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The Communist Challenge

The North Korean Army invaded South Korea at four o'clock in the morning of 25 June 1950-three o'clock in the afternoon of 24 June 1950, in Washington, D.C. (Map I) Striking without warning in the pre-dawn dusk, communist units gained complete tactical surprise as they burst across the 38th Parallel swiftly and in strength. Coordinated columns of Russian-made tanks and Russian-trained infantry followed massed artillery fires and rolled back the South Korean defenders, engulfing and destroying whole units as they moved toward their objectives in a well-conceived and carefully prepared military operation. North Korean planes, giving tactical support, were virtually unchallenged. [1]

News of the invasion reached Seoul within an hour, before 0500. American officers there were alerted by 0630 and began to arrive half an hour later at their duty posts. Belief that the attack was nothing more than a border raid soon faded. By 0800, it was obvious that many North Korean troops were involved at many separate points. The use of armor and the major orientation on the approaches to Seoul were ominous. ROK defenders at Ch'unch'on in central Korea threw back the first attacks; but on the east coast, near Kangnung, an enemy amphibious landing was unopposed.

[1] (1) Unless otherwise cited all material in this chapter dealing with events in Korea comes from the following sources: Daily Opns Rpts, G-3, GHQ, FEC, Jun. 50; DIS, G-2, GHQ, FEC, Jun. 50; Interv, Dr. Gordon Prange with Lt. Col. A. J. Storey, Oct. 50; Interv, Maj. James F. Schnabel with Lt. Col. Leonard Abbot, Oct. 50; Interv, Maj. Schnabel with Capt. Frederick Schwarze, former ACofS G-2, KMAG, 17 Nov. 53. (2) The international communist bloc later charged that the South Korean Army had invaded North Korea, thus triggering a North Korean counterattack. Two documents captured following the fall of North Korea have been authenticated as official attack orders issued by North Korean military authorities to their commanders several days before the assault. Both documents, Reconnaissance Order No. 1, issued in Russian to the Chief of Staff of the North Korean 4th Division and discovered in Seoul on 4 October 195O, and Operations Order No. 4, North Korean 4th Division, were issued on 22 June 1950. See ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 2 (Documentary Evidence of North Korean Aggression), Part 2.

The Intelligence Failure

Agencies of the United States Government failed to forecast adequately the North Korean attack. No report sufficiently valid or urgent reached Washington officials before 25 June 1950 indicating that the attack would come when it did. Some information sent to Washington from the Far East reflected a strong possibility of action toward the end of June, but faulty evaluation and dissemination prevented it from reaching the right people in the proper form. The invasion therefore took all the American political and military leaders by surprise.

The reasons for this intelligence failure are easy to understand. The United States had written Korea out of its national defense plans, and as a result indications from Korea received less attention than those from areas considered more vital to American interests. There was nevertheless an intelligence effort in Korea. KMAG officers worked closely with their ROK Army counterparts in assembling data on North Korean activities. They sent this information to Washington periodically and on occasion made special reports. Other agencies and units in the Far East reported to appropriate officials in Washington. [2] KMAG, not General MacArthur, had the responsibility of securing intelligence data on Korea. When General Collins visited Tokyo in early 1950, he asked whether MacArthur could furnish the JCS information on some areas beyond his sphere of responsibility. MacArthur answered that he had promptly furnished such reports whenever specific items had been developed but that he was reluctant to submit unsupported estimates. If the JCS wanted to give him new intelligence responsibilities, he said he would be glad to have them. He was confident that he had enough personnel to handle them. [3]

Maj. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby, the FEC G-2, had on his own initiative already established a surveillance detachment in Korea called the Korean Liaison Office. In addition, according to General Willoughby, "The Embassy in Seoul maintained military attache groups-Army, Navy, and Air, as well as their own diplomatic and political specialists whose sole business was to gauge the trend of events." [4]

[2] Sawyer, Military Advisors in Korea, pp. 37ff.

[3] Notes on Visit of JCS to FEC, 29 Jan-10 Feb., in G-3, DA file P & O 333 Pacific, sec. 1, Case 7/4.

[4] Maj. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby and John Chamberlain, MacArthur, 1941-1951 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1954), p. 354.

[5] MacArthur Hearings, pp. 123, 350, 436, 1832, 1990-91

Significant troop movements and concentrations, forward stockpiling of supplies, border evacuation, and North Korean Army reinforcement in men and materiel were some of the meaningful indications reported to Washington from the Far East before the June attack. But this information was poorly evaluated in the field and at higher echelons. Secretary of State Acheson later testified:

   Intelligence was available to the Department prior to the 25th of
   June, made available by the Far East Command, the CIA, the Department
   of the Army, and by the State Department representatives here and
   overseas, and shows that all these agencies were in agreement that
   the possibility for an attack on the Korean Republic existed at that
   time, but they were all in agreement that its launching in the summer
   of 1950 did not appear imminent. [5] 

Since October 1946, when General Hodge had first reported that the North Koreans intended to attack South Korea, dozens of such reports had poured into Tokyo and Washington. Upon the outbreak of border fighting, the reports gained credence. By late 1949, talk of a North Korean invasion was almost routine in intelligence circles. [6] By early 1950, there was a pattern of growing urgency. But it went undetected, or at least unheeded, against the more riotous background of threatening communist activities in other parts of the world-in Asia, western Europe, and the Middle East.

