Korean War

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Korean War 1950–1953
Korean War Montage 2.png
date June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953 ( armistice )
place Korea
output Establishment of a demilitarized zone , small area changes; otherwise status quo ante .
Territorial changes South Korea was able to gain more area north of the 38th parallel than North Korea south of it.
Parties to the conflict

United NationsU.N. United Nations : South Korea Australia Belgium Luxembourg Canada Colombia Ethiopia France Greece Netherlands New Zealand Philippines South African Union Thailand Turkey United Kingdom United States
Korea SouthSouth Korea 
Canada 1921Canada 
Ethiopia 1941Ethiopia 
Kingdom of GreeceKingdom of Greece 
New ZealandNew Zealand 
Philippines 1944Philippines 
South Africa 1928South African Union 
United KingdomUnited Kingdom 
United States 48United States 

Medical staff : Denmark India Italy Norway Sweden Germany

Eastern Bloc - States : North Korea People's Republic of China Soviet Union (mainly weapons aid, Soviet pilots, however, flewattacks against American fightersin Chinese uniforms in MiG-15s with Korean national emblems)
Korea NorthNorth Korea 
China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China 
Soviet Union 1923Soviet Union 


Korea SouthSouth Korea Rhee Syng-man Chung Il-kwon Harry S. Truman Douglas MacArthur Mark W. Clark Matthew Ridgway
Korea SouthSouth Korea
United States 48United States
United States 48United States
United States 48United States
United States 48United States

Korea NorthNorth Korea Kim Il-sung Pak Hon-yong Choi Yong-kun Kim Chaek Peng Dehuai
Korea NorthNorth Korea
Korea NorthNorth Korea
Korea NorthNorth Korea
China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China

The Korean War from 1950 to 1953 was a military conflict between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea ( North Korea ) and the People's Republic of China, which was allied with it, on the one hand, and the Republic of Korea ( South Korea ) and United Nations troops under the leadership of the USA on the other Page. Along with the war in Afghanistan from 1978 to 1989 and the Vietnam War , it was the largest proxy war in the Cold War.

Each of the two Korean states that emerged from the Soviet and US occupation zones in Korea after the Second World War saw themselves as the sole legal successors of the Korean Empire, which was annexed by Japan in 1910 . The war began after alternate border violations by both conflicting parties on June 25, 1950 with the attack by North Korea, which wanted to force the reunification of the country militarily. American forces under General MacArthur provided the South Korean troops with the requested assistance against this attack .

After UN troops were also subordinated to his command - the Soviet representative with veto power stayed away from the vote - the national war developed into an international war. With the intervention of the US and later China, it became a proxy war . In Germany in particular , the conflict sparked fears that it could lead to a third world war.

The UN troops were initially pushed back by the North Korean troops except for a small bridgehead around Busan in the south of the Korean peninsula . In a counter-offensive, they then advanced beyond the demarcation line to the Chinese border in the north. This wide foray was not by the Resolution 85 of the UN Security Council met. At the end of October 1950, strong Chinese “volunteer associations” on the part of North Korea intervened in the fighting and threw the UN troops back until the front stabilized roughly in the middle of the peninsula. There - around the 38th parallel - the warring parties waged a positional war with losses .

After two years of negotiations, an armistice agreement was concluded on July 27, 1953, which largely restored the status quo ante . By then, 940,000 soldiers and around three million civilians had been killed. Almost all of the country's industry was destroyed.

After the war, efforts to reunify Korea failed ; The military conflict probably contributed to solidifying the division of the country (→ Korean conflict ). Chinese troops remained in North Korea until 1958, US troops are still stationed in South Korea today. To date, no peace treaty has been concluded.

Names for the Korean War

In South Korea, the war is commonly referred to simply as “6 · 25”, which refers to the date it broke out (as in the 9/11 term for the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001 ). The formal term “Korean War” ( Hanguk jeonjaeng 한국 전쟁 / 韓國 戰爭 ) is less common .

In North Korea, the regime calls it the "Patriotic Liberation War" ( Joguk haebang Jŏnjaeng 조국 해방 전쟁 ).

In China it was officially called "War to Resist the United States and Help Korea" ( Chinese  抗美援朝 戰爭  /  抗美援朝 战争 , Pinyin Kàngměiyuáncháo zhànzhēng ), today often simply "Korean War" ( Chinese  朝鮮戰爭  /  朝鲜战争 , Pinyin Cháoxiǎn zhànzhēng ) .

In the USA it was officially called Korean Conflict and declared a police action, mainly to avoid a declaration of war.

The Korean War is often referred to as the "forgotten war" because it was one of the major conflicts of the 20th century, but is mentioned relatively rarely.


