korean army's attack on it was swift and certain.

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The Communists burst through these narrow streets meeting little resistance as they took control.

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The North Korean troops swamped the city

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and by June 28th, just three days after the invasion, Communist flags were flying over Seoul.

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But the North Koreans didn't stop here in Seoul.

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They pushed on southwards aiming to take the whole peninsular in the name of Communism.

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They crossed rivers, they traversed mountains

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and they defeated the weak South Korean army at every encounter.

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For the North Koreans, it was beginning to look like a walkover.

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The West and its allies feared the North seizure of South Korea

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would be another dangerous advance of Communism throughout the world.

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And the West was determined to do something about it.

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The Americans took the lead in persuading the United Nations to go to the defence of South Korea.

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Now the Soviet Union could have vetoed this proposal but they weren't there.

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In the Soviet Union's absence, the vote was passed.

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For the first time, the United Nations was going to war.

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21 nations from around the world, including Britain, would send men and equipment to Korea.

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But there would be no doubt as to who would be in charge.

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America by far the biggest single force was in command.

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The fighting in Korea was no longer a small skirmish in a far-flung country,

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it had dragged in a superpower.

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Within days, allied troops began to flood into South Korea.

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American troops were the first of the UN Forces to arrive in Korea,

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shipped in from their bases in nearby Japan.

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And they entered here, through Korean's southernmost port, Pusan.

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When they landed, they faced a desperate situation,

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and it was getting worse because by now the South Korean army

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had almost totally collapsed under the advance of the North Korean steamroller.

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But the American troops were virtually powerless to improve matters.

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Because these were not the same battle-hardened, well-equipped men

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that had been victorious in the Second World War.

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We had equipment left over from World War II,

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most of which had been in a warehouse someplace.

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It was unserviceable to non-existent.

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We were in a very poor shape for everything.

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We were not ready to fight a war, that's the long and the short of it.

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Just weeks after setting foot on Korean soil, the American land forces faced a terrible humiliation.

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By now, the North Koreans controlled nearly the whole of Korean peninsula,

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and this meant that the US troops and their South Korean allies

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were packed into an increasingly tight corner, an area that became known as the Pusan Perimeter.

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This was a tiny pocket of land, just 50 miles by 50 miles,

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around the port of Pusan in the southernmost tip of the peninsula.

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Everywhere else was in North Korean hands.

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United Nations forces were surrounded, and in danger of being pushed out of Korea altogether.

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What was needed to rescue the United Nation's forces from disaster

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was a bold stroke from a decisive leader, and that's exactly what they got from the man in charge.

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The American General Douglas McArthur.

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McArthur was one of those commanders who was larger than life.

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He was America's most decorated officer in the First World War,

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and he relished the fame he'd won leading the defeat of Japan in the Second World War.

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Now the Korean War gave the aging general a chance of yet another triumph.

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McArthur knew that if he was to push Kim Il-sung's Communist army back into North Korea, he'd need

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a much more ambitious strategy than simply battling it out on the Pusan Perimeter.

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In World War II, McArthur's greatest victories had been achieved

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through amphibious landings, sending troops in by sea to attack behind enemy lines.

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Such landings carry grave risks, but McArthur was convinced he had mastered the technique.

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McArthur now proposed to use the same strategy in Korea,

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with a bold attempt to take the pressure off his forces

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trapped in this toe hold in the south-east of the peninsula.

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He would deliver an amphibious hammer blow, not down here,

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around Pusan, but 150 miles behind enemy lines to the north-west at the port city of Incheon.

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If he could seize Incheon, his troops could move onto Seoul,

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a mere 20 miles inland, cut the North Koreans off from behind,

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and force them to fight on two fronts - here and here.

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The North Koreans would be surrounded and crushed,

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but a landing at Incheon would be a high-risk exercise.

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The harbour city was placed at the end of a treacherous passage

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called Flying Fish Channel, where the tide raced in and out twice a day.

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When the tide fell by about 11 metres, or 36 feet,

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vast mud flats were exposed, making an approach impossible.

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Even when the tide was in, the city was protected by high sea walls

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and a fortified island at the mouth of the harbour named Wolmi-do.

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McArthur's plan, codenamed "Operation Chromite", was to assemble a vast naval force,

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carrying 70,000 US troops,

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who would brave the dangerous tides of Incheon Harbour and land on the beaches.

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The Marines would first have to take the key beach at Wolmi-do, codenamed "Green Beach",

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which was only possible during the short window when the tide was high.

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Once the enemy had been silenced on Wolmi-do, the rest of the landing force would have to wait a whole

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12 hours for the tide to rise again, before they could assault Red Beach, to the north of Incheon,

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and Blue Beach, to the south.

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Set for mid-September 1950, Operation Chromite

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was to be the largest amphibious landing since D-Day.