On 30 December 1949, General Willoughby sent to Washington several reports that indicated a North Korean invasion in March or April 1950. But his own personal evaluation was that "such an act is unlikely." On 19 February 1950, he passed on two agent reports, which he also discounted, one saying that the North Koreans would attack in March, the other in June. On 10 March, the Korean Liaison Office sent him an agent's report that the North Korean invasion schedule had been set back from March or April to June 1950. Late in March Willoughby said:

   It is believed that there will be no civil war in Korea this spring
   or summer.... South Korea is not expected to seriously consider
   warfare so long as her precipitating war entails probable
   discontinuance of United States aid. The most probable course of
   North Korean action this spring and summer is furtherance of attempts
   to overthrow South Korean government by creation of chaotic
   conditions in the Republic of Korea through guerrillas and 
   psychological warfare. [7] 

Intelligence in Washington was more concerned with what appeared to be the greater danger in Southeast Asia. Indochina seemed a much more likely target for a communist take-over. In March 1950, Maj. Gen. Alexander R. Bolling, the Department of the Army G-2, stated: "Recent reports of expansion of the North Korean People's Army and of major troop movements could be indicative of preparation for aggressive action." These preparations could be completed by late spring 1950. This forecast was, however, vitiated by the next comment. "Communist military measures in Korea will be held in abeyance pending the outcome of their program in other areas, particularly Southeast Asia. If checked or defeated there, the Soviet might divert effort toward South Korea. In that event, invasion by the People's Army would be probable." [8]

The Office of Special Investigations, USAF, told Headquarters, Far East Air Forces, in mid-April that Russia had definitely ordered an attack on South Korea by the North Korean People's Army. But in early May 1950 the American Embassy in Seoul reported little likelihood of a North Korean invasion in the near future. [9]

[6] The author, upon being assigned to G-2, GHQ, FEC, in November 1949, attended a briefing for newly arrived officers in the Dai Ichi Building in Tokyo. Discussing the military situation in the Far East at that time, the briefing officer, a major from the G-2 section, quite frankly stated that the feeling in G-2 was that the North Koreans would attack and conquer South Korea in the coming summer. The point was not emphasized particularly and the fact seemed to be accepted as regrettable but inevitable.

[7] DIS, GHQ, FEC, No. 2669, 30 Dec. 49; No. 2720, 19 Feb. 49; No. 2754, 25 Mar 50; No. 2900, 18 Aug. 50; and KLO No. 518, 25 May 50.

[8] Int Div., GSUSA, DA, Weekly Intelligence Rpt, 7 Mar 50.

[9] (1) OSI Rpt (49) 52-12A-4-1, 17 Apr. 50. (2) Rad, Seoul 456, Drumright to State, 4 May 50.

In May 1950, the Department of the Army G-2 said, "The movement of North Korean forces steadily southward toward the 38th parallel during the current period could indicate preparation for offensive action." On 23 May, in another routine summary, he stated, "The outbreak of hostilities may occur at any time in Korea and the fall of Indochina to the Communists is possible this year." [10]

A report forwarded routinely on 19 June 1950, six days before the North Korean assault, provided Washington with strong evidence of an imminent enemy offensive-extensive troop movements along the 38th Parallel; evacuation of all civilians north of the parallel for two kilometers; suspension of civilian freight service from Wonsan to Ch'orwon and the transportation of military supplies only; concentration of armored units in the border area; and the arrival of large shipments of weapons and ammunition. But no conclusions were drawn from these indications. [11] On the same day a report from General Willoughby in Tokyo concluded, "Apparently Soviet advisers believe that now is the opportune time to attempt to subjugate the South Korean Government by political means, especially since the guerrilla campaign in South Korea recently has met with serious reverses." [12]

The Department of the Army G-2 protested charges made later that he had failed to interpret properly the information sent to him from the Far East Command. "An analysis of reports received by G-2, DA," General Bolling told General Collins,

   shows that all reporting agencies were aware of [the North Korean] 
   capability to invade the Republic of Korea. There has been much 
   publicity originating from Tokyo and quoting Willoughby that he had 
   informed the Department of the Army that North Korean troops would 
   invade South Korea in June. The statements made by Willoughby are 
   correct in part, but he failed to indicate [in the publicity] his 
   conclusions that definitely discount the report referred to. In 
   short, there is no intelligence agency that reported a definite date 
   for the opening of hostilities or stated that an invasion was 
   imminent. In fact, the general tenor of reports indicated that the 
   North Korean regime would continue to employ guerrillas and 
   psychological warfare together with political pressure rather than 
   resort to the overt employment of military forces. [13] 

American intelligence failed to predict the time, strength, and actual launching of the attack because of reluctance to accept all the reports rendered by Koreans, a distrust of Oriental agents and sources, and a belief that the South Koreans were prone to cry wolf. Situations similar to that in Korea existed in virtually every other land area around the periphery of the USSR. Some appeared to be greater potential danger spots and diverted the focus of interest from Korea. Signs which marked the prelude of the North Korean attack had become accepted as routine communist activity. The increased troop movement and activity in North Korea in the spring of 1950 followed a pattern established by the communists in 1947 when they initiated an annual rotation of completely equipped units from the parallel.

[10] Memo, ACofS G-2, DA, for Gen. Wade H. Haislip, 24 Aug. so, in G-2, DA file SO 24366.

[11] Sec G-2, FEC, files, M.I.S., Item No. 684595, 19 Jul. 50.

[12] (1) DIS, GHQ, FEC, No. 2842, 19 Jun. 50. (2) General Willoughby later insisted that "Washington" had been fully informed of what to expect in Korea and should not have been taken by surprise. See Willoughby and Chamberlain, MacArthur, 1941-1951, pp. 350-54. See also Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), pp. 323-24.

[13] Memo, Gen. Bolling for DCofS for Admin., DA, 8 Oct. 50, in C-3, DA file CofS 091, Case 28.

The forwarding of reports in a routine manner detracted from the significance of the data in many cases. [14] In Congressional hearings immediately after the North Korean attack, Maj. Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer, director of the Office of Military Assistance, was subjected to sharp questioning about the failure of the Department of Defense to anticipate the attack. Telling the Secretary of Defense of this experience, General Lemnitzer stated:

   I believe that there are lessons to be learned from this situation
   which can point the way to better governmental operations and thus
   avoid costly mistakes in the future.... I recommend that ... a
   clear-cut interagency standing operating procedure be established now
   to insure that if (in the opinion of any intelligence agency,
   particularly CIA) an attack, or other noteworthy event, is impending
   it is made a matter of special handling, to insure that officials
   vitally concerned ... are promptly and personally informed thereof
   in order that appropriate measures may be taken. This will prevent a
   repetition of the Korean situation and will insure, if there has been
   vital intelligence data pointing to an imminent attack, that it will
   not be buried in a series of routine CIA intelligence reports. [15] 

In the final analysis, the controversy over the intelligence failure in Korea is academic. The United States had no plans to counter an invasion, even had it been forecast to the very day. The only planned reaction was to evacuate U.S. nationals from the country.