From 1894 the Korean Empire came under the domination of the Japanese Empire and was annexed by Japan in 1910 . After Japan's surrender in 1945 , Korea was not liberated, but divided into two zones of occupation among the victorious powers. The main behind this was Great Britain, which feared that in the event of Korean independence the British colonies , which were temporarily occupied by Japan, could also make similar demands.

The Soviet Union occupied the area north of the 38th parallel , the United States of America the southern area. The Allies had decided at the Yalta Conference that Korea would eventually become a unified, independent country under an elected government, but did not specify any details. After the Cold War began, both sides finally refused to implement this decision. The 38th parallel became the demarcation line .

The UN , which at that time was close to the USA, took over the mandate for reunification on November 14, 1947. The anti-communist USA held elections on May 10, 1948 under the supervision of the UN, but only in the south due to a lack of cooperation from the Soviet Union. Rhee Syng-man , who had returned from exile in the USA, emerged as the winner. Rhee Syng-man came from the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, which was deposed by the Japanese in 1910, and was an early representative of the nationalist resistance against the Japanese. Some observers described the election as unfair or fake. Rhee Syng-man took over the affairs of state from the USA on August 13, 1948 and proclaimed the Republic of Korea on August 15 . In response, Soviet-sponsored Kim Il-sung proclaimed the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on September 9th . Kim Il-sung was a dictator by Western standards, but the pro-American and anti-communist Rhee Syng-man also clearly showed autocratic tendencies.

The USA saw the socialist states of the time as a bloc led by the Soviet Union and assumed that North Korea was looking for war as their pawn. This was also the decisive reason for the great American commitment. Today, on the basis of Russia's open archives, Kim Il-sung is seen as the driving force behind the reluctant Josef Stalin to take the risk of a confrontation with the United States - not least by playing Stalin off against Mao . Both the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea saw themselves as representatives of the whole country and wanted to unite it under their own system. Both sides acted relentlessly against resistance and sought escalation, which often led to skirmishes on the demarcation line before the war .

In early 1949, Kim Il-sung tried to convince Stalin that the time had come for a conventional invasion of the south. However, Stalin refused because the North Korean troops were still poorly trained and he feared US interference. In the course of the following year, the North Korean Army was formed into an offensive organization modeled on the Soviet Army and equipped with weapons from the Soviet Union. At the same time, the Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Korea in order to diplomatically force the USA to follow suit. At the beginning of 1950 North Korea was clearly superior to the South in every branch of arms, which is why Washington hesitated.

On January 12, 1950, the US Secretary of State Dean Acheson told the National Press Club that the US line of defense ran from the Alëuts through Japan , the Ryūkyū Islands to the Philippines . With this “defensive perimeter”, he seemed to indirectly determine that the US would not fight for Korea. This thoughtless remark encouraged North Korea to seek conflict. When Kim visited Moscow in March / April 1950, Stalin approved the invasion.


North Korean invasion

The war began on June 25, 1950

Course of the war (North Korea red and South Korea green)

On June 25, 1950, troops of the North Korean People's Army crossed the border to the south with the aim of forcibly reunifying the two parts of the state. North Korean aircraft attacked the links established by the US Air Force Base Gimpo and destroyed a Douglas C-54 of the US Air Force on the ground. John J. Muccio, the US Ambassador to South Korea, forwarded a request for help in support of South Korea to US President Harry S. Truman , who ordered air support from the US Air Force and the transfer of weapons and ammunition. The US Major General Earle E. Partridge ( USAF ), commander of the US 5th Air Force , ordered the immediate air evacuation of US citizens from South Korea and increased aerial surveillance in the Korea Strait . The US 11th Air Force put two squadrons of interceptors in Japan on alert.

The beginning Korean War caused great concern and many feared a third world war between the Western powers and the Eastern Bloc. In West Germany there was a wave of emergency stocks .

June 26th

The North Koreans conquered the South Korean cities of Chuncheon , Pocheon and Dongducheon . The 7th US fleet was ordered from the Philippines to South Korea. The South Korean Air Force received ten F-51 fighters from the USA ; these were far superior to the existing AT-6 . The US Far East Air Forces hurriedly sent numerous military aircraft of the type C-47 Skytrain and C-54 Skymaster from bases in Asia to the crisis region to support the air evacuation. In the port of Incheon, 682 people on board the Norwegian merchant ship Reinholt were saved and escorted to Sasebo in Japan by the US destroyer USS De Haven .

Condemnation by the UN Security Council

As early as June 25, the UN Security Council condemned the “breach of peace” by North Korea in resolution 82, and on July 31, resolution 85 authorized military intervention by UN troops. The Soviet representative entitled to veto , who was in fact also the representative of the People's Republic of China in the UN, had boycotted the meeting in protest against the recognition of the government of the Republic of China in Taiwan as the representative of all of China. 16 member countries sent troops or medical personnel, around 90% of the soldiers came from the USA. US General Douglas MacArthur was given the command . President Truman had already moved US occupation troops from Japan to South Korea before UN Resolution 85.