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Many of McArthur's colleagues thought his plan near impossible.

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One of them even said, we drew up a list of every natural and geographic handicap, and Incheon had them all.

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McArthur himself privately admitted his Operation Chromite was risky.

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It was going to be a tough assignment for the crack US Marines

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hand-picked to carry out the operation.

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...APS unknown, bears one,

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align three, speed...

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The Marines' success hung on meticulous planning,

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but when I went to visit the British Royal Marines aboard HMS Albion

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I found out just how many factors can throw the best plan off course.

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There's the weather, there's the tide that has an impact. The sea state.

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Of course, the Americans at Incheon had real problems with the tides.

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Very high tides, just a 12 hour gap between them.

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How important is it to get the tides absolutely right?

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Well, if we get it wrong then we're going to end up either getting caught on sand bars offshore...

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And you're at the mercy of enemy fire.

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Absolutely. And if a tide is too high, then of course you may be actually slamming into the sea wall.

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Equally difficult to get people off.

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So timing is absolutely crucial.

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Now, when your landing craft are underway and you're on that landing craft and all your guys,

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how critical to you is the covering fire that's coming down on the enemy as you go into the beach?

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Oh, absolutely fundamental. That's why all our destroyers

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and our frigates have big guns on the front, that's what they're for, to buy us that time to get ashore.

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But this will be a matter of supreme concern, for the lads that are now on

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the landing craft and steaming into the beach.

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And what's it like being on a landing craft on your way into a beach?

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There will be guys that are utterly disorientated. They won't have a clue

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if they're in exactly the right position, what they're gonna see when they get off the landing craft.

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-Given with that, some would have been sick, some will be dizzy, some will be confused...

-And frightened?

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Oh, hugely frightened.

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One of the crew of the landing craft who's working up on deck

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will be shouting, 500 metres to go, 400 metres to go, and then counting them down.

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And of course they get to 100 metres to go, they all stand up,

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the doors get pushed open and then they're just stood there waiting for the ramp to drop.

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Hit the beach, ramp goes down, and then they're off.

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The US Marines waiting off the coast of Incheon were about to go through exactly the same experience,

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as zero hour for the amphibious landing drew near.

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At around 6am on the 15th of September the actual landing part of the operation swung into action.

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Under the cover of allied naval gunfire,

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six British and American destroyers had already steamed in to within a mile of the city,

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and anchored so that their guns could fire

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at point blank range on Wolmi-do, and the entire Incheon area.

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For two days, Incheon had been bombed by aircraft dropping napalm

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on the North Korean defences, and pounded by warships.

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LOUD BLASTING OF GUNS

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DRONING OF PLANES

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Now, under yet more covering fire, the landing craft used the high tide

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to sweep in from the sea and land on Wolmi-do's Green Beach.

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Through the chaos caused by the supporting fire,

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wave after wave of landing craft headed for Green Beach.

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Smoke was boiling out of Incheon, the entire beach area simply disappeared

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in an enormous cloud of dust and smoke,

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with only the occasional glare of rocket bursts showing through.

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It was just awesome.

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But as the first wave of Marines approached Green Beach,

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they were faced with a daunting task.

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Scaling the 12 foot high defensive sea walls under enemy fire.

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Well, this is Green Beach on Wolmi-do today.

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Not quite the same sight that would have

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greeted the first wave of US Marines as they clambered up the sea wall.

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With the second wave of Marines just four minutes behind they quickly advanced inland,

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the landscape blackened and blasted by the covering fire.

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The Marines swept over the island, meeting limited resistance and suffering few casualties.

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In just two hours the Marines' Commander radioed the waiting fleet.

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Wolmi-do secured.

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Phase one of their mission had been accomplished.

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For the Marines, the battle had only just begun.

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As this tide retreated it took with it the landing craft,

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their vital lifeline to the allied ships out there.

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They had to dig in.

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For the next 12 hours they had the unenviable task

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task of defending the island against a possible counterattack.

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It was vital the Marines held their ground.

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Only if they retained control of this crucial island could

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further waves of landing craft move safely onto Incheon itself.

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They waited hour after hour for the tide to turn.

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Waiting to defend against any North Korean counterattack.

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But the big attack never came.

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Only at half past five did the tide come back in,

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and conditions were again favourable for the next phase of the American landings, further up the channel.

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Red Beach fell to the Marines with little resistance,

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but there was still one more beach to capture.

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Almost simultaneously the Marines assaulted here at Blue Beach, about a mile south of Incheon.

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But things on Blue Beach didn't go quite as smoothly.

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Out to sea, 25 separate assault waves had formed,

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but as they approached the shore, many of them were swept wildly off course by the strong currents.

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The assault on Blue Beach was in disarray.