MacArthur's Reaction

GHQ learned of the attack six and one-half hours after the first North Korean troops crossed into South Korea. The telegram bearing the news from the Office of the Military Attache in Seoul reported:

   Fighting with great intensity started at 0400, 25 June on the Ongjin
   Peninsula, moving eastwardly taking six major points; city of Kaesong
   fell to North Koreans at 0900, ten tanks slightly north of Chunchon,
   landing twenty boats approximately one regiment strength on east
   coast reported cutting coastal road south of Kangnung; Comment: No
   evidence of panic among South Korean troops.

A message ninety minutes later gave confirmation. General MacArthur immediately informed Washington and, within a few hours, sent the first comprehensive situation report on the Korean fighting. [16]

As the news from Korea worsened later that first day, General MacArthur warned Washington officials, "Enemy effort serious in strength and strategic intent and is undisguised act of war subject to United Nations censure." But he hardly realized how strong it was. His situation report showed only three North Korean divisions along the entire border. [17]

[14] Interv, Maj. Schnabel with Capt. Schwarze, 17 Nov. 53.

[15] Memo, Lemnitzer for Secy. Defense, Jul. 50.

[16] (1) Rad, ARMA 21, USMILAT Seoul to DA, Infor CINCFE, 25 Jun. 50. (2) Rad, ARMA 22, USMILAT Seoul to DA, Info CINCFE, 25 Jun. 50. (3) Rad, C 56772, CINCFE to DA, 25 Jun. 50.

[17] Rad, C 56777, MacArthur (Personal) to Irvin, 25 Jun. 50.

American Ambassador to Korea Muccio conferred with President Rhee, who said that the ROK Army would be out of ammunition within ten days. Muccio quickly cabled MacArthur for replenishment. The Ambassador had already directed the acting chief of KMAG, Colonel Wright, to request an immediate shipment of ammunition for 105-mm. howitzers, 60-mm. mortars, and .30-caliber carbines. [18]

Before the day was out, General MacArthur ordered General Walker to load the MSTS Keathley, then in Yokohama Harbor, with 105,000 rounds of 105-mm. ammunition and 265,000 rounds of 81-mm. mortar, 89,000 rounds of 60-mm. mortar, and 2,480,000 rounds of .30-caliber carbine ammunition. He wanted the Keathley to reach Pusan no later than 1 July. He directed FEAF and COMNAVFE to protect the Keathley en route and during cargo discharge. In his information report to the Department of the Army, MacArthur said that he intended "to supply ROK all needed supplies as long as they show ability to use same." [19]

These actions MacArthur took independently. He received no authority from the JCS to supply the ROK until the following day, at 1330, 26 June.

The United States Responds

MacArthur's immediate reactions-to send supplies, these to be protected by air and naval escorts-were as far as he could go on his own authority. Certain basic decisions had to be made in Washington, and the key man was the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman. President Truman was at his home at Independence, Missouri, on the evening of 24 June when Secretary of State Dean Acheson telephoned him the news of the invasion. The President agreed with Acheson that the United Nations Security Council should be asked to convene at once in order to consider this threat to world peace.

Acheson called the President again the next morning, a Sunday, apprising him of the dangerous nature of the developing crisis. The President decided to leave for Washington without delay, and he asked the Secretary of State to meet with the service secretaries and the Joint Chiefs of Staff immediately to work out a plan for his consideration. [20]

[18] (1) Rad, USMILAT to CINCFE, sent about 1800, 25 Jun. 50. (2) Rad, USMILAT to CINCFE, sent about one hour later, 25 Jun. 50.

[19] (1) Rad, 252130, CINCFE to CG Eighth Army, 25 Jun. 50. (2) Rad, C 56775, CINCFE to DA, 25 Jun. 50.

[20] Truman, Memoirs, II, 331-43, gives a general background of Presidential action and considerations in the first few days of Korean fighting. (2) See also Acheson, Present at the Creation, pp. 402-13.

At 1400 that afternoon, responding to the call of the United States Government, the United Nations Security Council convened. The U.S.S.R. representative was absent, for he had begun a boycott of that body in January 195O because of the United Nations refusal to replace the Chinese Nationalist representative with a Chinese Communist. Ernest A. Gross, Deputy Representative of the United States, briefly outlined salient events in the establishment of the ROK and the continuing opposition of the communists toward unification of Korea, then denounced the unprovoked aggression. He submitted a resolution designed to bring about an immediate cessation of hostilities and a restoration of the 38th Parallel boundary by the withdrawal forthwith of North Korean armed forces to it, and calling upon "all members to render every assistance to the United Nations in the execution of this resolution and to refrain from giving assistance to the North Korean authorities." The Security Council adopted the resolution by a vote of nine to zero, with one abstention. Meanwhile, officials of the Departments of State and Defense had met in impromptu session on Sunday morning. Department of State representatives outlined a plan for supporting the ROK with munitions and equipment and with U. S. naval and air forces. [21]

Early on Sunday evening, shortly before the President arrived in Washington, the Joint Chiefs of Staff held a teletype conference with General MacArthur. They notified MacArthur of the tentative plans made by Defense and State officials to ship supplies and equipment, which MacArthur had already started, and to extend his responsibility to include operational control of all U. S. military activities in Korea. They said he might also be directed to commit certain forces, principally naval and air, to protect the Seoul-Kimp'o-Inch'on area to assure the safe evacuation of American nationals and to gain time for action on the measures then before the United Nations. Most significantly, they alerted him to be ready to send U. S. ground and naval forces to stabilize the combat situation and, if feasible, to restore the 38th Parallel as a boundary. This action, they said, might be necessary if the United Nations asked member nations to employ military force. [22]

No decision on Korea could properly be made without a careful analysis of USSR intentions. The United States believed Russia to be the real aggressor in Korea, in spirit if not in fact, and effective measures to halt the aggression might therefore provoke total war. Hence, a decision to meet force with force implied a willingness to fight a full-scale war with Russia if necessary. The determinant for Korea was, then, as always: "What will Russia do?" [23]

[21] (1) U. N. Doc. S/PV/473, 25, Jun. 50, Statement to the Security Council by the Deputy Representative of the U. S. to the U. N. (Gross) (2) U. N. Doc S/1501 (3) Rpt to Senate Committee on Armed Services and Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Record of Actions Taken by JCS Relative to the U. N. Operation in Korea From 25 June 1950 to 11 April 1951, 30 April 1951 (hereafter cited as JCS Rpt on Korea), pp. 5-6.