Further advance of North Korea

June 27th

US General Douglas MacArthur ordered air strikes on North Korean forces south of the 38th parallel. The well-armed North Koreans forced the South Korean troops to retreat despite the air strikes by the US Air Force. Using several C-46, C-47 and C-54 transport aircraft, the US evacuated a total of 748 people from the Gimpo and Suwon airbases under the protection of F-82 and F-80 fighter jets to Japan. The USAF increasingly tried to gain air control over South Korea in order to secure the evacuation measures and to provide air support for the South Korean armed forces. In the North Korean attacks on the Gimpo and Suwon air bases, American F-82 fighters shot down seven North Korean propeller-driven aircraft. From the US Air Base in Ashiya , Japan , B-26 bombers of the US 5th Air Fleet launched into attacks on enemy targets in South Korea. Due to bad weather and the longer flight time, these proved to be ineffective. A further headquarters was then established in Itazuke , Japan , and Itazuke AB took off RF-80 aircraft to South Korea. For the first time, long-range B-29 Superfortress bombers also launched from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa to attack the supply lines of the North Korean People's Army. The last 857 US citizens were flown out of South Korea on military transport aircraft. The USAF airlifted 150 tons of ammunition from the air force base in Tachikawa, Japan, to Suwon.

Until the end of June

Seoul was conquered by North Korea on June 28th and the government first had to flee to Daejeon . The Mukho naval base near Donghae was also captured. 20 US B-26s attacked the railway line between Munsan and Pongdong at the 38th parallel.

On June 29, General MacArthur ordered General George E. Stratemeyer, commander of the Far East Air Force (FEAF), to concentrate air strikes on the bridges over the Hangang (Han River) and on North Korean troop concentrations north of the river. For the first time, F-82 also dropped napalm canisters. MacArthur also ordered the first air strike by 18 B-26 bombers on the North Korean air base near the capital Pyongyang .

On June 30, US President Truman ordered the use of US ground forces in Korea and a naval blockade of North Korea. Australia actively intervened in the war with the 77th Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Squadron to support the 5th US Air Force. Meanwhile, the North Korean troops were able to take Samcheok in the east , and the North Korean 6th Division in the west was able to cross the Hangang and advance further south.


On July 1, the strategically important city of Suwon fell to North Korea. At the same time, the USA began to move the 24th US Infantry Division from Itazuke to Busan as part of the establishment of Task Force Smith . These soldiers were the first US units directly involved in the fighting in the Korean War and suffered heavy losses in the weeks that followed.

On July 6, nine American attack B-29 - Bomber oil refinery Wonsan and the chemical industry in Hungnam in North Korea. From July 10th to 18th, the 25th US Infantry Division under Major General William B. Kean with its three regiments (24th, 27th and 35th Infantry Regiment) was relocated to Busan in the south of the peninsula and strengthened the defense positions of the South Korean there Army on the central mountain passes.

Overall, the USA quickly intensified its military engagement. In the loss-making defeat in the Battle of Daejeon (from 14 to 21 July 1950), the then commander of the division , Major General William F. Dean , was taken prisoner in North Korea. The US 1st Cavalry Division meanwhile carried out an amphibious landing near Pohang on July 15 . Until July 22, three US regiments were also used to block the corridor between Daejeon and Daegu .

On July 24th, the South Korean army was reformed after the previous defeats and organized into two corps and five divisions . The 1st Corps comprised the 8th Infantry Division and the Capital Division, the II Corps comprised the 1st and 6th Infantry Divisions. A re-established 3rd Infantry Division was directly under the command of the South Korean armed forces. The headquarters of the II. Corps was at Hamchang , with the 1st and 6th Infantry Divisions in the west-east line in front of it. The 1st Corps had its headquarters at Sangju with the 8th Infantry Division and the Capital Division also in a west-east line in front of it. The 3rd Infantry Division operated on the east coast of South Korea. Due to the large number of recruits and considerable quantities of supplies, the South Korean army was able to regain its pre-war strength of around 95,000 soldiers within a short time and prepared itself for a counter-offensive.

Busan Front and Incheon Landing

In August, the American and South Korean troops initially had to retreat, and in early September 1950 the North Korean People's Army controlled the whole country except for a small area in the southeast around Busan . The front around what is now called the Busan Perimeter ran from Masan to the north, leaving Daegu under South Korean control and here turned to the east to the coast just below Pohang . Thanks to the supply and air support from the USA, the South Koreans were able to stabilize their situation and repel all attacks.