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Landing crafts at risk of capsizing, men in danger of drowning.

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Those who did make it through found the beach choked with smoke from the earlier Naval bombardment.

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The actual landing conditions were terrible.

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The city was on fire, and the rain was mixing with the smoke and

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fire of the bombardment, so it was very difficult finding the beach.

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Some units got mixed up, landing on the wrong beaches,

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and we just had to get it all sorted out.

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Despite the problems, there was no serious opposition to stop the allied advance.

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They managed to push on through Incheon and further inland.

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Their journey took them eastwards, liberating village after village,

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rapidly crushing what little North Korean resistance they met.

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Their bold attack behind enemy lines had been a resounding success.

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In just 11 days, the men of the United Nations Army had

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reached their target and recaptured the South Korean capital, Seoul.

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The war in Korea was taking a whole new turn.

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By now, the Allied Forces pinned down inside the Pusan perimeter

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had been reinforced with fresh battle-ready troops.

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They broke out and thrust North to join those who'd recaptured Seoul.

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The United Nations Forces could now attack the North Korean Troops from two directions.

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Kim Il-Sung's Army was effectively surrounded and quickly collapsed.

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Within just two weeks the allies had pushed the crumbling North Korean Army

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back over the 38th Parallel, back into North Korea.

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It was an incredible turnaround.

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The two Koreas were now back where they began, divided by the 38th Parallel.

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The question for the UN Allies was what to do next.

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The United Nations could have ended the war right there but McArthur wanted to press on.

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He didn't just want to kick Communism out of South Korea

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but crush it in North Korea as well.

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He said the North should pay the penalty for invading the South.

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He urged the United Nations to take the war across the border.

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At the end of September 1950, McArthur got his way.

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He was given the go-ahead to cross the 38th Parallel and push into North Korea,

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the UN Army were no longer repelling an invasion.

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They had themselves become the invaders.

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The Allied invasion of North Korea began very well.

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On October the 7th the main body of the United Nations force drove northwards and within a month

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they'd overrun the Communist capital Pyongyang.

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Still they pressed on scattering any North Koreans who opposed them.

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The United Nations forces were now within reach of fulfilling McArthur's vision

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of a total victory over Communism and the United Anti-Communist Korea.

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Word went around that McArthur had even promised his troops

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would be home by Christmas, in a month's time.

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But every step his men took north threatened to awaken a sleeping dragon.

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McArthur's troops were now fast approaching the Yalu River,

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the border between North Korea and Communist China.

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LOUD CHEERING

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SINGING AND CHEERING

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The Chinese leader Mao Zedong had been watching events in Korea.

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His new Communist regime was only a year old and far from secure.

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Now the United Nations Army was rapidly approaching his Eastern border.

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As far as Mao was concerned this was blatant Imperialist aggression

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and it had to be stopped.

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In September 1950 he ordered the Chinese People's Volunteer Army into North Korea.

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Led by Commander Peng Dehuai, their aim was to confront and crush the United Nations.

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The vast armies of China had joined the war.

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Almost overnight the men of the United Nations faced a very different enemy.

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The Chinese were tough. They were battle-hardened veterans

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of years of civil war, experts in close quarters fighting and used to the rugged terrain.

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What really set them apart as a fighting force is that they were highly politicised.

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Each man had to sign a pledge of commitment to the cause.

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And each unit had to swear an oath to destroy Imperialism.

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They warned us if we didn't wipe out the enemy in Korea now,

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one day they would come back to China and we would lose everything.

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We swore to triumph in the Communist cause and protect everything the revolution had won for us.

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We weren't ever going to be oppressed by Imperialists again.

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CHEERING

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The Chinese may have been rugged and determined,

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but their real advantage lay in the sheer vastness of their numbers.

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The UN, on the other hand, relied on completely different strategies.

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Rather than the mass use of troops travelling swiftly and silently across open countryside,

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the UN had fewer troops, relying on road-bound tanks and artillery.

0:30:320:30:37

Artillery was the key weapon that would form the bedrock of the Allied battleplan.

0:30:430:30:48

Dan and I were given the chance to experience what it's like to be under live artillery fire

0:30:520:30:57

when we visited the bombard shelter

0:30:570:30:59

of the British Royal School of Artillery.

0:30:590:31:02

A converge, a PD, a two rounds...

0:31:060:31:08

-At my command, a one-round fire for effect.

-A three...

0:31:080:31:12

One, zero, fire, over.

0:31:130:31:14

You can feel the shockwaves go through you.

0:31:320:31:35

You're telling me you can!

0:31:350:31:36

How critical is the artillery defending a position like this

0:31:390:31:43

-against imagining these waves of Chinese attacking?

-Absolutely vital.