[22] Telecon, TT 3417, CINCFE and JCS, 2330Z, 25 Jun. 50.

[23] American determination to resist communist expansion is clearly reflected in President Truman's later thoughts. He feared that if South Korea was allowed to fall no other small nation would dare resist threats and aggression by their stronger Communist neighbors. Not to challenge this aggression would mean a third World War, just as similar failure to challenge aggression had led to World War II. He also saw clearly that the very foundations and principles of the United Nations were at stake. Truman, Memoirs, II, 332.

The possible reactions of nations other than Russia were also important. Each alternative open to the United States was accompanied by a strong chance of alienating nations upon whose continuing friendship and support American policy was based. Inaction would be condemned by some nations as a betrayal of the ROK Government. It would gravely impair American efforts to maintain prestige in Asia as well as in other areas, and would cause such nations as Great Britain, Italy, and Japan to re-examine the wisdom of supporting the United States. On the other hand, if the United States took unilateral military measures against the North Korean attackers, Russian charges of imperialistic action and defiance of the United Nations would appear valid to many nations. The effect would be to anger these nations and to render them more susceptible to Russian points of view.

The most sensible course seemed to be a co-operative effort among members of the United Nations to halt the aggression. But South Korea needed help at once; and the United Nations could hardly act swiftly enough. Furthermore, communist members of the United Nations could be expected to oppose joint action.

President Truman and his key advisers gathered at the Blair House in Washington on the evening of 25 June for an exchange of views. Five State Department members, the Secretaries of the military departments, the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chief of Staff were present. [24]

[24] (1) This group included all members of the National Security Council except the Vice President and the chairman of the National Security Resources Board. (2) Unless otherwise cited, material for this portion covering the background of governmental decisions was derived from the following sources: JCS Rpt on Korea; Albert L. Warner, "How the Korean Decision Was Made," Harper's, CCII (June 1951), 100-103: Beverly Smith, "Why We Went to War in Korea," Saturday Evening Post (November 11, 1951); MacArthur Hearings, pp. 931, 1049, 1475, 2579-81, 2584; and Truman, Memoirs, II, 332-36. See also Collins, War in Peacetime, pp. 13-14, and Acheson, Present at the Creation, pp. 404-07.

[25] The Secretary of Defense later recalled that the only really violent disagreement which ever arose between himself and the Secretary of State took place at this meeting over the issue of the relative importance to American security of Formosa and Korea. Johnson insisted that Formosa take first priority in the evening's considerations, while Acheson insisted that Korea should be the prime topic. President Truman settled the dispute in favor of Acheson. See MacArthur Hearings, p. 2580.

At this meeting, the policy-makers discussed the major problems facing the United States in the Far East. Foremost in their minds was a consideration of Soviet intentions and American capabilities. Louis A. Johnson, Secretary of Defense, believed strongly that Formosa was more vital to the security of the United States than Korea, and at his direction General Bradley, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, read a memorandum on Formosa prepared by General MacArthur. At the insistence of Secretary of State Acheson, questions of Formosa were postponed temporarily, and the attention of the group was redirected to Korea. [25] Acheson recommended that General MacArthur furnish supplies and ammunition to the ROK at once and that he be directed to evacuate U.S. nationals by any means required. When no one offered to comment on Acheson's proposals, Johnson asked each defense representative in turn for an expression of opinion. The responses came forth, and "A major portion of the evening was taken in the individual, unrehearsed, unprepared and uncoordinated statements of the several Chiefs and the Secretaries." [26]

Earlier that day General Collins, the Army Chief of Staff, had received from General MacArthur a comprehensive report on developing events in Korea, and he outlined this to the group. All members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff emphasized the weakness of the American forces in the Far East and the absence of a general plan for defending South Korea. Collins then suggested and the President approved that General MacArthur be authorized to send a group of officers as observers to Korea. Mr. Truman also approved a proposal that the Seventh Fleet be ordered to the waters off Formosa and Korea at once, and Admiral Forrest P. Sherman, Chief of Naval Operations, left the meeting to start this movement. [27] General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Air Force Chief of Staff, also left the room to initiate a concentration of jet aircraft on Formosa.

The President ordered that all U. S. intelligence agencies throughout the world be alerted to recheck Soviet plans and intentions. He called also for urgent study to determine what would be needed to destroy Soviet Far East air bases if Soviet planes intervened in Korea. Finally, President Truman called upon each man for his personal views. Everyone felt that whatever had to be done to meet the aggression in Korea should be done. No one suggested that the United Nations or the United States back away from the challenge. Vandenberg and Sherman had said that American air and naval aid would be sufficient to stop the North Koreans, but Collins believed that, if the ROK Army broke, American ground forces would be required. [28]

General Bradley summed up the prevailing opinion. He said that the United States would have to draw the line on communist aggression somewhere-and that somewhere was Korea. He did not believe that Russia was ready to fight the United States, but was merely testing American determination. President Truman agreed emphatically. He did not expect the North Koreans to pay any attention to the pronouncement of the United Nations, and he felt that the United Nations would have to apply force. [29] Before the meeting adjourned at 2300, President Truman approved the actions proposed by Secretary Acheson and already set in motion by General MacArthur.

[26] MacArthur Hearings, p. 2580.

[27] President Truman identifies the proposal to move the Seventh Fleet as having originated with Secretary of State Acheson. Johnson, however, testified before a Congressional committee that the move had been recommended by him and that the President had immediately approved his recommendation. See Truman, Memoirs, II, 334; MacArthur Hearings, pp. 2580-81.

[28] Truman, Memoirs, II, 335.

