Korean War—strategic map
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Description and sequence of events
The Korean peninsula extends south from the Asian mainland with China to the north. To the east and south-east lies Japan with Russia to the north-east.
After World War II, Korea was split into two administrations—North and South Korea—with the north administered by the Soviets and the south by the USA. The dividing line was the 38th parallel.
The strategic map details the Korean peninsula in North East Asia, its surrounding seas, countries and major towns. Lines of latitudes are marked at 35° and 40°N on the map as well as lines of longitude at 125° and 130°E. The peninsula protrudes south out of the Chinese mainland in the north, down to the Korea Strait beyond the 35th parallel. Its east-west coastal borders are largely contained between longitudes 125° and 130°E with a width of about 160 kilometres at the narrowest point.
China is shown sharing almost all Korea’s only land border directly to the north (top of the map). Identified are the Chinese towns of Shenyang and Anshan together with the border town of Dandong in the north-west; Tonghua and the border town of Ji’an toward the north: the border town of Tumen in the north-east. This land border begins at Korea Bay in the north-west just below the 40th parallel and rises to around the 43°N at Tumen in the north-east. A very small section of land border, to the coast in the far north-east corner, is shared with Russia, with Vladivostok shown in the north-east (top right) corner of the map.
The rest of Korea’s natural border is coastline, with the Yellow Sea to the west, the Sea of Japan* to the east, and the Korea Strait in the south and south-east. A section of Japan is shown across this strait in the south-east (lower right) corner of the map where the cities of Hiroshima, Kitakyushu and Fukuoka are identified.
The 38 parallel, the original dividing line between North and South Korea is identified together with the major cities and towns in Korea, including the North Korean capital Pyongyang (39°N 125° 45’E) and the South Korean capital Seoul (37° 34' N 126° 58' E) lying just below the 38th parallel.
Landmarks in the north
- Near the Chinese border: the towns of Sinuiju, Kusong and Chonju in the north-west, Manp’o and Kanggye in the central north then Hyesan with Chong’jin, Musan and Najin in the far north-eastern (top right) corner.
- North-east coast: the towns of KImch’aek, the ports of Hamhung (just below the 40th parallel) and further south again, Wonsan (amost due east of Pyongyang). Inland, north-west of Hamhung, the Chosin Reservoir – where US forces suffered a major defeat by Chinese forces – is identified.
- On the lower north-west coast: Namp’o, and further south, Changyon near the 38th parallel.
- Other northern towns near the 38th parallel: Sariwon, Haeju, Pyonggang and Ch’orwon.
Landmarks in the south
- Near the 38th parallel: Ongjin on the west coast; inland to Kaesong, Musan, and Ch’unch’on and to Kangnung on the east coast.
- Travelling south from Seoul: Inchon on the west coast and inland to Suwon and Wonju – then further south to the towns of Ch’onan, Ch’ongju, and Taejon – with Andong further east.
- To the bottom of the peninsula: the south-east coastal towns of P’ohang, then Ulsan, down to Pusan and Masan just above the 35th parallel; the southern-coast town of Yosu then Mokp’o on the far south west coast. Inland north-east of Mokp’o Kwangju then north to Chonju and Kunsan on the west coast.
Before the War
To 25 June 1950
- After World War II, Korea was split into two administrations with the north administered by the Soviets and the south by the USA. From this time until 25 June 1950 when are broke out, the dividing line between North Korea and South Korea had been the 38th parallel.
- Korea is shown divided into two parts at the 38th parallel with North Korean territory identified in red and South Korea below it in blue.
Phase 1: North Korean advance
25 June—15 September 1950
- On 25th June 1950 North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel and advanced into South Korea.
- North Korean (KPA) forces cross the border and push South Korean and UN forces back to the ‘Pusan perimeter’ in the south-east corner of South Korea.
- North Korean (KPA) forces cross the 38th parallel, capturing the South Korean capital Seoul by 28 June.
- North Korean forces sweep further south threatening Ch’onan in the west.