0:31:430:31:47

The contribution that artillery makes in delaying the enemy,

0:31:470:31:51

taking them out, taking out large numbers,

0:31:510:31:53

which would have been critical with the Chinese,

0:31:530:31:56

because they did the human wave tactics, was vital.

0:31:560:31:59

INDISTINCT SHOUTING

0:31:590:32:02

The lethal effect would probably about 150 metres in a circle

0:32:040:32:09

taking people out, that would be killing them,

0:32:090:32:12

-and then the actual damage would go out to about two or 300 metres.

-Extraordinary.

0:32:120:32:17

And that effect would be continuous.

0:32:170:32:19

Day or night, all weathers, 24 hours a day. That's what you would receive.

0:32:190:32:24

The effect on the enemy out there would be absolutely devastating.

0:32:240:32:28

Even inside the reinforced bunker, we could feel the force of the explosions,

0:32:340:32:40

but it was only out in the open that we could see the impact

0:32:400:32:43

those explosions would have on the enemy attack.

0:32:430:32:45

So these shells are just like giant hand grenades.

0:32:450:32:48

Yes, and that's the effect we're after.

0:32:480:32:50

Each shell breaks up into hundreds of fragments.

0:32:500:32:53

-Thousands of fragments.

-Thousands of fragments.

0:32:530:32:56

The air would have been black with those fragments,

0:32:560:32:59

and I've got some here which we fired today, actually.

0:32:590:33:02

The whole range. The optimum size is probably this one.

0:33:020:33:05

If you just look at that you'll see how heavy and sharp...

0:33:050:33:08

That's just a jagged edge.

0:33:080:33:10

-One of those would kill someone.

-Oh, easily, easily.

0:33:100:33:13

These two here would have taken this chap's arms off,

0:33:130:33:16

this one here would have killed him,

0:33:160:33:18

that one up the top is a serious head wound,

0:33:180:33:20

and the last one in here would have hurt his leg.

0:33:200:33:23

And yet the Chinese came on and on through this stuff.

0:33:230:33:27

But as they're coming forward, they're encountering their comrades,

0:33:270:33:30

wounded, injured, screaming, do they keep going?

0:33:300:33:33

Do they help them out? What do they do?

0:33:330:33:35

The whole time, they're just sapping the momentum out of this attack.

0:33:350:33:39

But no matter how lethal the artillery fire,

0:33:520:33:55

it did little to stem the massed attacks of the Chinese army.

0:33:550:33:59

"We swarmed into action like ants.

0:34:010:34:04

"The enemy guns overheated with the continuous use.

0:34:040:34:08

"They began to misfire, and could no longer hit their targets.

0:34:080:34:12

"In the end, they would see so many people coming at them, they would panic."

0:34:130:34:18

One after another, United Nations positions

0:34:230:34:26

were simply overwhelmed by wave after wave of Chinese infantry.

0:34:260:34:32

Some United Nations units fought hard, others fell back in disarray.

0:34:440:34:51

Generally, morale collapsed, and to make matters worse,

0:34:510:34:54

the bitter Korean winter was setting in.

0:34:540:34:57

By late November 1950, with the temperature well below zero degrees,

0:34:590:35:04

men of both sides were fighting at the limit of human endurance.

0:35:040:35:08

The Chinese soldiers were wearing only lightly padded cotton uniforms

0:35:130:35:17

and thin canvas shoes to protect them against the bitter cold.

0:35:170:35:21

The Allies fared little better,

0:35:220:35:25

and much of their equipment simply seized up.

0:35:250:35:28

The men had to keep themselves awake for fear of freezing to death as they slept.

0:35:300:35:35

"The first night the Chinese hit us, I lost 39 men to frostbite.

0:35:350:35:40

"The next afternoon I went down to the medical station,

0:35:410:35:45

"and the doctors were breaking off all those frozen toes with forceps.

0:35:450:35:49

"I never saw those men again.

0:35:490:35:51

"I lost a whole platoon to frostbite."

0:35:530:35:55

Fighting a war in these dire conditions was not what these men had expected.

0:35:570:36:02

To make matters worse, some American marines found themselves surrounded in a place called Chosin.

0:36:020:36:08

Despite relentless Chinese attacks,

0:36:080:36:10

the Americans managed to fight their way out.

0:36:100:36:13

Elsewhere on the battlefield, other soldiers couldn't cope.

0:36:160:36:19

Without waiting for orders, some turned around and fled.

0:36:190:36:24

We moved headlong helter-skelter trying to get to the port at Pusan.

0:36:240:36:29

It was disgusting, unbelievable.

0:36:290:36:33

I never felt so ashamed in all of my life as to be a part of an army that was running away.

0:36:330:36:38

Allied defences were crumbling across practically the entire frontline.

