- Murray, D.S., Rear Admiral
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- RAN Ships
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- June 1976 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Rear Admiral D. S. Murray is Deputy Chief of Naval Staff. He served as ADO in HMAS Sydney during the Korean conflict and was Mentioned in Despatches. His commands in the Royal Australian Navy have included HMA Ships Condamine, Queenborough, Parramatta, Supply and Sydney. This article was originally presented as an address to the Victorian Chapter of The Naval Historical Society of Australia.
AT THE POTSDAM CONFERENCE on 26th July 1944 the US, UK, and China pledged that Korea, which had been under Japanese domination for 35 years, would become a free and independent country. When Russia entered the war against Japan in July 1945, she stated she would be loyal to the Allied Declaration of 26th July.
As a matter of convenience for the surrender of the Japanese forces in Korea, the Allies agreed that those forces north of the 38th parallel would surrender to the Soviet Forces Commander, and those south, to General Macarthur – the 38th parallel was therefore merely a fortuitous line brought about by the exigencies of the war. Russia quickly hung up a ‘No Trespass’ sign on the 38th parallel and prohibited passage across without the express permission of the Soviet Military Commander.
The US and the United Nations tried to initiate free elections for an elected government for all of Korea but the Soviet would have no bar of it. Arrangements were then made in South Korea for free elections, which were duly held on 10th May 1948, and The Republic of Korea was established on 19th August 1948. Russia would not recognise The Republic of Korea and, determined not to be outdone, established on 8th September 1948 The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea and claimed jurisdiction over the entire country.
North Korea, as the area north of the 38th parallel became known, then took diplomatic initiative and requested the withdrawal of the United States and Russian troops from Korea. The United States was agreeable, and by 1st July 1949 all American troops had been withdrawn from South Korea. North Korea then stepped up guerrilla activity along the area of the 38th parallel. The North Korean Peoples Army with its Russian and Chinese advisers was put into hard training for an invasion. Even though the United States had this intelligence it did not consider that war was imminent and was quite surprised when the North Korean bombardment began at 0400 on 25th June 1950, and North Korea pushed across the 38th parallel.
It would seem that the Korean War began because the United States had not made it clear to Russia – who at that time completely dominated Red China – that it would defend South Korea. In fact on 12th June 1950 the United States had declared through their Secretary of State (Dean Acheson) that their defensive perimeter in the Far East ran along the Aleutians to Japan through the Ryukus and thence to the Philippines – a line that did not include either South Korea or Formosa.
The War – Main Events.
The initial attack was made by about 7 divisions of infantry supported by approximately one hundred Russian-made T34 and T70 tanks and ample heavy artillery – a total of about 100,000 men. At the same time two amphibious landings involving 10,000 men were made at Kangnung and Samchok. On 26th June the North Koreans entered Seoul, the capital of South Korea. South Korean resistance was proving to be very weak.
General Macarthur, Commander-In-Chief, United States Forces, Far East, in Tokyo, was authorised by the American Government on 26th June to take action using United States Navy and Air Forces to attack all North Korean military targets south of the 38th parallel in order to clear South Korea of North Korean military forces. Both General Macarthur and Vice Admiral Turner Joy (the US Navy Commander in the Far East), while both welcoming the United States stand, said they were quite surprised – it seemed a complete reversal of US policy and what was more, they had no plans to put into effect.
The United Nations Security Council met on 26th June and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of North Korean forces. The following day, the 27th, the Security Council recommended that all members of the United Nations furnish such assistance to The Republic of Korea – from now on called South Korea – as may be necessary to repel the armed attack. On 28th June, in a signal from, presumably, the Naval Board, Vice Admiral Joy was told ‘Her Majesty’s Australian Ships in Japan are placed unreservedly at your disposal as you may wish’. Similarly the British Commander In Chief, Far East Station, Admiral Sir Patrick Brind, and New Zealand offered their ships and placed them under US command.
On 1st July 1950 – exactly a week after the invasion started – Task Force 77, a combined US and British Force of 2 carriers, 2 cruisers and 10 destroyers sortied from Japan to the west coast of Korea. General Macarthur was given the authorisation to extend military operations into North Korea against purely military targets – and at dawn on the 3rd July aircraft from Task Force 77 attacked the Haeju and Pyong Yang airfields and close-by bridges and railways. As usual, the Navy was first to move.
During these attacks in July 1950, naval aircraft virtually wiped out the North Korean Air Force of 33 Yak Fighters and 21 IL type attack bombers; all but 2 of the 38 aircraft claimed destroyed were hit on the ground. The North Korean Air Force never built up again during the war and it has been said that after seeing the US Navy jets the Russians and Chinese realised there would be little advantage in providing North Korea with obsolete propeller-driven aircraft.
Whilst it is inappropriate to get into too much detail on the ground war it is, as in most wars, most relevant, particularly if support from the sea can be brought to bear on the ground at the right place and at the right time. Korea is a peninsula whose coastline was generally within range of naval guns and whose hinterland was within reach of naval aircraft operating from carriers in the Yellow Sea or Sea of Japan.
The next significant move by the Navy was to land United States troops at Pohang on 18th July. The North Koreans had captured Seoul on 28th June; there were no US Army fighting units in South Korea until 7th July when 700 men of the US 24th Division from Japan were flown in. As the North Korean Army continued its relentless way south, South Korean and US troops took up a defensive line just south of Tjeon and by 14th July they were under heavy pressure from 4 divisions of North Korean troops – the few US tanks available were no match for the Soviet T34s and the American bazookas were quite ineffective against the T34’s armour. In the battle for Tjeon on 14th-15th July the North Koreans showed they were very well trained as they carried out a four pronged night attack – frontal, enveloping both flanks from the rear and passing infiltrators through the US and South Korean lines disguised as refugees. After this battle the South Korean Army was in a state of collapse and according to American sources, only the courage and skill of the US 24th Division, supplemented by the arrival on 16th July of elements of the US 25th Division, which was being shuttled across from Kyushu to Pusan, prevented the North Koreans from pushing through to Pusan and throwing the US and South Koreans right out of Korea.
Almost in desperation, a landing force was got together at Yokosuka. The landing force, consisting of 2 passenger ships and 6 LSTs (ex-Japanese), sailed on 15th July for Pohang, where it arrived early on 18th July under cover of units of the 7th Fleet. By midnight on the 18th, 10,000 troops, 2,000 vehicles and 3,000 tons of cargo had been unloaded. 48 hours later the 1st Cavalry Division was ashore and preparing to move north towards the enemy.Even after the first real stabilising move it was touch and go in the battle for Pusan.
There were many emergency calls to Task Force 77 for close air support – sometimes from the Army, sometimes from the Air Force. In all, the US Navy flew some 2,500 close support missions during the 2 months siege of Pusan.
There is no doubt that without the US Navy and Marines the bridgehead in South Korea would have been lost. The rescue of the 3rd ROK Division at Yanghae, the Navy’s air strikes and close air support, the three successful counter attacks by the 1st Marine Division and the seaborne logistic link connecting Korea to Japan and the United States were of decisive importance.