Now the fortunes of war turned. In September 1950, after landing near Incheon, Seoul was retaken by the Americans, because with this landing in the rear of the front, the supply lines of the North Koreans were suddenly cut, and the simultaneous counterattack by the 8th US Army and South Korean forces from the Busan -Bridgehead put the North Korean forces in a very difficult position. The troops that had just been victorious and had exhausted themselves in an energetic attack against the last UN bridgehead were encircled, blown up, captured or killed. The US attack was then pushed to Pyongyang with the support of South Korean associations . At that time, scattered North Korean soldiers were still active as partisans in large areas of South Korea . The bloody guerrilla war that followed claimed countless victims.

Air bombs destroy storage and port facilities in Wonsan , North Korea (1951)

UN offensive and intervention of the People's Republic of China

After the North Korean army had been largely defeated , the way to the north was virtually open to the south and the UN troops. The People's Republic of China, however, did not want to tolerate a united Korea under US influence and repeatedly warned against exceeding the 38th parallel. MacArthur assured President Truman, however, that the Chinese would not intervene so soon after the end of their own civil war - and if they did, they would pose no threat; repeated warnings from China were therefore viewed in Washington as a bluff.

South Korean troops exceeded the 38th parallel on September 30, 1950. At MacArthur's urging, Truman agreed on October 7th to continue the offensive with the 8th US Army and to cross the demarcation line as well, without this being covered by the UN mandate. The goal now was the reunification of Korea. Soon the rapidly advancing troops approached the Chinese border.

Alarmed by this development, Mao Zedong , who wanted to avoid an open war with the USA, sent a 200,000-strong “ People's Volunteer Army ” to Korea instead of regular Chinese troops . Between October 25 and November 4, the Chinese units surprised and defeated the 2nd Corps of South Koreans and the 1st US Cavalry Division in a series of skirmishes for Onjong and Unsan and destroyed the right flank of the 8th US Army. The 8th US Army therefore withdrew to the Chongchon River. Although the Chinese were able to break through their lines, they initially withdrew on November 5th due to high losses of their own.

After this Chinese success, Stalin was ready to secretly provide limited support to Mao. The Soviet Union sent some fighter units to North Korea with MiG-15 planes from October , and the pilots flew attacks against US fighter jets in Chinese uniforms and under Korean sovereign emblems.

Despite its success, the United States did not regard the Chinese advance as a large-scale intervention, but rather as a threatening gesture. This impression was reinforced by the sudden withdrawal of the Chinese. Instead, MacArthur launched a new offensive on November 24th, the day after Thanksgiving , with the promise that the war would be over by Christmas ("Home-by-Christmas-Offensive"). MacArthur underestimated his opponents and assumed that no more than 30,000 Chinese could hide in the mountains of the border region. In fact, there were already more than 180,000 soldiers there, and despite intensive border surveillance and destroyed bridges, the Chinese managed to cross a front section of around 50 km, completely unnoticed by the US troops, a total of 400,000 to 500,000 more soldiers across the border river Bring Yalu .

As early as November 25, 1950, the Chinese began a massive counterattack that completely surprised the Americans, who had expected little resistance (→ Battle of the Chongchon from November 25 to December 2). From November 26th to December 13th, 1950, the battle of the Changjin Reservoir raged , which ended in a Chinese victory. The following, largely disorderly and ultimately fleeting withdrawal of US units with heavy losses was one of the greatest debacles in the history of the US Army. The US troops were not prepared for the subarctic winter with temperatures as low as −34 ° C; Hundreds of soldiers froze to death, and the injured could not receive adequate care. In northeast Korea, US units were able to hold a beachhead in the port city of Hŭngnam long enough to evacuate themselves and numerous refugees under the protection of the US fleet. On December 16, President Truman declared a national emergency for the first time in US history and denounced the attempts of the Soviet Union to "overwhelm one free nation after another" in a radio address. Obviously, Truman still thought Stalin was the real mastermind. By December 23, the 8th US Army withdrew to the 38th parallel.

The North Korean-Chinese offensive in January 1951 and the UN counterattack

Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway (left) in January 1951

On January 1, 1951, 400,000 Chinese and 100,000 North Korean soldiers began an offensive that the 200,000 soldiers of the UN armed forces could not withstand. US forces and many civilians fled south. On January 3, 1951, Seoul was evacuated and a line of defense was subsequently established between the Yellow Sea and the Sea of ​​Japan . MacArthur has now demanded the dropping of 34 atomic bombs on Chinese cities, a comprehensive sea ​​blockade and the use of Chinese national troops . The Truman government rejected this .

When the frost subsided, South Koreans and Americans were able to attack again. In March 1951, Seoul was reoccupied by UN troops; most of the residents had previously been kidnapped by the combined Chinese and North Korean forces or killed in resistance. The UN units then advanced again to just over the 38th parallel; the war then froze roughly along the old demarcation line in trench warfare. From a military point of view, it is difficult to explain why the front stabilized here of all places; some therefore suspect that there were collusion.

