New Zealand in the ‘First’ Korean War
New Zealand was one of the first states to answer the Security Council’s call with combat assistance (sixteen would eventually do so). On 29 June 1950, the government offered two frigates, and HMNZS Tutira and Pukaki left Auckland on 3 July. They joined other Commonwealth forces at Sasebo, Japan, on 2 August and immediately began escorting supply ships between Japan and the Korean port of Pusan, by then the centre of a narrow pocket. While forming part of the UN Command, they operated within a Commonwealth framework, under the command of a British flag officer. They took part in Operation Chromite, the successful amphibious counterstroke launched by MacArthur at the port of Inch’on, near Seoul, on 15 September 1950. Their role was to escort the troopships carrying the attack force, and then to form part of a protective screen around Inch’on.
The ‘Second’ Korean War
Caught between the UN forces at Seoul, which had been quickly liberated, and those advancing from Pusan, the KPA disintegrated, either being captured or fleeing through the hills to the north. The first Korean War had thus resulted in a decisive victory for the UN. The UN’s initial purpose was fulfilled: the Republic of Korea had been preserved. Nevertheless, with the DPRK in disarray, the United States was tempted to press forward to achieve the UN’s political aim of unifying Korea, despite warnings from Beijing that China would respond forcibly to any UN crossing of the 38th Parallel.
When UN forces invaded North Korea on 9 October, they precipitated a new Korean conflict. Although some elements of the UN Command reached the northern border on the Yalu River, Chinese forces, ill-equipped but in large numbers, had secretly entered North Korea, and from late October they mounted a series of offensives, the second of which led to a ‘big bug out’ of UN forces, which rapidly fell back south of the 38th Parallel.
The Chinese People’s Volunteers, as the intervening Chinese troops were termed, then endeavoured to drive the UN forces into the sea. Seoul was abandoned to them on 3 January 1951, but stiffening resistance by the UN Command, under a new field commander General Matthew Ridgway, led to their being held south of the capital.