[29] Ibid.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of the Army Frank Pace, Jr., called General MacArthur into teleconference immediately after the meeting and informed him of the decisions reached. MacArthur was to send all arms and equipment needed to hold the Seoul-Kimp'o-Inch'on area, with enough air and naval cover to insure safe arrival. He was to use air and naval forces to prevent the Seoul-Kimp'o-Inch'on area from being overrun, thereby insuring the safe evacuation of U. S. dependents and noncombatants. He was also told to send selected officers of his staff into Korea as a survey mission. [30]

The commitment of air and naval units to Korea established a precedent for the later commitment of U. S. ground troops. It was done without sanction of or reference to the United Nations and in the full knowledge that U.S. air and naval forces might engage in open conflict with North Korean units. Although generally viewed as less vital than President Truman's later decision of 30 June to support the ROK with U. S. ground forces, the authority to employ the Air Force and the Navy on 25 June rendered the later decision one of degree rather than one of principle. General Ridgway, who was present during the transmission of initial instructions to General MacArthur by teleconference, recalls in his memoirs:

   I was standing by General Bradley at the telecom when the directive 
   went out authorizing the use of air and naval forces to cover the 
   evacuation of American personnel from the Seoul and Inchon area, and 
   I asked him whether this was deliberately intended to exclude the use 
   of ground forces in Korea. He told me, "Yes." 

The officers to be sent to Korea as a survey mission were to send back information and also to furnish overt evidence to ROK authorities that they had not been abandoned. The Joint (Chiefs of Staff informed General MacArthur that the Secretary of State wished KMAG liaison officers to stay with ROK units so long as these units remained effective fighting forces. Answering a request from KMAG, (General MacArthur said that immediate action was being taken and that substantial logistic support was on its way to the ROK forces. [32]

The ROK Army acquitted itself well in some areas, poorly in others. In sectors where they were well led and properly deployed the ROK Army units fought bravely and well. Elsewhere, they fell back before the better-trained and better-equipped North Koreans without offering determined or effective resistance. All across the front the enemy's superior concentration of force, his well-planned tactics, his armor and artillery supremacy, and his consistently high caliber of leadership forced a general withdrawal.

[30] Telecon, TT 3418, JCS and OSA with CINCFE, 260355Z Jun. 50.

[31] General Matthew B. Ridgway, Soldier (New York: Harper, 1956), p. 192.

[32] (1) Telecon, TT 3418, {2603552} Jun. 50. (2) Rad, CX 56796, CINCFE to KMAG, 26 Jun. 50. (3) Rad, CX 46852, CINCFE to KMAG, 27 Jun. 50.

Four of the eight existing ROK divisions had been deployed widely throughout the interior and southern sections of South Korea, while the four divisions along the 38th Parallel had about one-third of their strength in defense positions and the remainder in reserve ten to thirty miles below the parallel. No ROK division was able to assemble its full combat strength in time to stem the North Korean drive on Seoul. At Kaesong and Munsan-ni, in the Uijongbu corridor, and at Ch'unch'on, the ROK soldiers put up a good fight but were overwhelmed. An abortive ROK counterattack in the vital Uijongbu corridor failed on 26 June, and North Korean entrance into Seoul seemed assured. [33]

Emergency Evacuation

The unexpectedly rapid and powerful communist onslaught exposed some 1,500 American civilians to immediate peril. The majority were families of AMIK personnel, most of them in the Seoul area. Additionally, more than a hundred women and a sizable number of male employees were working at Department of State, ECA, and KMAG installations.

According to the evacuation plan drawn in July 1949 by GHQ and named CHOW CHOW, the CG Eighth Army, CG FEAF, and COMNAVFE were assigned responsibilities to evacuate U. S. civilians, U. S. military personnel, and designated foreign nationals. The plan estimated that North Korean forces would require at least ninety-six hours to overrun the Seoul-Inch'on area. [34]

In the early morning of 26 June (Korean time) Ambassador Muccio ordered all dependents of U. S. Government and military personnel evacuated. Two commercial freighters at Inch'on, SS Reinholt and SS Norge, were available, but the Norge was too dirty to be used and nearly 700 passengers were evacuated on the 26th aboard the SS Reinholt, a vessel normally accommodating only twelve passengers. From the morning of 27 June (Korean time), FEAF transports and commercial aircraft brought out others during two days of flights, and the remaining surface evacuation was from Pusan.

A total of 2,001 people-1,527 of them U. S. nationals-were evacuated, all of them to Japan, 923 by air and the remainder by surface transportation. Most Americans evacuated were members of AMIK, U.S. Government employees, military personnel, and their dependents. Missionaries comprised the next largest group of American evacuees. [36]

Mounting in intensity, the battle for South Korea raged into its third day on 27 June, with Seoul the prime objective of the North Korean attack. The communists apparently judged that with the ROK capital in their hands the rest of South Korea would yield easily. By the evening of 27 June, the main North Korean forces were fourteen miles north of Seoul. Midnight found the northern defenses of the city under small arms fire with armor rumbling toward the outskirts. At 0300, on 28 June, all Americans remaining in the city were ordered to leave. The first artillery fire struck Seoul around 0600, 28 June. By that night the city had fallen to the invaders.

ADCOM Arrives in Korea

[33] For a detailed account, see Appleman, South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu, Chapters III and V.

[31] There is a striking similarity between the evacuation on 26 June 1950 and the plan for evacuation prepared in GHQ almost a full year before. See Staff Sec Rpt, G-3, GHQ, FEC, 1 Jan-31 Oct. 50, p. 14, and supporting Doc 8.

[35] War Diary, EUSAK, sec. I, Prologue, 25 Jun.-Jul. 50. p. 4

[36] Staff Sec Rpt, G-1, GHQ, FEC, 1 Jan.-31 Oct. 50, p. 61.

General MacArthur's survey group entered Korea at 1900, 27 June, and at that time he assumed his newly authorized control of all U. S. military activities in Korea. Maj. Gen. John H. Church, who headed the group which was designated GHQ Advance Command and Liaison Group (ADCOM), had instructions to make contact with Ambassador Muccio and ROK officials and to send MacArthur reports on the developing situation. A concomitant mission was to instill an enthusiastic will to fight among ROK soldiers and officials. [37]

Ambassador Muccio met the group at the Suwon airport, south of Seoul and Church established a temporary command post in the town of Suwon. After a frustrating period of communications failures and general confusion, Church made contact with General Chae Byong Duk, Chief of Staff, ROK Army and suggested they establish a joint headquarters. Chae agreed. [38]

Church told Chae that he had to use any organized group in the vicinity to resist the entry of North Koreans into Seoul by street-to-street fighting. He recommended straggler points between Seoul and Suwon to stop the retreating ROK soldiers and to reorganize them into effective units. He insisted that the Han River bordering Seoul on the south be defended at all costs.

