In early 1950, the Soviet Union refused to seat a delegate on the U.N. Security Council in protest over the fact that the Republic of China (Taiwan) had a permanent seat on the council but the People's Republic of China (PRC) did not.
Soviets veto resolution to defend South KoreaThe USSR had veto power on the council, a fact that would become vitally important in June of that year when North Korea invaded South Korea. With no Soviet delegate present, UN Security Council Resolution 84 received 7 "yes" votes with three nations abstaining. This vote gave international sanction for the defense of South Korea. But what if the Soviet delegate to the council had been present and had vetoed the resolution?
Today in 1950, U.S., British, Australian, and Canadian troops landed in North Korea at several points along the shoreline of Wonsan harbor. It was the largest amphibious operation since the Normandy invasion of June, 1944. Although North Korean units in the area fully expected a seaborne invasion, the size of the force wading ashore quickly overwhelmed any effort at defense. It was clear from that morning that there would be no holding back in the defense of South Korea.
A new story by Matt DattiloAfter the Soviet veto of UN Security Council Resolutions 84 and 85 in July, it became clear that if South Korea were to be saved, it would take a coalition of nations operating outside of UN auspices. U.S. President Harry Truman, unwilling to act without Congressional approval, initially ordered only military aid sent to the beleaguered South Korean military. By the third week of July, a North Korean victory seemed certain. By the first of August, the remains of the Republic's military was being loaded aboard ships at the port of Pusan, the last city in South Korean hands. Those fortunate enough to escape the country by sea set up a government-in-exile in Taiwan.
A plan to retake the Korean peninsula was already being finalized by the time the North Korean communists declared victory on August 8th, 1950. President Truman's State Department had been quietly negotiating with a small group of like-minded nations in an attempt to form a military coalition. General Douglas MacArthur, as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in the Pacific, would be the overall commander of all land and sea forces. MacArthur wanted to make a landing at Inchon, a port on the west coast of Korea close to Seoul. It boasted some of the world's farthest ranging tides and the invasion force would have to deal with scaling up a seawall while under attack by North Korean defenders. Regardless, Mac was confident that 40,000 men could be put ashore while the tide was in.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff thought differently. Their plan was to put 100,000 men ashore at Wonsan, located on the other side of the peninsula. From there, the force would push over the mountainous interior of North towards Pyongyang, cutting off the North Korean supply routes in the process. With winter closing in rapidly, communist forces in the south would soon find themselves in a desperate situation. At least that was the hope.
Before any overt military action could be taken, President Truman needed Congressional approval. On August 15th, 1950, he addressed a joint session of Congress and asked for a declaration of war against North Korea and "any other belligerent nation who shall commit forces in their aid". Truman's advisers had informed him that he was on solid legal ground if he chose to commit forces to the defense of South Korea without a Congressional declaration, reasoning that it was enough to just inform Congress of his actions and place a time limit on the troop commitment. Truman wanted no vague legalities; he told his Chief of Staff: "No half-measures here---if we're going to war, it will be decisive". The Congressional declaration was approved the next day.
And so it began. Truman addressed the nation, hoping to gain support for another war only five years after the end of the most destructive conflict in human history. Public response was lukewarm, but supportive. In the next few weeks, Army and Marine Corps reserve units were called to active duty. National Guard troops from nearly every state in the nation were federalized. Naval units from the Atlantic Fleet were rushed to service in the Pacific. Civilian transport ships were hired out, leased, or bought outright to carry everything the invasion force would need, from toothpaste to bazooka rounds.
At 5AM local time on October 26th, 1950, the liberation of Korea began when the guns of all four Iowa-class battleships and 20 heavy cruisers opened up on targets in and around Wonsan Harbor. Carrier-based fighter-bombers, Air Force B-29s, B-50s and B-36s targeted anything of military value inland. The US Marine Corps First Division, US Army Seventh Division and four British Royal Armored Regiments spearheaded the landings and met eager but weak resistance. By the end of the day on October 27th, 108,000 troops were ashore and pushing west.
By the end of 1950, North Korean troops trapped south of the pre-war border were surrendering in brigade-sized groups. Isolated pockets of fanatics would fight on into early 1951, but the North Korean army had ceased to exist as a cohesive force. Coalition forces pushed to within 20 miles of the Yalu River, which marks the border between North Korea and China. A feared Chinese intervention on the side of the North never materialized. Years later, it would be learned that the overwhelming force presented by the Coalition forces at Wonsan and during the push across the peninsula convinced the leadership in Beijing that sending troops to fight in Korea would not change the course of events.
There was a real fear in Washington that the Soviet Union might become directly involved in the fighting. But Josef Stalin had no interest in Korea and when Coalition spokesmen publicly floated the idea of a 10-mile wide demilitarized zone between Korea and China, Moscow encouraged Beijing to accept the deal and wait for other opportunities. The re-unified nation of Korea had many hard years ahead both politically and financially. But within 25 years it would be a thriving democracy and an economic powerhouse in the Pacific Rim.