On April 11, 1951 , Truman dismissed General MacArthur for not wholeheartedly supporting the guidelines of the American government and the UN, and replaced him with General Matthew B. Ridgway . Truman was of the opinion that MacArthur's demanded expansion of the conflict into an open (nuclear) war between the USA and China would have meant the "wrong war in the wrong place, at the wrong time and with the wrong opponent". Truman was still convinced that he was actually fighting against the Soviet Union, which the Chinese and North Koreans only use as puppets .

Battle of Heartbreak Ridge and trench warfare begin

A US Air Force B-29 bombed over Korea (1951)

In the late summer of 1951, the UN troops pushed north again to improve their negotiating position. This led to the last great and at the same time cruelest battle of the war; it lasted from September 13 to October 15, 1951 and was known as the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge . The very high losses on both sides without any significant change in the strategic situation led to the mutual desire for an armistice.

In the remainder of the armistice, the pressure on North Korea was intensified in the form of a UN-sanctioned bombing carried out by the US Air Force . The USSR and China were to be forced to make concessions. These air strikes devastated North Korea. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed in bombs and napalm . One assumes 500,000 to 1,000,000 victims of the bombing war in the narrower sense, without taking into account the losses of the civilian population as a result of hunger and frost. More precise statistics are not available; probably more than ten percent of the North Korean population died.



After diplomatic contacts between the USSR and the USA in May 1951 in New York, the first meeting took place on July 10, 1951 in Kaesŏng in North Korea. In October the ceasefire negotiations were relocated to Panmunjeom , 62 kilometers northwest of Seoul , where the front line almost touched the 38th parallel. While the negotiations were taking place in a neutral zone, the fighting continued.

Civilians in the Korean War

An agreement initially failed because of the UN demand that prisoners of war should not be sent back to their home countries against their will. For Truman, as for the South Korean head of state Rhee Syng-man, it was the right of the captured Chinese and North Koreans to decide against forced repatriation. For Mao Zedong and Kim Il-sung this was not acceptable.

The US government under Dwight D. Eisenhower finally used two tricks to influence the warring party China. For one thing, they gave the impression that they would tolerate an invasion of Chinese national troops from Taiwan into mainland China . On the other hand, they leaked through the Indian head of state Jawaharlal Nehru to the Chinese leadership that they would be ready to bomb Manchuria and central China, if necessary with the use of tactical nuclear weapons. In addition, the United States allowed Communist Party members to agitate among the repatriating prisoners of war in order to persuade them to return. On March 30, 1953, Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai agreed to hand over all prisoners who did not want repatriation to neutral protecting powers.

On April 27, 1953, the USA offered a reward of 100,000  US dollars (then 420,000  DM , today's purchasing power around 1,100,000  euros ) for the first pilot in a communist country who would flee to the American troops in a MiG-15 . American engineers were interested in the technology of this aircraft. The offer was advertised through leaflets that were dropped on North Korea. On September 21, 1953, No Kum-sok , a North Korean Air Force pilot, actually fled to South Korea in a MiG-15. He claimed not to have known about the reward, but was given it anyway. He later worked as an aerospace engineer in the USA.

The brief relaxation phase initiated by the Soviet leadership after Stalin's death had a positive effect on the tough negotiations.


After further loss-making fights, the UN and North Korea concluded a ceasefire agreement in Panmunjeom on July 27, 1953 . It essentially confirmed the 38th parallel as the border between North and South Korea and established a four-kilometer-wide demilitarized zone along the border, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

The Armistice Commission ( Military Armistice Commission , MAC) is responsible for the implementation of the ceasefire agreements and manages the DMZ. The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) supports the ceasefire agreement with monitoring, observation, inspections and investigations. In particular, it ensures that no further foreign troops and military equipment are imported into Korea. The Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission was responsible for repatriating the prisoners. The neutral states mentioned in the name of the Commission are Sweden and Switzerland for South Korea, Poland and Czechoslovakia for North Korea. Their soldiers were stationed on the appropriate side of the border. After the fall of the Iron Curtain , the Poles and Czechs were withdrawn in 1993 at the instigation of North Korea. To date, five Swiss and five Swedish soldiers each are stationed in Panmunjeom for the NNSC , Poland only occasionally takes part in meetings - now also in South Korea.

War victims and massacres

Chinese Army Soldier (1951)

Casualty numbers

No concrete figures are available on Korean and Chinese losses. It is estimated that more than four million people died in the Korean War - South Korea lost about one million people (soldiers and civilians), North Korea 2.5 million, and China one million. Around 40,000 UN soldiers (including 36,914 US Americans), 500,000 Korean and 400,000 Chinese soldiers (according to official Chinese figures: 183,108 Chinese soldiers and officers) died in combat operations.

Damage from bombs

450,000 tons of bombs were dropped mainly by the US Air Force , 32,357 tons of napalm were used. This was partly more devastating than in the Vietnam War , because North Korea had more metropolitan areas with greater population density and more industry than later in Vietnam.

