Korean War FAQ

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16. How about the 5th campaign?

The failure of the UN army caused bitter disagreement between MacArthur and US government, the five star general saw no hope  of victory on the ground and wanted nuclear bombardment of mainland China cities and a global war involving the Soviets, President Truman, on the other hand, wanted a limited war. MacArthur caused great fear in American allies and his insubordination resulted in his sacking on April 11 of 1951. Gen. Ridgeway, commander of the Eighth Army assumed MacArthur's position.

Now, since the UN ground forces had numerical superiority, Mao suggested that PVA should not initiate attacks until the second batch of PVA (total 9 armies) arrived.

In the early April, PVA commanders held a meeting to study the plan for the 5th campaign. In the meeting, it was decide that PVA would launch the next offensive before UN reinforcement arrived at 38 parallel and UN defense line there consolidated.

PVA attack was organized as three groups: on the left was 9th army group plus 39th and 40th armies, at the center was PVA 3d army group, on the right was PVA 19th army group plus NKPA 1st division.

From April 22, 3 PVA army groups launched attacks along the UN line on the west. The left group broke the UN defense immediately and progressed very smoothly. The 3d battalion of 354 regiment of 118th division penetrated 30km into UN line and fought UN force one to many, repelled the attacks of 1st Cavalry, British 28th Brigade and Canadian 25th Brigade, held its advance postition until joined with its main forces. The center group smashed the Turk brigade and forced UN to retreat. The right group smashed the British 29th Brigade and destroyed part of ROK 1st division. On April 29, PVA closed in on Seoul,  however, UN forces fought and retreated in an orderly fashion, PVA was unable to encircle major UN forces, the whole attack became a "frontal push". In view of this, Peng ordered to halt the attack of the first stage, in which PVA destroyed 23,000 UN troops.

On April 28th, Peng decided to shift the wieght of the offense to the east, thus began the second stage of the campaign. 19th Army Group continue to pressure Seoul area, while 3d and 9th Army Groups secretly moved to east, planning to destroy 2-3 ROK Divisions and part of US 7th Division.

The attack on the eastern front started on May 16th. 60th Division of 20th army penetrated 25 km deep into UN line, cutoff the withdraw route of ROK 3d and 9th Division. 81st Division and 60th Division together smashed ROK 5th and 6th Division. On May 18, ROK 3d and 9th Division tried to break out, and was largely destroyed by PVA 20th army. On May 19th, PVA wiped out 4 Battallions of US 2d division and one French battallion.

By then, PVA had continued fighting for a month, Peng Dehuai ordered to halt the attacks along all fronts and withdraw north. Each Amry Group would use one division to one army as rear guard.

However, in the withdraw process, some PVA  armies (which entered Korea recently)  underestimated the UN's capability to counter attack, they did not devise careful withdraw plans and their rear guard force was insufficient, these errors resulted in  many gaps in the withdraw line, many units lost contact with the main forces and were encircled by UN forces. Most of the PVA units successfully broke out and returned back. However, one PVA division, the 180th Division suffered a total loss, which was the only divisional level loss for PVA in the Korean war.

On June 10, UN was stopped near the 38 parallel, both sides took defensive positions.

The 5th PVA campaign lasted 50 days, inflicted 82,000 UN casualties, with 7306 captures, of which 2073 were from US, UK and France. PVA also paid a big price, with 75,000 casualties.

Based on PLA sources, from end of Oct. 1950 to June 1951, PVA participated in 5 major campaigns, inflicted 230,000 UN casualties, with 36835 captures. PVA also captured a lot of equipment, including 187 tanks, 4954 trucks, 5 amored vehicles, 10 aircrafts, 3133 artillery pieces, 45,000 rifles and machine guns.

17. Why was PLA 180th Division lost?

In the 5th campaign, PLA had its biggest embarrassment ever: the 180th Division of the 60th army was totally lost. Except the 3,000 men who withdrew earlier, the majority of the division were captured by UN. The division commander and other high ranking officers escaped, but they were investigated and demoted back home. In the eyes of many Chinese, this was a shame in PLA history.

During the withdraw phase of the 5th campaign, the main force of 180th Division was encircled by UN forces, after 6 days of hard fighting, most of its men were either wounded or sick, the division commanders panicked, and ordered the troops to disperse and escape by disguising as Koreans. Consequently, most of the soldiers (about 5000) were captured. Many of the wounded were killed immediately by UN troops, those who were sent to the POW camps suffered torture and even death during the POW repatriation.