0:36:460:36:52

The United Nations generals had no choice.

0:36:560:37:00

They ordered a full-scale withdrawal.

0:37:000:37:03

It was the largest military withdrawal in US history.

0:37:070:37:11

As the Chinese drove south,

0:37:130:37:15

the United Nations army folded in front of them.

0:37:150:37:19

By January 1951,

0:37:190:37:21

the Americans and their allies had been thrown back, south of Seoul.

0:37:210:37:25

Once again, the South Korean capital was in the hands of the Communists,

0:37:250:37:30

but this proved a step too far.

0:37:300:37:32

Because the Chinese had moved so far south,

0:37:340:37:37

their supply lines were now severely strained,

0:37:370:37:40

and the tide turned yet again.

0:37:400:37:42

The UN Army once more began to push north.

0:37:420:37:47

Over the first weeks of 1951,

0:37:490:37:52

the Allies clawed their way back to a line just north of Seoul,

0:37:520:37:57

but just south of the old border.

0:37:570:37:59

After seven months of see-sawing advance and withdrawal,

0:37:590:38:04

once more, the two sides were practically back to where they'd been when the war began.

0:38:040:38:09

The huge, sweeping moves of the two sides, up and down the peninsula,

0:38:140:38:20

subsided into an apparent stalemate.

0:38:200:38:24

But how to break this stalemate

0:38:260:38:28

was to lead to a crisis of the very highest level of the American leadership.

0:38:280:38:34

The American President, Harry Truman,

0:38:380:38:41

did not want to do anything to escalate the war in Korea.

0:38:410:38:45

But General McArthur still demanded total victory over his Communist enemy.

0:38:460:38:51

McArthur believed his President's policy was too timid,

0:38:510:38:56

and he was going to say so, loud and clear.

0:38:560:38:59

In order to achieve total victory,

0:38:590:39:01

he demanded that the war should be taken into China itself.

0:39:010:39:04

What McArthur was proposing was not simply to attack China,

0:39:060:39:11

but to have the option of attacking it with nuclear weapons.

0:39:110:39:16

This war was threatening to go nuclear.

0:39:170:39:21

With McArthur now publicly challenging Washington policy,

0:39:300:39:33

President Truman had to make a decision, and he made a brave one.

0:39:330:39:37

I believe that we must try to limit the war to Korea for these vital reasons -

0:39:390:39:45

to make sure that the precious lives of our fighting men are not wasted,

0:39:450:39:50

to see that the security of our country and the free world is not needlessly jeopardised,

0:39:500:39:55

and to prevent a Third World War.

0:39:550:39:59

I have therefore considered it essential to relieve General McArthur.

0:39:590:40:04

General McArthur is one of our greatest military commanders,

0:40:040:40:08

but the cause of world peace is much more important than any individual.

0:40:080:40:14

McArthur's dismissal marks the end of an era,

0:40:160:40:20

the end of the Allied aim to unite the two Koreas under a democratic flag.

0:40:200:40:26

McArthur's job went to General Matthew Ridgway,

0:40:320:40:36

a man both liked and respected by his ground troops,

0:40:360:40:39

and a man who accepted the idea of a divided Korea.

0:40:390:40:44

Ridgway's aim was to establish a defensible line in the mountains and rivers just north of Seoul,

0:40:480:40:54

from where he could keep the Communists at bay.

0:40:540:40:57

But the Chinese commander, Peng Dehuai,

0:40:590:41:02

had a different plan.

0:41:020:41:03

He wanted to demolish the Allied forces, and throw them out of Korea once and for all.

0:41:040:41:09

Unknown to the mainly British and American soldiers who were starting to dig in,

0:41:090:41:15

China's vast armies were preparing to launch a massive attack,

0:41:150:41:21

their spring offensive.

0:41:210:41:23

As night fell on the 22nd of April 1951,

0:41:530:41:56

hundreds of thousands of North Korean and Chinese troops

0:41:560:41:59

prepared to attack right along the battle front,

0:41:590:42:02

marked here in the Western section of the peninsula by the Imjin River,

0:42:020:42:07

only 30 miles from Seoul.

0:42:070:42:08

These Chinese troops were masters in infiltration and concealment.

0:42:110:42:15

Morale was high.

0:42:170:42:20

Confident of victory, the Chinese leaders told their men

0:42:200:42:23

they would be celebrating May Day in the streets of Seoul.

0:42:230:42:27

That night, the Chinese took their positions along the banks of the Imjin,

0:42:270:42:32

and lay in wait for the order to move.

0:42:320:42:35

The Chinese commander Peng Dehuai's plan

0:42:420:42:45

was for a huge coordinated attack, practically from coast to coast,

0:42:450:42:50

and the aim of his spring offensive?