On 28 June, Chae gathered about 1,000 ROK officers and 8,000 men and organized them into units near Suwon. Then he dispatched them to defensive positions on the south bank of the Han River. [39]

That evening, Church felt "a reasonable defense of the Han River line from the south bank could be accomplished." But if the 38th Parallel were to be restored, he believed, American ground forces would have to be used. He radioed this opinion to MacArthur together with an admittedly fragmentary report of the situation. [40]

Developments in Washington

Amidst disheartening reports from Korea, President Truman and his advisers met again at the Blair House in Washington at 2100, EDT, 26 June. The group was substantially the same that had gathered previously. The President had received a personal and vehement appeal for help from Syngman Rhee, and General Bradley made known MacArthur's latest dispatches forecasting the early fall of Seoul. [41]

[37] Opns Instructions to Gen. Church, GHQ, FEC, 27 Jun. 50. (2) Rad, CS 56850, CINCFE to KMAG, 27 Jun. 50.

[38] Rpt, Gen. Church, sub: Activities of ADCOM, 27 Jun.-15 Jul. 50, copy in OCMH.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] The Joint Chiefs of Staff did not record these meetings. During the hearings on relief of General MacArthur, Senator Harry Cain told General Bradley, "... history will not he able to relate the circumstances surrounding the beginning of the war because the Joint Chiefs of Staff have no notes on the subject." See MacArthur Hearings, p. 350.

The progressive decline of South Korean resistance and the increasingly obvious evidence of North Korean military strength led Secretary of State Acheson to recommend that American air and naval forces be permitted to engage in combat operations to support the ROK. He proposed also that the U.S. Seventh Fleet be ordered not only to protect Formosa from attack but also to prevent an attack from there on the mainland. The President approved these measures, and after an hour the group adjourned.

Within a few minutes after adjournment, the Joint Chiefs of Staff called General MacArthur into teleconference. They removed restrictions against air and naval operations against North Korean military targets below the 38th Parallel. They informed him about the new missions of the U.S. Seventh Fleet in Formosan waters. They urged him to spread the news that American help was on the way to South Korea in order to maintain South Korean morale. [42]

The air of spontaneity and extemporaneousness which marked the actions of the President and his advisers during the first week of the Korean War is misleading. The key advisers called to informal meetings at the Blair House included all the members of the National Security Council who were available in Washington. Thus, although the sometimes ponderous and always time-consuming normal procedures of the council to develop positions on matters of broad general policy were not followed, the President received its views and advice. [43] He obviously felt no need for Congressional approval, believing that his decisions were within his prerogatives as Commander in Chief. Later objection by Congress that he had usurped its authority was stilled effectively by widespread public approval of Mr. Truman's actions. [44] Although the President's decisions were decidedly toward complete resistance of aggression, without the slightest tendency to conciliate or appease, the United States, on 27 June, had yet to choose whether to mount a unilateral effort or to promote United Nations action. The advantages of acting under the auspices of the United Nations were apparent to all, but in the absence of specific knowledge on the final attitude of that body, and in a full realization of the need for quick and effective action, American officials pursued an independent course that could later be synchronized with any U.N. plan. On 27 June, after the ROK Government had appealed to the United Nations for assistance, Warren R. Austin, United States Representative to the United Nations, addressed the United Nations Security Council, denounced the North Korean action, and demanded stronger measures by the body than the proclamation of 25 June, which was having no effect. The Security Council condemned the North Korean attack as a breach of the peace, called for an immediate cessation of fighting, and recommended that members of the United Nations "... furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area." [45] This resolution confirmed actions already taken by the United States.

[42] Telecon TT 3426, CINCFE and JCS, 27017Z Jun. 50.

[43] Hoare, "Truman (1945-1953)," p. 191, states, "... the President was, for all practical purposes, consulting the NSC, but telescoping its deliberations."

[44] See Collins, War in Peacetime, p. 31, and Acheson, Present at the Creation, pp. 413-15.

MacArthur Visits Korea

Given the grave danger of a complete collapse of morale and fighting spirit among the South Korean people, General MacArthur felt that only a dramatic move would stiffen their resolve to resist. He decided to visit the country as immediate, symbolic proof of American backing. According to General Almond, MacArthur's chief of staff, the visit was also a search for firsthand knowledge of what the Korean Army was doing, what it intended to do next, and what President Rhee and Ambassador Muccio had to say.

Against the advice of his staff officers, who were apprehensive over extremely poor flying conditions and the threat of enemy air attack, General MacArthur flew to Korea. He landed at Suwon Airfield at 1115, 29 June 1950. Five members of his staff and four newsmen were with him. [46]

Although two YAK fighter planes of the North Korean Air Force appeared over Suwon and one dropped a bomb at one end of the runway, MacArthur and his party landed safely. They went to a small schoolhouse where General Church and the American officers of ADCOM awaited them. President Syngman Rhee, Mr. Muccio, and General Chae were also there. At General MacArthur's request, the meeting opened with a resume of the current military situation by General Church, who said he had been able to locate only 8,000 of the ROK Army's original 100,000 men. While he was speaking, he received a report that 8,000 more had been gathered and that Korean officers hoped to have another 8,000 by evening.

After a few brief remarks from Muccio, General MacArthur stated, "Well, I have heard a good deal theoretically, and now I want to go and see these troops...." MacArthur and his group, in "three old, broken-down cars," drove thirty miles north to the south bank of the Han below Seoul, where they could see the enemy firing from the city at targets near them. By mid-afternoon, MacArthur had seen all he needed to and returned to Suwon Airfield, then departed about 1600.

[45] Department of State, Guide to the U. N. in Korea, Dept. of State Publication No. 4299 (Washington, 1951), p. 13.