According to the historian Conrad Crane , at the beginning of the armistice negotiations, in addition to the large infrastructure such as dams, 18 of the 22 largest North Korean cities were at least half razed to the ground. General William Dean, who had been a North Korean prisoner of war after the Battle of Daejeon from July 1950 , later remembered most North Korean towns and villages as "ruins or snow-covered, empty spaces"; almost everyone who met him lost relatives in the bombing war.

War crimes

Mass execution of alleged communists in Taejon , July 1950, photographed by US officers

The numerous dead did not always fall victim to regular acts of war. War crimes were committed by both sides . The South Koreans, under US command, waged a ruthless struggle against anything that could in any way be associated with communism . The North Korean armed forces, their Chinese allies and various paramilitary communist groups operating across the country, for their part, did not shy away from killing refugees and opponents of the regime and practiced scorched earth policies in many places .

Massacre in Korea (Massacre en Corée)
Pablo Picasso , 1951
Oil on plywood
110 × 210 cm
Picasso Museum, Paris

Link to the picture
(please note copyrights )

The number of civilian victims, often innocent, in the massacres in South Korea was particularly high due to the anti-communist hysteria. There are documented reports of many mass executions in which members of the Communist Party and groups allegedly pro-Communist were killed. At the same time, countless civilians - sometimes their families with children and the elderly - were killed by US troops because they had allegedly worked with communist North Korea. According to official American documents, the number of people killed amounts to around 300,000. Many people only joined the communists out of necessity - they distributed food to all new members and activists in order to attract supporters. The survival of the families depended on this help, especially in the largely destroyed areas with frequently changing "occupiers".

A documented war crime committed by the US Army on July 26, 1950 was the Nogeun-ri massacre . American soldiers had buried themselves there in anticipation of the North Korean army. However, before the communist fighters reached the village, a stream of refugees fleeing the fighting poured over the town. The US soldiers, who also feared infiltrating guerrillas among the refugees, opened fire and killed around 400 civilians. Until 2001, the US government denied any war crime allegation.

Since 2005, the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission has tried to come to terms with the massacres by the South Korean rulers . With a budget of US $ 19 million, the commission presented its final report in 2010 on the massacres they found. In an interim report in 2008, she found serious crimes and human rights violations against civilians.

Fate of the prisoners

The prisoners of war that the USA made were initially housed in the Koje prisoner-of-war camp, which at its peak had 170,000 inmates. Shortly before the end of the war, the South Korean head of state Rhee Syng-man let his troops release 26,000 prisoners of war as civilians who had refused to return to the People's Republic without the knowledge of his allies. The North Korean prisoners who refused to return mostly started a new life in South Korea, while many Chinese moved to Taiwan.


After the war ended, the reunification of Korea remained on the international political agenda. The recognition of North Korea under international law or a peace treaty were not up for debate for the USA and its allies, because the USA had already recognized South Korea as the only legitimate government of Korea in 1949. On October 27, 1953, the United States signed a pact of assistance with South Korea. Even at the Geneva Foreign Ministers Conference in April 1954 , the reunification of Korea could not be achieved. The Korean War and the UN resolution passed in June 1950 led to a radical change in US foreign policy in Asia. President Truman revised his policy of non-interference with Taiwan. Due to this new commitment by the USA, neither Mao Tse-tung nor any of his successors have been able to conquer Taiwan.

North Korea was badly devastated during the war. The numerous bombings not only destroyed a large part of the country, but also caused enormous losses in the population. After the war, the country was completely devastated and heavily in debt. This led to an even greater dependence on Moscow and Beijing. The country was in need of enormous financial and material support. Chinese troops stayed in the country until 1957 and until then narrowed Kim Il-sung's political leeway.

The Panmunjeom border crossing from the perspective of South Korea

Nevertheless, the communist leadership has been able to maintain its power to this day despite, or perhaps because of, increasing economic problems. Although this part of the country was in a better starting position than the south, it is now an impoverished developing country in which a large part of the population is permanently undernourished. The economy is clearly geared towards the military. In terms of gross domestic product, North Korea is by far the country with the highest military spending worldwide .

The leadership of South Korea , which was becoming increasingly undemocratic, barely got the country's problems under control. Shortly after the South Koreans Syngman Rhee had driven from the presidential seat, staged a coup under Park Chung-hee military to power. Although there were serious human rights violations during this period, the military dictatorship managed to give the economy a strong boost. In 1990 the constitution was finally changed in favor of democracy. Today, South Korea is a stable and democratic country by Western standards, and in 2017 it ranked 11th worldwide in terms of gross domestic product .

The Korean War consolidated the country's division for decades. In 2013, over a million soldiers faced each other in the demilitarized zone . On October 4, 2007, the South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il decided at a historic summit to initiate a peace process. In the declaration, both heads of state called for peace, prosperity and closer economic cooperation on the Korean peninsula. Since the new ruler of North Korea Kim Jong-un took office in December 2011, the relationship between the two neighboring countries has noticeably deteriorated, which culminated in the North Korea crisis in 2013 .