- North Korean forces sweep further south capturing in turn Ch’onan, Ch’ongju Taejon, then Kunsan in the west, and threatening Andong further east.
- North Korean (KPA) forces capture virtually the whole of the Korean peninsula except for a small corner in the south-east. Forces advancing down the eastern flank capture Andong but are stopped on an east-west front before P’ohang on the east coast and Taegu further west. The centre and western flanks of the advancing KPA forces continue to sweep right down to the south-west tip of Korea capturing Kwangju, Mokp’o and the central southern coast and the town of Yosu. An easterly push toward the port city of Pusan is halted along what is to become the east-west front of the Pusan perimeter – extending from outside Taegu in the north, to outside Masan on the southern coast.
- North Korean forces capture P’ohang on the east coast advancing the north-south front further south. The east-west front however remains. This is the furthest the KPA forces are able to advance.
Phase 2: United Nations counteroffensive
15 September—24 November 1950
- On 15 September the UN made an amphibious landing at Inchon near Seoul. The following day the breakout from the Pusan perimeter began. The next two months would see North Korean forces pushed back far into the north beyond the 38th parallel.
- United Nations forces break out of the Pusan perimeter in the south-east corner and advance north – also landing troops at Inchon on the west coast near Seoul and recapturing the South Korean capital. The North Korean (KPA) forces retreat north pursued by UN forces. Pyongyang is captured as UN forces cross the 38th parallel. As a result, Chinese forces cross into North Korea.
- UN forces make an amphibious landing at Inchon.
- The breakout from the Pusan perimeter begins as Po’hang, on the east coast, is retaken by UN forces. UN forces push northward and westward retaking Kwangju and Mokp’o in the south-west. The amphibious force at Inchon begin to drive eastward toward Seoul.
- UN (blue) territory expands as front line pushes first a small distance both west and northward from the area of the Pusan perimeter extending furthest in the north-west. P’ohang now falls within the blue territory. As the red front line is pushed back to the north, the whole of the southern coast of the Korean peninsula becomes blue territory including Kwangju and Mokpo in the south-west. Within the expanding blue area a small red area starts to become enveloped.
- Seoul is recaptured as UN forces continue to drive out further from Inchon.
- As the UN forces continue to push northward and westward from the Pusan perimeter, a large North Korean formation in the south (east of Kwangju) is isolated and begins to shrink under attack by UN forces. Within 12 days southern towns from Chonan in the west coast to Wonju in the centre and further north past Kangnung on the east coast are liberated.
- UN (blue) front line from Inchon spreads east to envelope Seoul. Blue territory continues to spread upward from the south surrounding the first North Korean formation east of Kwangju.
- UN forces driving out from Inchon to Seoul join up with UN forces pushing from the south as towns from Chonan in the west, to Wonju in the centre are reclaimed. On the east coast, the counteroffensive pushes through Kangnung to reach the 38th parallel.
- During the North Korean retreat a second large North Korean formation – west of Taejon – also becomes isolated and begins to shrink under attack by UN forces.
- As the red front line is pushed back toward the north, the whole of the southern area of the Korean peninsula turns blue – from Chonan near the west coast to Wonju in the centre and further north past Kangnung on the east coast. As blue territory flows northward, the last isolated red pockets of KPA inside continue to shrink.
- In the northward push, UN forces capture the towns of Keasong, Munsan, Ch’unch’on close the 38th parallel. Crossing the 38th parallel into North Korean territory proper, they capture Ch’orwon and threaten the North Korean town of P’yonggang further north again. By this time the isolated North Korean formations further south have been completely eliminated.
- Blue territory pushes up over the 38th parallel line to Pyonggang enveloping Ch’orwon.
- With the crossing of UN forces into North Korea, Chinese troops cross the Yalu River and enter North Korea from the north.
- The North Korean capital Pyongyang is captured in the continuing northward UN counteroffensive, while on the north-east coast UN forces push over the 40th parallel capturing the port of Hamhung.