0:42:500:42:52

To destroy entire UN divisions by swamping them with sheer weight of numbers,

0:42:520:42:58

carving them up into small pockets, and wiping them out, one by one.

0:42:580:43:02

Then he'd move to recapture Seoul.

0:43:020:43:05

Peng ordered the North Koreans to bring pressure on the east end of the line here,

0:43:050:43:10

but the main attack would be by the Chinese themselves,

0:43:100:43:13

punching a hole through the line in three places,

0:43:130:43:16

against mostly South Korean forces here, American forces here,

0:43:160:43:22

and here in the west, where I am now,

0:43:220:43:24

the Chinese put a large force up against the mainly British 29th Brigade,

0:43:240:43:29

who were defending the historic invasion route to Seoul across the Imjin River.

0:43:290:43:36

Until now, the Americans and South Korean troops had borne the brunt of this war,

0:43:360:43:42

but over the next few days the men of the mainly British 29th Brigade,

0:43:420:43:46

led by Brigadier Tom Brody, would play a vital role.

0:43:460:43:49

The 29th Brigade's nine mile long front along the Imjin River was pivotal.

0:43:510:43:57

If the Chinese breached the line in this position,

0:43:570:44:00

the Allied divisions either side would be exposed,

0:44:000:44:03

and the routes to Seoul would be open.

0:44:030:44:05

Of vital importance were two river crossings,

0:44:070:44:10

with tracks leading to the capital just 30 miles to the south.

0:44:100:44:15

700 men of the Gloucestershire Regiment guarded this track

0:44:150:44:20

from the hills just south of Aforn,

0:44:200:44:22

which they later called Gloucester Crossing.

0:44:220:44:26

This second crossing and track were guarded by another 700 men

0:44:260:44:31

from the battalion of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.

0:44:310:44:35

In support, both British battalions could call on the Royal Artillery's field guns, back here.

0:44:350:44:41

All this, plus some tanks in reserve here,

0:44:410:44:44

and some other units on either side were part of Brody's 29th Brigade.

0:44:440:44:49

Everything in this region was under the overall command of the American 3rd Division.

0:44:490:44:55

There were just 4,000 men in the British 29th Brigade,

0:44:560:45:00

thinly spaced and not yet properly dug in,

0:45:000:45:04

a pitifully small contingent to be defending such a crucial stretch of front.

0:45:040:45:10

Advancing on them the entire Chinese 63rd Army, over 27,000 men.

0:45:100:45:17

The British were outnumbered by around seven to one.

0:45:180:45:22

10pm on 22nd April, the first Chinese troops started to wade across the shallow section of water,

0:45:290:45:36

but they were held back for nearly two hours by less than 16 men

0:45:360:45:40

from a platoon of the Glosters, firing from up on the south bank.

0:45:400:45:44

'And then we saw the Chinese,

0:45:480:45:50

'they were thick in the water, somewhere around 2,000 men.

0:45:500:45:55

'It was an astonishing target and we did use up all our ammunitions.'

0:45:550:46:01

After halting four separate Chinese assaults, the British troops ran out of ammunition

0:46:010:46:07

and they had no choice but to pull back and rejoin their unit.

0:46:070:46:11

There was now nothing to stop the Chinese from advancing further.

0:46:110:46:16

Throughout the night of 22nd April, vast numbers of Chinese soldiers

0:46:180:46:23

succeeded in crossing the Imjin River, that's it down there,

0:46:230:46:27

and pushing southwards towards here.

0:46:270:46:29

This area, known as Castle Hill, was held by around a hundred men

0:46:290:46:34

of the Glosters' A Company.

0:46:340:46:36

They were in for a very long night.

0:46:360:46:38

For six hours, under moonlight and the glare of parachute flares,

0:46:450:46:49

A Company fought a ferocious close quarters battle for control of this hill.

0:46:490:46:54

MACHINE GUN FIRE

0:46:580:47:01

Again and again, the Chinese attacked up it,

0:47:050:47:08

and A Company drove them back with machine gun and mortar fire.

0:47:080:47:12

They received vital help from their artillery, five miles to the rear.

0:47:120:47:18

'Shells rained down.

0:47:260:47:27

'In front of me, a whole squad was blown to pieces,

0:47:270:47:30

'and the bodies of dead and wounded scattered along the track.

0:47:300:47:35

'I didn't wait to be killed.

0:47:350:47:36

'I ran beyond that barrage as fast as my legs would carry me.'

0:47:360:47:41

At times, the supporting artillery was the only thing slowing the Chinese advance.

0:47:420:47:48

At first light on the 23rd April,

0:47:590:48:01

things were looking decidedly bleak for the whole 29th Brigade.

0:48:010:48:06

In fact, it was looking grim right away along the whole Allied line.