The Korean War was also to have consequences for the allies China and the Soviet Union . Through agreements between the two countries, a comprehensive transfer of knowledge took place during the war on building an arms industry in China. Documents that are now accessible in Moscow provide information on extensive armaments projects to build a militarily strong China. In fact, China had completely taken over the Korean War as early as the winter of 1950. Korea was used as a pledge for the demand for its own Chinese arms industry. This circumstance should strain the diplomatic relationship between Mao Tse-tung and Kim Il-sung.

The development of the Chinese armaments industry with the help of the Soviet Union later gave Mao Tse-tung the opportunity to appear independently and openly question Moscow's claim to leadership within the communist camp. This created several tensions between the two countries.

In Europe, the Korean War had an impact just a few weeks after the start of the war: The fear of a similar attack by the Soviet Army and the GDR led to the decision to set up a Western European army with the participation of troops from the Federal Republic of Germany .

Contribution of Germany

In June 2018, the Federal Republic of Germany was officially recognized as a Medical Support Nation by the Republic of Korea during commemorative events marking the 68th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. This happened even though the German contribution, a field hospital of the Bavarian Red Cross with around 80 doctors and medical staff, did not officially start operating until May 17, 1954. Up until the closure of the DRK field hospital on March 31, 1959, around 6,000 children had been delivered in the field hospital with 250 beds and around 16,000 operations were carried out, around 21,500 inpatients and around 230,000 outpatients were treated.

In April 1953, Chancellor Adenauer made his first visit to the USA. His appearances, u. a. at official ceremonies were interpreted as a symbol of Germany's return to the family of nations. The still young Federal Republic wanted to meet the expectations of US President Eisenhower to support the UN troops in the Korean War - also as thanks for the help in the reconstruction of West Germany. Since the Bundeswehr was not set up until 1956, and because the war-weary population would have refused to participate in the military, an agreement was reached on a humanitarian mission. Chancellor Adenauer announced the dispatch of a mobile hospital train at a press conference in Washington . After examining this, the German Red Cross took on this task and began shipping material to distant South Korea as early as the summer of 1953 . Most of the material was on its way in late 1953. Since July 27th of the same year, the Korean peninsula had been in a ceasefire.

In 2015, the Korean embassy in Berlin tried to establish contact with former doctors and nurses at the field hospital in Busan . The embassy also organized an exhibition with the German Red Cross from November 25 to 30, 2016 in the Korean cultural center in Berlin with the title “Thanks after 62 years - German humanitarian aid in Korea”. Korean President Moon Jae-in , who took part in the G20 summit in Germany in July 2017, met with the former DRK aid workers and their relatives during this visit. He thanked them for the services they had provided and invited them to visit the Korean port city of Busan, which they accepted in November 2017. Some of them were subsequently awarded for their commitment.

Under the leadership of the Military History Institute in the Ministry of National Defense of the Republic of Korea , together with the German journalist and book author Stefan Schomann, the German mission in 2018 was historically reviewed. On October 8, 2019 , the flag of the Federal Republic of Germany was hoisted for the first time at the world's only United Nations memorial cemetery in Busan, as a special external sign.

Cultural reception

Pablo Picasso created the painting Massacre in Korea in 1951 , it was his second anti-war painting after Guernica (1937) about the Spanish Civil War .

Numerous feature films use the Korean War as a backdrop for their plot (see list of war films # Korean War (1950–1953) ).


  • John Magio (Director): The Eternal Korean War . (Original title: Korea: The Never-Ending War , PBS , 2019, narrated by John Cho )
  • Pierre-Olivier François (Director): Korea, the Hundred Years War . Arte, 2019 (two-part documentation)
  • Korea - The Forgotten War , ZDFInfo, July 2020 (three-part documentary, 132 mins in total)