Other units of PVA encountered similar situations but most of them successfully returned. For example, the 194th Division was encircled, but the commanders stayed cool and brought the men out through a gap in the encirclement . The 27th army was also cutoff, but it retreated successfully with all the wounded ones. Till today, many are still debating on the reason of the collapse of the 180th Division. There are books published researching on this question. There were many misjudgments/misunderstanding and incorrect orders (in hindsight) issued by the 3rd Army Group and 60th Army. A series of delays and misunderstandings resulted the 180th being trapped by enemy forces 5 times their own strength, and the division commander did not improvise and carry out a working break-out plan. 180th division fought heroically, faithfully carried out its orders. Its division commander Zheng Qigui failed to act differently based on the situation, in author's opinion, the defeat was not his fault, but more of the 60th Army commander, who misunderstand an order from the 3rd Amry Group and ordered 180th Division go back and forth alone to move wounded soldiers of the Army Group, when all other units had withdrawn.

BTW, US did not know that PVA lost a full division (less the 3000) in the Korean war until 1980s, when US military officials visited China.

18. What happened after the 5th campaign?

PVA and UN started truce talks while fighting continued. However, both sides had taken defensive positions and the battle line more or less stablized with some hills exchanged hands over and over, at the beginning, UN was more aggressive and fought hard to take a few hills with heavy casualties, after that, the fighting were more or less used to show strength and to help the negotiations.

Although there would be no more big maneuvers committing many Armies(except one  battle right before the end of war), the total casualty for either side resulted from these static wars was even greater than the previous campaigns. In the 1 month battle of Shangganlin, the defending PVA inflicted 25,000 casualties, mostly on ROK troops.

19. What was the PVA and UN numerical strength at various stages of the Korean war?

Both sides had about the same numerical strength.

The first batch of PVA consisted of the 13th and 9th Army Group plus 3 artillery divisions, about 270,000 men.

At the peak time, total PVA and NKPA strength reached 1.2 million during the Korean war.

In June 1951, right after the 5th campaign, UN total strength was 695,110, with 520,850 ground force (US 253100, ROK 229600, other 38150), 80340 navy (US 66700, ROK 6000, other 7640) and 94520 air force (US 90000, ROK 4000, other 520). At the same time, PVA strength was about 240,000, much lower than total UN strength.

At the end of war, from PVA statistics, UN total strength was 1,111,340 (1.11134 million), ground force 904,550 (US 373,500, ROK 491,000, other 40050), navy 101,180 (US 73000, ROK 20000, other 8180), air force 105,610 (US 95000, ROK 10000, other 610). From western source (Korean Almanac), UN ground forces strength was slightly higher with a total of 932,539 (US 302483, ROK 590911, other 39145). PVA counted 70000 more US troops,  this was probably because many ROKs (KATUSAs) were serving in US forces and counted as US strength by PVA.

In the war, PVA rotated about 2 million troops, US used 86% of its infantry and 14% of its Marine Corps, rotated over 1.319 million troops .

20. What is "human wave" tactics?

During battles, western forces were usually incapable of  correctly estimating the strength of PVA forces, often times, they greatly exaggerated the number of attacking PVAs, such as taking a PVA regiment as a PVA division. PVA mostly attacked at night, blowing bugles and wistles, shouting thrills, even play "sweet music" to cause psychological stress,  the PVA tactics made western forces feel that the enemy was everywhere from every direction. Moreover, PVAs were masters of  infiltration, they often sneaked in and attacked directly on command posts, generating shock and chaos. Western combat history always refered PVA attacks as "swarm of Chinese", "human waves", "Chinese hordes", as if PVA simply threw its men into the fire and let itself slaughtered, such a description indicated a great misunderstanding of the PVA tactics. As some military analysts pointed out, PLA rarely use dense formation in their attacks, it seeks to inflict maximum damage with mnimum casualty. At various stages of the Korean war, PVA nevered had a commanding numerical superioty against UN forces, in fact, during the 4th campaign, it was greatly outnumbered by UN (it was always outgunned), yet it could still outmaneuver UN forces and even managed to counter attack at X Corps. PVA could achieve all these with inferior firepower because it had smarter tactics and strategy.

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