[46} (1) This account of General MacArthur's visit is based on an interview with Lt. Col. Anthony Storey, General MacArthur's personal pilot, by Dr. Gordon W. Prange, then Chief, Military Hist. Sec GHQ, FEC, {FEC,} UNC, in 1951, and on an account contained in General Almond's testimony before the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee on 23 November 1954, contained in U.S. News and World Report (December 10, 1954), pp. 86-94; all quotations are as General Almond gave them in his testimony. (2) See also Willoughby and Chamberlain, MacArthur, 1941-1951, pp. 356-57, and Maj. Gen. Courtney Whitney, MacArthur, His Rendezvous With History (New York: Knopf, 1956), pp. 321-32.

The fall of Seoul and the obvious weakening of the ROK forces demonstrated the need of additional American efforts. Since the United Nations Security Council had called for assistance by member nations to repel the invaders, more, obviously, could be done.

[47] Memo, Gen. Bolte for Secy. Army, 28 Jun. 50, sub: Sit in the Far East, in G-3, DA file 091 Korea, Case 25.

Army officials in Washington who were analyzing the developments in Korea unanimously felt that the USSR had deliberately fostered the outbreak in Korea. General Bolte, then the Assistant Chief of Staff G-3, Department of the Army, reported to Secretary Pace, on 28 June, "There can be no doubt but that the invasion of South Korea is a planned Soviet move to improve their cold war position at our expense." [47] Bolte suggested that the Russians actually were testing United States determination to oppose their expansion. He pointed out that there was no way of knowing whether the Korean aggression was a prelude to a "hot" war, but he reminded Pace of American emergency plans in case a shooting war with the USSR came. These plans relegated the Far East to a position of secondary strategic importance but provided for the defense of Japan, Okinawa, and the Philippines. General Bolte was justifiably concerned over the possibility that a massive response to the Korean incident might weaken the Army's ability to defend these islands.

If, the Army G-3 told the Secretary, the American air and naval forces already committed failed to stop the North Korean invasion and if it became necessary to send American ground troops from Japan, the United States garrison there would be reduced to a point where "it would be most doubtful that, in the event of a major war, Japan could be held against Soviet attack." If ground forces sent to Korea from Japan were replaced, "the taking of small reinforcements from the small strategic reserve [General Reserve] in the United States would seriously affect our war readiness in other areas." [48]

President Truman's principal advisers met with him again at 1700, on Thursday, 29 June. Secretary of Defense Johnson presented a draft directive to General MacArthur that implied an American intention to go to war with the Soviet Union. Truman turned it down on the ground that it was too strong. He stated categorically that he did not want to see even the slightest implication of such a plan. He wished to be certain that the United States would not become so deeply involved in Korea that it could not take care of other situations which could well develop. [49]

But when Department of Defense officials requested permission to carry out air operations north of the 38th Parallel, Truman agreed. When Pace cautioned that such operations should be clearly limited, Truman agreed. He pointed out his desire that these aerial attacks in North Korea be restricted to attacks on military targets, since he wished it clearly understood that operations in Korea were only for the purpose of restoring peace and the pre-invasion border. [50]

[48] Ibid.

[49] Truman, Memoirs. II, 341.

[50] Ibid.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff then sent General MacArthur additional instructions. He could send his planes into North Korea to bomb "purely military" targets. He had to keep these planes well clear of the frontiers of Manchuria and the Soviet Union. Army ground forces, both combat and service troops could, if it became necessary, be sent into the Pusan area to hold the port and the airfield facilities there. Naval vessels could also bombard targets authorized for attack by aircraft. [51] From stocks available in the Far East Command, he was to furnish the Republic of Korea munitions and supplies to keep ROK forces in action. He was to submit estimates of the amounts and types of aid required by the Republic of Korea which he was unable to provide from his own sources. He was to have operational control of the Seventh Fleet but only to neutralize Formosa. [52]

There was a grave note of caution. The Far East commander was reminded that the United States decision to commit naval, air, and limited ground forces in support of the South Koreans constituted no decision to engage in a war with the Soviet Union should Soviet forces intervene in Korea. The Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded their instructions to their field commander by pointing out: "The decision regarding Korea, however, was taken in full realization of the risks involved. If Soviet forces actively oppose our operations in Korea, your forces should defend themselves, should take no action to aggravate the situation and you should report the situation to Washington." [53]

General MacArthur immediately directed his air and naval commanders to carry out intensive operations against the North Korean military machine. [54]

[51] General MacArthur had not waited for this JCS directive to order operations in North Korea. On the flight to Korea, according to Colonel Storey, his pilot, MacArthur had issued orders via his plane radio at 0800 (Korean time), 29 July 1950, saying to FEAF headquarters back in Tokyo, "Partridge from Stratemeyer, Take out North Korean airfields immediately. No publicity. MacArthur approves." This action took place twenty-four hours before the JCS authorized such action in accordance with the Presidential approval. Col. John Chiles, then SGS GHQ, UNC, told the author (September 1955) that he heard MacArthur give this order, dictating it to General Stratemeyer. And one of the newspapermen who was present on the plane, Roy McCartney, recounts the following narrative contained in Norman Bartell, ed., With the Australians in Korea (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1954), pages 165-79: "On the way to Korea, MacArthur resumed pacing, while weighing out loud how he could 'take out' the airfields from which North Korean Yak fighters were operating. 'Where's the President's directive?' he asked his intelligence chief, Major General Charles A. Willoughby. 'How can I bomb north of the 38th Parallel without Washington hanging me?' Willoughby, it turned out, had left Truman's directive in Tokyo. A half hour later MacArthur emerged from his private cabin and remarked almost casually, 'I've decided to bomb north of the 38th Parallel. The B-29s will be out tomorrow. The order has gone to Okinawa.'" General Whitney describes this incident in his book on General MacArthur and concludes, "Here was no timid delay while authorization was obtained from Washington; here was the capacity for command decision and the readiness to assume responsibility which had always been MacArthur's forte." See Whitney, MacArthur, His Rendezvous With History, p. 326.

[52] Rad, JCS 84681, JCS to CINCFE, 29 Jun. 50.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Rad, CX 56954, CINCFE to COMNAVFE and FEAF, 30 Jun. 50.

