The Buzz

The Simple Reason North Korea Keeps Bringing the World to the Edge of War

There were also rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had been plotting revenge for the losses his navy incurred three years earlier.

The Sinking of ROKS Cheonan: 

By far the most deadly attack by North Korea in recent history was the torpedo ambush and sinking of the ROKS Cheonan.

A Pohang-class corvette of the kind that saved the day at the first battle of Yeonpyeong, Cheonan was on patrol off the coast of Baengnyeong Island on March 26, 2010, when the South Korean navy’s Second Fleet Command sent a warning to the ship.

A North Korean submarine and six support ships had disappeared from the port of Nampo.

Submarines is why ships like the Cheonan exist. An anti-submarine corvette, the ship was 289 feet long, displaced 1,200 tons and had a crew of 95 sailors. Cheonan packed a 76-millimeter gun, four Harpoon anti-ship missiles and six Mk.46 anti-submarine torpedoes. Plus depth charges.

Then at 9:22 p.m. local time, the rear of the warship exploded. Within five minutes of the blast, Cheonan broke in half and sank. Forty-six sailors died.

A South Korean investigation into the attack placed the blame on Pyongyang. In particular, they found fragments of a CHT-02D guided torpedo with “No.1” written on it in Hangul, the Korean alphabet.

Government sources told South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper that two North Korean miniature submarines also took part in the attack.

North Korea denied responsibility, but the general consensus among international experts solidified around North Korea being responsible. But why would it sink a corvette? There are two possible reasons.

At the time of the attack, South Korea and the U.S. were holding the annual Foal Eagle and Key Resolve military exercises. North Korea objects to exercises because they strengthen U.S.-South Korean defense cooperation. Attacking a ship such as Cheonan makes the argument that the alliance cannot protect Seoul from attack.

Another theory proposed that Kim Jong Un planned the attack as a way of padding his military resume. Although he is a marshal of the North Korean army and supreme commander of its military, he has no actual military service.

Writing a resume with blood isn’t an unprecedented move in North Korean history. His father similarly masterminded the 1987 bombing of Korean Airlines Flight 858 to give himself credibility in state and military matters.

The Shelling of Yeonpyeong Island:

In 2010, North Korea again turned its focus toward Yeonpyeong Island. This time with an artillery bombardment.

There were plenty of targets on the tiny island. Yeonpyeong is a mere 2.8 square miles in size, with a civilian population of 1,780 and a garrison of 1,000 South Korean marines.

On November 21, South Korean intelligence detected the movement of a North Korean battalion armed with multiple-rocket launchers to within firing range of Yeonpyeong. The battalion possessed 18 122-millimeter multiple rocket launchers mounted onto trucks, similar to the Soviet Katyusha weapon systems made famous during World War II.

At 2:34 p.m. on Nov. 23, the battalion unleashed a barrage containing an estimated 150 rockets. In military terminology, the shelling was a “time on target” attack, a technique pioneered by the U.S. Army in World War II. In such an attack, the gunners coordinate their shells and rockets so that instead of landing in a steady pattern, they impact all at once.

After a 15-minute pause, a second barrage of 20 rockets again struck the island. Each rocket carried a high-explosive warhead weighing 41 pounds. A fire swept the island, destroying several civilian buildings.

The marine garrison, equipped with six K-9 Thunder 155-millimeter howitzers, and an American-made AN/TPQ-37 artillery-locating radar, swung into action.

But unfortunately for the marines, two of their howitzers were out of commission for repairs, and the radar—which can track rockets and artillery shells to their source—failed to work.

The four working howitzers executed a pre-planned strike on mainland targets. The radar then came back online, and the marines identified the source of the North Korean barrage. The marines shifted targets and began firing on the multiple-rocket launchers.

South Korea fired a total of 80 155-millimeter shells at North Korean positions, but a damage assessment conducted later suggested that none of shells hit their targets.

Two South Korean marines and two civilians died in the exchange. Fifteen marines sustained wounds. Had the first barrage not targeted the marines, civilian casualties would likely be far worse. The pause between barrages gave civilians enough time to rush to hardened underground shelters.