- Blue territory expands further north up – just past Pyongyang and beyond Hamhung.
- With North Korean forces pushed back – in some places almost to the Chinese border – United Nations forces reach the limit of their advance. In the north-west they have reached Chongju and the 40th parallel, while in the north-east they have advanced almost to the 42 parallel with the capture of Chong’jin on the far north-east coast.
- Blue territory expands towards the Chinese border leaving a narrow strip of red above it. Throughout this whole phase, at the completion of each above action, a dotted line remains on the map denoting the front line at that date.
Phase 3: Chinese intervention
25 November 1950—January 1951
- With UN forces advancing deep into North Korea, the tide turns again as Chinese forces enter the war. In the wake of the Chinese intervention the United Nations are forced to rapidly retreat south.
- Having entered North Korea secretly in October, the Chinese army launched a small offensive later that month. In the face of the Chinese offensives of late November 1950 through to January 1951, UN forces are forced to withdraw rapidly south. Pyongyang, and then Seoul, are evacuated as Chinese forces cross the 38th parallel. UN forces isolated at Hamhung and Wonsan are evacuated by sea to Pusan.
- Chinese forces launch their second offensive.
- US divisions retreat south of the Chongchon River.
- Red front line expands in small area in north-west corner as Chonju is enveloped inside red territory.
- With Chinese forces pushing south most rapidly through the centre of the country, UN forces are forced to abandon Pyongyang. With this central push, Chinese forces reach the 38th parallel across the centre and eastern front line. UN forces further up the north-east coast are reduced to two isolated pockets around the ports of Hamhung and Wonsan further south.
- Red territory flows rapidly south. While slower in the north-west the blue front line is pushed back to the 38th parallel elsewhere. The blue territory in the north-east contracts to two blue pockets at the coast.
- UN forces at Hamhung and Wonsan are evacuated by sea to Pusan. By this time, Chinese forces on the north-western side of the front line push south to the 38th parallel.
- Red territory in the north-west flows to the 38th parallel. Arrows animate from Hamhung and Wonsan down to Pusan as red envelopes the blue pockets.
31 December 1950
- Chinese forces launch a third phase offensive across the 38th parallel that lasts until 5 January 1951. In the face of this advance, UN forces abandon Seoul on 3 January.
24 January 1951
- With Chinese forces having captured Seoul and continuing their advance into South Korea, they reach as far as Cho’nan 85 kilometres further south, before this advance is halted by the UN offensive that begins the following day.
- Red territory expands south down the peninsula and across the whole of its width – pausing firstly just above Seoul then further south just short of Cho’nan.
Phase 4: Towards stalemate
25 January—31 October 1951
- In early 1951, having halted the Chinese advance into South Korea, UN offensives begin to push Chinese forces back beyond the border...
- From 25 January to 22 April 1951, in a series of offensives, UN forces retake Seoul and push north through the 38th parallel. The Chinese Spring Offensive then pushes south but is halted north of Seoul. From May to October, UN forces again push north to a line that is then largely static for the duration of the war.
- UN forces launch a series of offensives beginning with ‘Operation Thunderbolt’. By 22 April they have pushed beyond the 38th parallel.
- Chinese forces begin their ‘Spring offensive’ which lasts until May. They in turn push UN forces back south well past the 38th parallel but are halted before reaching Seoul.
- A new 353 Regiment arrives via the north-west road – its three battalions crossing the river at different points heading towards the 2PPCLI positions via different routes.
- UN offensives push Chinese forces back past the 38th parallel to a position that is close to the final demarcation line and today’s border between North and South Korea.
- The front line and red and blue territory shifts back and forth with each action, as the ground in the centre of the map around the 38th parallel changes hands. At the completion of each action, a dotted line remains on the map denoting the location of the front line at that date.
*The Australian Government and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs do not take a position on whether the body of water between Japan and the Republic of Korea should be referred to as the “Sea of Japan” or the “East Sea”.