How the invasion of Incheon helped turn the tide during the Korean War

  • In September 1950, three months after the North Korean invasion, South Korean troops and their allies held only one corner of the peninsula.
  • General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the UN forces in Korea, knew the pressure had to be released.
  • MacArthur devised a daring plan to land thousands of troops in Incheon, 150 miles behind enemy lines.

On the morning of September 15, 1950, as U.S. and Royal Navy warships fired at targets ashore, U.S. Marines boarded a landing craft and attacked Wolmido, a small fortified island in the mouth of Incheon harbor.

The North Korean invasion three months earlier had devastated the South Korean army, pushing it into a last stronghold in the southeast corner of the peninsula.

The Marines disembarking at the port of Incheon were part of a 40,000-strong landing force with one main objective: to liberate the city and open a second front.

It was the largest amphibious invasion since D-Day, and like this operation, it would change the course of the war. Nothing less than the fate of South Korea was at stake.

Pusan ​​perimeter

American soldiers fighting on the Pusan ​​perimeter during the Korean War

American soldiers fire at North Korean positions along the Pusan ​​perimeter on September 4, 1950.

The American army

The situation in South Korea in September 1950 was perilous. The North Korean offensive launched on June 25 was too strong for the South Korean military to fight on its own, and Seoul was captured in just three days.

On June 27, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 83, which condemned the North Korean action as a “violation of the peace” and called on the world to help South Korea. Resolution 84, adopted on July 7, designated the United States as the chief of military operations to save South Korea.

Ultimately, 21 countries contributed to the U.S.-led effort. It was the first hot conflict of the Cold War.

The first American soldiers arrived in early July, but due to shortages of equipment and supplies resulting from the downsizing of the United States Army after World War II, they were unable to reverse Korea’s gains from North.

In August, Communist forces held a 100-by-50-mile area around the port city of Busan, known as the “Pusan ​​Perimeter,” where UN and South Korean forces desperately pushed back. repeated attacks by the KPA.

“I’m going to crush them”

General Douglas MacArthur during the invasion of Incheon

MacArthur and other officers observe the bombing of Incheon from the USS Mount McKinley on September 15, 1950.

The American army

General Douglas MacArthur, the famous American general in charge of the UN forces in Korea, knew that the pressure had to be removed from the Pusan ​​perimeter.

He devised a daring plan for an amphibious operation to land thousands of troops in Incheon, 150 miles behind enemy lines.

Incheon was on the other side of the peninsula and only 20 miles from Seoul, which meant UN forces could disembark, liberate the capital, and launch a pincer attack that would surround the APK on both sides.

It wouldn’t be easy. The Incheon tide fell as much as 36 feet twice a day, exposing completely impassable mudflats for 12 hours. In addition, the city had dikes as high as 12 feet in some places, and the KPA had turned Wolmido into a fortress.

Troops attacking in the morning waves would have to wait 12 hours for reinforcements, and those arriving in the evening would only have 30 minutes of daylight to secure their targets.

“We made a list of all natural and geographic disabilities – and Inchon had them all,” a staff officer later wrote.

“Make a list of amphibious’ don’ts, and you have an exact description of Operation Inchon,” another officer recalled.

MacArthur was not discouraged. He knew that such an operation would be “kind of a jumble”, but thought it would be the kind of surprise that could win the war.

“We must act now or we will die,” he told his staff at a planning conference. “We will land at Inchon, and I will crush them.

Operation Chromite

US Marines land in Inchon

First Lt. Baldomero Lopez leads the Marines over the sea wall during the second wave of assault on Incheon on September 15, 1950.

United States Marine Corps

MacArthur’s plan, dubbed “Operation Chromite,” was approved and affected a massive force of 40,000 men and 230 ships.

UN planes and warships bombed and bombed towns, bridges and railroads across Korea in the weeks leading up to the battle, hoping to distract the APK from the real target.

Air attacks on Incheon began on September 10. On September 13, two days of naval bombardment began, with special attention to Wolmido, the first target to be captured. Despite the intensity of the bombardment, three destroyers were damaged by return fire from coastal artillery.

On September 15, the first landing craft arrived in Wolmido. With the support of 10 tanks, the Marines were able to quickly take the island with only 17 casualties.

They waited 12 hours before the arrival of the second wave, which landed Marines on the beaches north and south of Incheon. As the Marines entered the city, they were constantly supported by fire from cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers.

The Marines successfully secured the port on September 16. There were a few pockets of strong resistance during the initial landings, but mostly light resistance in the city itself. US troops quickly moved to the surrounding hills, taking Kimpo Airfield on September 18 and turning it into an air base.

The KPA was completely surprised and the diversionary tactics added to the confusion. The APK sent tanks to slow the Americans down, but they were not up to the UN forces. By September 19, Incheon was safe.

Three more years

Marines fighting in Seoul during the Korean War

US Marines engaged in street fighting during the liberation of Seoul in September 1950.

Command of Naval History and Heritage

Operation Chromite was a huge success. Once Incheon was released, UN forces headed for Seoul. It was recaptured within two weeks of landing, despite desperate resistance from the KPA.

The invasion of Incheon and the liberation of Seoul claimed some 3,500 lives for UN forces. The victims of the APK, meanwhile, were estimated at around 14,000 dead and 7,000 captured.

The KPA was overwhelmed and soon forced into a complete retreat. On September 23, UN forces in Pusan ​​began pushing north to join troops from Incheon and Seoul.

Allied air power, operating from Kimpo, other airfields in South Korea and Japan, as well as from nearby aircraft carriers, continued to attack KPA positions virtually unchallenged.

By the end of September, the remnants of the KPA had withdrawn to the 38th parallel. It was an astonishing reversal, but the war was far from over.

MacArthur, supported by his victory and determined to drive the Communists out of Korea, was allowed to advance north of the 38th parallel.

Worried about the loss of an ally, the Soviets and the Chinese increased their support. The Chinese officially joined the war in October, and Soviet fighter pilots began engaging UN planes in November.

There would be another three years of bloodshed before the war ended in a stalemate that persists to this day.


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