0:48:060:48:10

Some 30 miles over to the east,

0:48:100:48:12

a South Korean division collapsed under the Chinese pressure,

0:48:120:48:16

and American and Commonwealth troops desperately tried to plug the gap.

0:48:160:48:21

It made it all the more vital that the British 29th Brigade held on here at all costs.

0:48:210:48:26

The Northumberland Fusiliers, guarding the easterly track

0:48:260:48:31

down from the river, had found their forward positions threatened.

0:48:310:48:35

The Chinese had begun to gain the high ground,

0:48:350:48:38

and the Fusiliers were being pushed back.

0:48:380:48:41

The line was weakening, and the Chinese were infiltrating the gaps

0:48:410:48:46

between the British positions.

0:48:460:48:48

As for the Glosters, five miles to the west,

0:48:480:48:51

their A Company were unable to hold out any longer on Castle Hill.

0:48:510:48:55

There was no other option for the soldiers here,

0:48:550:48:59

reduced to just one officer and fewer than 60 men, than to pull back

0:48:590:49:03

and join the rest of the battalion further south.

0:49:030:49:06

Relying completely on supporting artillery fire,

0:49:060:49:09

they managed to retreat to a hill that became known as Gloster Hill.

0:49:090:49:14

By dawn on the next day, the 24th April, the entire battalion,

0:49:140:49:19

reduced to around 400 men, were all defending Gloster Hill

0:49:190:49:24

against around 10,000 Chinese soldiers.

0:49:240:49:27

And they were practically surrounded.

0:49:270:49:30

By now, the Gloster situation was so precarious

0:49:310:49:36

that the 29th Brigade Commander, Brigadier Brody,

0:49:360:49:39

sent in a column of tanks along this valley

0:49:390:49:43

in an attempt to blast its way through them.

0:49:430:49:46

But the lead tank was hit and it blocked the route,

0:49:460:49:50

and the attempt to break through to the Glosters had to be abandoned.

0:49:500:49:55

All hope of getting help to them evaporated.

0:49:550:49:58

That afternoon, General Sole, the American Commander of all the units in the area,

0:50:020:50:07

radioed to ask how things were going.

0:50:070:50:09

Brigadier Brody, instead of urgently requesting the Gloster withdrawal,

0:50:090:50:14

replied simply that things were a bit sticky.

0:50:140:50:17

He couldn't have chosen a worse moment for British understatement.

0:50:170:50:22

The American General was given no idea how bad things really were,

0:50:220:50:26

and so he ordered 29th Brigade to hold their position.

0:50:260:50:31

What followed was disaster.

0:50:310:50:33

At 10pm, the Chinese struck.

0:50:420:50:45

The Glosters fought a bloody hand to hand battle, and pushed back attack after attack.

0:50:450:50:50

The battle raged all through the night.

0:50:500:50:53

It was the beginning of the end for the Glosters.

0:51:020:51:04

The entire 29th Brigade was at breaking point.

0:51:120:51:16

If they didn't withdraw, they faced death or captivity.

0:51:160:51:20

The attempt to get any relief to the Glosters may have been blocked,

0:51:200:51:24

but on the right, the Northumberlands line of retreat was still clear.

0:51:240:51:29

Brigadier Brody had ordered tanks up the track to escort them out,

0:51:290:51:33

but the withdrawal became chaotic as the Chinese managed to swarm

0:51:330:51:38

onto the track and climb on the British tanks.

0:51:380:51:41

The crews of neighbouring tanks were forced to hose each other's tanks

0:51:410:51:46

with machine gun fire in an attempt to dislodge the clambering Chinese.

0:51:460:51:51

The rescue of the Northumberlands were succeeding but only just.

0:51:510:51:57

But the Glosters off to the west were left to their fate.

0:51:570:52:01

In the face of the rapidly advancing Chinese, Brigadier Brody had by now

0:52:010:52:06

been forced to withdraw the artillery supporting his troops,

0:52:060:52:10

and once these vital guns were silenced,

0:52:100:52:13

the men of the Glosters really were at the mercy of the Chinese.

0:52:130:52:18

The men stranded just up there on the top of Gloster Hill

0:52:180:52:22

were preparing for a nearly impossible task.

0:52:220:52:25

They were going to try and make a break for it, but many had not slept or eaten for days,

0:52:250:52:30

and with virtually no ammunition, getting back to friendly lines would be a near impossible task.

0:52:300:52:37

But the Glosters had little choice.

0:52:390:52:42

They set out to cross the enemy infiltrated stretch of land

0:52:420:52:46

on what for many would be their final journey.

0:52:460:52:49

The Glosters had started the Battle of the Imjin with 700 men.

0:52:520:52:58

58 had been killed in the fighting.

0:52:580:53:01

Only 63 made it back to the safety of British lines that night.