CINCFE's Personal Report

Soon thereafter, General MacArthur dispatched to Washington his frank and, in some respects, gloomy impressions of his visit to Korea. He told Washington officials:

   I have today inspected the South Korea battle area from Suwon to the
   HAN River. My purpose was to reconnoiter at first hand the conditions
   as they exist and to determine the most effective way to further
   support our mission.   . . . Organized and equipped as a light force
   for maintenance of interior order [the
     Korean Army was] unprepared for attack by armor and air. Conversely, 
   they are incapable of gaining the initiative over such a force as 
   that embodied in the North Korean Army.

   The Korean Army had made no preparations for a defense in depth, for 
   echelons of supply or for a supply system. No plans had been made, or 
   if made not executed for the destruction of supplies or materiel in 
   event of a retrograde movement. As a result, they have either lost or 
   abandoned their supplies and heavier equipment and have absolutely no 
   means of intercommunication. In most cases, the individual soldier, 
   in his flight to the south, has retained his rifle or carbine. They 
   are gradually being gathered up in rear areas and given some 
   semblance of organization by an advance group of my officers I have 
   sent over for this purpose. Without artillery, mortars and anti-tank 
   guns, they can only hope to retard the enemy through the fullest 
   utilization of natural obstacles and under the guidance of example of 
   leadership of high quality.

   The civilian populace is tranquil, orderly and prosperous according 
   to their scale of living. They have retained a high degree of 
   national spirit and firm belief in the Americans. The roads leading 
   south from Seoul are crowded with refugees refusing to accept the 
   Communist rule.

   South Korean military strength is estimated at not more than 25,000 
   effectives. North Korean military forces are as previously reported, 
   backed by considerable strength in armor and a well-trained, well-
   directed and aggressive air force equipped with Russian planes. It is 
   now obvious that this force has been built as an element of communist 
   military aggression.

   I am doing everything possible to establish and maintain a flow of 
   supplies through the air-head at SUWON and the southern port of 
   PUSAN. The air-head is most vital, but is subject to constant air-
   attack. Since air-cover must be maintained over all aircraft 
   transporting supplies, equipment and personnel, this requirement 
   operates to contain a large portion of my fighter strength. 
   North Korean air, operating from near-by bases, has been savage in 
   its attacks in Suwon area.

   It is essential that the enemy advance be held or its impetus will 
   threaten the overrunning of all Korea. Every effort is being made to 
   establish a Han River line but the result is highly problematical. 
   The defense of this line and the Suwon-Seoul corridor is essential to 
   the retention of the only airhead in central Korea.

   The Korean Army is entirely incapable of counter-action and there is 
   grave danger of a further breakthrough. If the enemy advance 
   continues much further it will seriously threaten the fall of the 

   The only assurance for the holding of the present line, and the 
   ability to regain later the 105t ground, is through the introduction 
   of US Ground Combat Forces into the Korean battle area. To continue 
   to utilize the Forces of our air and navy without an effective ground 
   element cannot be decisive.

   If authorized, it is my intention to immediately move a United States 
   Regimental Combat Team to the reinforcement of the vital area 
   discussed and to provide for a possible build-up to a two-division 
   strength from the troops in Japan for an early counter-offensive.   
   Unless provision is made for the full utilization of the Army-Navy-
   Air team in this shattered area, our mission will be needlessly 
   costly in life, money and prestige. At worst it might even be doomed 
   to failure. [55]

[55] (1) Rad, C 56942, CINCFE to JCS, 30 Jun. 50. (2) General Whitney states that MacArthur wrote the report during the return flight from Suwon, using a pencil and pad. See Whitney, MacArthur, His Rendezvous With History, p. 332.

This message reached Washington an hour before midnight on 29 June. Because of its urgent tone and extremely pessimistic outlook, General Collins consulted with General MacArthur in a teleconference four hours later. He informed the Far East commander that one RCT could be moved to Pusan to guard that port. MacArthur protested that this hardly satisfied the basic requirements. He urged speed in securing permission to place American forces in the battle area.

Lacking the authority to grant this request, Collins told MacArthur he would try to gain Presidential approval. Collins called Secretary of the Army Pace, who called the White House. The President immediately approved dispatching one RCT to the battle area. In less than an hour, word was flashed to Tokyo, "Your recommendation to move one RCT to combat area is approved. You will be advised later as to further build-up." [56]

Throughout this period of intensive search for decisions, culminating finally in the decision to meet the aggressor in ground combat, the President of the United States had been the ultimate arbiter of each step. President Truman had solicited the advice of those best qualified to judge the military effects and requirements of each move taken. General Collins briefed him daily, passing on the views of the Joint Chiefs. But the President made the final choice himself.

Earlier the Joint Chiefs of Staff had not favored the use of American ground forces in Korea, [57] primarily because they knew how unprepared they were for large-scale combat. They were reluctant also to weaken the small General Reserve in the United States, which represented the minimum essential for defense. Deploying any part of the Reserve to the Far East would be a risky, perhaps disastrous, undertaking because of possible Soviet involvement following American action. [58]

General MacArthur quite clearly had tipped the balance in favor of troop commitment. The risks had not changed or lessened, but the nation's leaders became convinced that communist seizure of Korea could not be tolerated. MacArthur's personal appeal, in fact, received even wider recognition on 30 June when he was told, "Restriction on use of Army Forces ... are hereby removed and authority granted to utilize Army Forces available to you." [59]

[56] Telecon, TT 3444, CINCFE and JCS, 300742 Jun. 50.

[57] Handwritten Note, to Memo, Dep. Secy. JCS for JCCS. 28 Jun. 50, sub: Preparation of Study.

[58] Louis Johnson, Secretary of Defense when the decision was made, subsequently testified to an almost neutral attitude on the part of himself and his chief assistants. "Neither I nor any member of the Military Establishment in my presence recommended we go into Korea." Johnson recalled, "The recommendation came from the Secretary of State, but I want to repeat that it was not opposed by the Defense Department, all the members of which had severally pointed out the trouble, the trials, tribulations, and the difficulties." See MacArthur Hearings, p. 2584.

[59] Rad, JCS 84718, JCS to CINCFE, 30 Jun. 50.

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