Web links

Wiktionary: Korean War  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Korean War  album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Rolf Steininger: The forgotten war , Olzog, Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-7892-8175-4 .
  2. The Forgotten War. Deutsche Welle, June 25, 2010, accessed December 18, 2012 .
  3. Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger from June 22, 2010: The Chronology of the Korean War. Retrieved October 12, 2016 .
  4. ^ Theo Sommer : Assault at dawn. In: Die Zeit , issue 26/2000, accessed on October 24, 2010.
  5. ^ Diego F. Zampini: Red aces over North Korea. Fliegerrevue Extra No. 22 September 2008.
  6. Rainer Blasius : Stalin's undeclared war. The United States and the divided Korea 1950 to 1953 , FAZ from July 18, 2006, p. 7.
  7. ^ John Spanier: American Foreign Policy Since WWII. New York 1966, p. 108 f.
  8. ^ Korean War Armistice Agreement: July 27, 1953. In: FindLaw. Thomson Reuters, March 5, 2014, accessed August 10, 2018 .
  9. Armistice Agreement, Article 1 Paragraphs 4-9
  10. Armistice Agreement, Article 2 para. 13 (c – d)
  11. Armistice Agreement, Article 2 para. 13 (j), Article 3 para. 51 (b)
  12. ^ Peacebuilding missions abroad: NNSC (Korea) factsheet of the Swiss Confederation
  13. In the middle of the Korean conflict - five Swiss in no man's land . In: Swiss Radio and Television (SRF) . April 24, 2018 ( srf.ch [accessed August 10, 2018]).
  14. Numbers from Steininger, The Forgotten War , Munich 2006, quoted in Blasius: Stalins unexplained War , FAZ from July 18, 2006, p. 7.
  15. 180,000 Chinese volunteers died in Korean War ( October 30, 2010 memento in the Internet Archive ), Xinhua / China Daily , October 27, 2010.
  16. North Korean Democide: Sources, Calculations and Estimates. Rudolph Joseph Rummel , accessed on February 11, 2010 (English, overview table with various estimates, data from the American Joint Chiefs of Staff and the South Korean Ministry of Defense were preferred ).
  17. ^ Jörg Friedrich : Yalu. On the banks of the third world war . Propylaen Verlag, Munich 10/2007, ISBN 978-3-549-07338-4 .
  18. "Children 'Executed' in 1950 South Korean Killings: ROK and US responsibility" by Charles J. Hanley, Jae-Soon Chang, in The Asia-Pacific Journal , Vol 49-5-08, December 7, 2008 January 2014 (English).
  19. ^ "The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea: Uncovering the Hidden Korean War" ( November 1, 2013 memento in the Internet Archive ) by Kim Dong-choon, in Truth and Reconciliation Commission , March 5, 2010. Retrieved January 3, 2014 (English).
  20. Axel Frohn: US war crimes in Korea: "We just killed them" , Spiegel Online from July 25, 2006.
  21. Das Erste / WDR / rbb (March 29, 2007): The Massacre of No Gun Ri ( Memento of November 6, 2008 in the Internet Archive ).
  22. ^ "Seoul probes civilian 'massacres' by US" ( Memento from August 29, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) by Hanley, Charles J .; Jae-Soon Chang, on Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Republic of Korea, April 4, 2008, Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  23. ^ John Spanier: American Foreign Policy Since World War II , New York 1966, p. 108.
  24. Christoph Neidhart : A New Chapter for Korea In: Süddeutsche Zeitung , December 17, 2008.
  25. Jung Chang, Jon Halliday: Mao .
  26. ycm@yna.co.kr: Germany recognized as participating nation in Korean War. In: Yonhap News Agency. June 22, 2018, accessed May 1, 2020 .
  27. 정충신: This year's 6/25 Memorial Ceremony, UN Forces Participating Countries 21 → 22 Officially Formed, Textbooks Revised. In: Munhwa.com. May 10, 2018, accessed May 1, 2020 (Korean).
  28. Help in difficult times. German Red Cross, accessed on May 1, 2020 (German).
  29. Various: DRK Thematic Journal Busan. German Red Cross, December 2018, accessed on May 1, 2020 (German).
  30. A.-DS, TL: Case study: Adenauer's trip to the USA in 1953. German Online Museum for Public Relations, accessed on May 1, 2020 (German).
  31. ^ Photo exhibition: Thanks after 62 years - German humanitarian aid in Korea. In: Embassy homepage messages. Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the Federal Republic of Germany, November 11, 2016, accessed on May 1, 2020 (German).
  32. ^ Song Si-yeon: Korean sounds with a Berlin color. Korean Cultural Center, February 9, 2017, accessed on May 1, 2020 (German).
  33. Min Yea-Ji and Kim Young Shin: Korea's reconstruction after the war is truly amazing. In: KOREA.net. November 12, 2017, accessed May 1, 2020 .
  34. Franziska Rieger: Herzogenauracher honored for his humanitarian work in South Korea. In: inFranken.de. May 17, 2018, accessed on May 1, 2020 (German).
  35. ^ Stefan Schomann. In: Portrait. Korean War Legacy Foundation, accessed May 1, 2020 .
  36. Interview with Stefan Schomann. In: YouTube. KWLF, March 11, 2019, accessed on May 1, 2020 .
  37. SiteAdmin: German flag raising ceremony. UN Memorial Cemetery Korea, October 8, 2019, accessed May 1, 2020 .
  38. 독일 기 게 양식. In: UNMCK - YouTube channel. UNMCK, October 8, 2019, accessed May 1, 2020 (Korean, English).
  39. Jane Levere: New Documentary On Korean War And Its Aftermath Debuting On PBS . Forbes, April 29, 2019