0:53:010:53:07

Nearly 600 Glosters were taken prisoner.

0:53:070:53:11

'It was a very shameful moment surrendering, I hated doing it.

0:53:110:53:15

'Surrendering seemed to go against everything that I thought

0:53:150:53:19

'soldiering should be about.'

0:53:190:53:22

The rest of 29 Brigade had fared little better than the Glosters,

0:53:220:53:27

but those few days in April 1951 had taken their toil on the enemy too.

0:53:270:53:33

Although 29 Brigade had lost a quarter of its men,

0:53:330:53:36

it had destroyed nearly half the Communist forces attacking them across the Imjin.

0:53:360:53:41

And right the way along the entire battlefront in Korea,

0:53:410:53:45

other British, American and Allied forces fought heroic battles of their own.

0:53:450:53:50

No-one knows exactly how many the Chinese lost,

0:54:020:54:07

but it was in the tens of thousands.

0:54:070:54:09

The Communist offensive ground to a halt along the entire battle line.

0:54:180:54:23

It was to be the last major assault of its kind -

0:54:230:54:27

the Chinese would never again launch an attack on the scale

0:54:270:54:31

of the Spring Offensive of 1951.

0:54:310:54:34

Like the Americans, they too had finally realised

0:54:340:54:38

that neither of them could win control of the whole of Korea.

0:54:380:54:42

While the Allied crushing of the Communist Spring Offensive,

0:54:450:54:50

in great part along the Imjin River, did not end the fighting immediately

0:54:500:54:55

it did bring both sides to the negotiating table.

0:54:550:54:58

Yet when they first met on July 10th 1951, few could have had any

0:55:010:55:07

inkling that the negotiations would drag on for over two years.

0:55:070:55:13

All this time, the vicious battles for minor stretches

0:55:130:55:18

of tactical ground continued, and the casualty rate soared.

0:55:180:55:23

This increasingly futile war was to go on another two years,

0:55:260:55:31

before the fighting finally ended.

0:55:310:55:34

The two sides agreed the position of the new border between them,

0:55:370:55:41

and they agreed on roughly the line of the 38th Parallel about here.

0:55:410:55:47

And on 27th July 1953, they agreed a ceasefire.

0:55:470:55:53

In three years of war, more than two million people had lost their lives,

0:55:560:56:01

and a country had been devastated

0:56:010:56:04

And yet the border between North and South Korea had barely changed.

0:56:050:56:10

And there's one even bigger irony, the two sides have never signed a peace treaty.

0:56:130:56:18

The state of war between North and South Korea still officially exists.

0:56:180:56:24

To this day, Korea's two sides remain in an uneasy stalemate.

0:56:270:56:32

North Korea is still one of the most undeveloped countries in the world,

0:56:320:56:37

and fiercely secretive.

0:56:370:56:40

South of the border, it's a very different story.

0:56:410:56:45

South Korea has developed into a vibrant and thriving democracy.

0:56:510:56:55

Today the two Koreas may be vastly different,

0:57:000:57:03

but one thing hasn't changed.

0:57:030:57:06

For the people of North and South Korea, the threat of a return to hostilities still looms.

0:57:080:57:14

50 years after the ceasefire, South Koreans still plan for the worst.

0:57:160:57:22

Around twice a year, a siren sounds across the South Korean capital here in Seoul.

0:57:220:57:29

It's a drill for the taking of immediate shelter in the event of a North Korean attack.

0:57:290:57:34

SIREN

0:57:370:57:39

For a few minutes, these city streets empty in readiness for a return to hostilities.

0:57:390:57:46

SIREN CONTINUES

0:57:460:57:48

There was an awful lot of very brave fights going on right in the middle of the line.

0:58:000:58:05

Next time, 20th Century Battlefields brings you the Tet Offensive, fought in Vietnam.

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This massive communist assault was the turning point of the 20th century's longest war.

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I'll explain how the American military had to adapt itself

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to face up to a guerilla fighting force.

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And I'll be experiencing what it was like for the soldiers as they fought through South Vietnam.

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The Tet offensive was one of the most decisive battles of the 20th century.

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Peter and Dan Snow, through sophisticated graphics, bring to life the forgotten war of the 20th century - the battle for Korea. The Snows journey to the border between North and South Korea which is a military frontline to this day - there is still no peace treaty more than 50 years after war broke out between the Communist north and Nationalist south.

Peter and Dan tell the story of two key moments in the years of fighting that embroiled soldiers from countries around the world. Peter finds out about the challenges faced by the Americans as they set out on one of the largest amphibious attacks in history, the Inchon landings. On the banks of the Imjin river, Dan recounts how, in 1951, a few hundred British soldiers managed to stem the tide against thousands of attacking Chinese.


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