1

Inchon: How General Douglas MacArthur Surprised North Korea (And Changed History)

Inchon: How General Douglas MacArthur Surprised North Korea (And Changed History)

How the tide was turned during the Korean War.

General MacArthur was not solely responsible for the great deed done in the campaign, Colonel Heinl concluded. He must be given credit for what Heinl calls “a masterpiece,” but he was responsible for the conception of Operation Chromite, not its command execution. For that the laurels must properly go to “the trinity of victory:” Admiral Struble, the overall commander of all forces afloat; Rear Admiral Doyle, the amphibious force commander; and General Oliver P. Smith, the landing force CO.

“Every great campaign spawns its statistics,” lamented Heinl. “To defeat the 30-40,000 defenders which the [NKPA] threw piecemeal against X Corps, 71,339 soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and ROK troops landed at Inchon and bore their part in the battle. The cost of this victory to the United States was 536 killed in action or died of wounds, 2,550 wounded, and 65 missing in action. Among the Services, Marines, on the ground and in the air, paid the highest price.”

Adds Ridgway: “The measure of the role the ground forces played in Korea may be judged from the fact that, of the total U.S. battle casualties for the entire conflict, the Army and Marines accounted for 97%.… [But it] certainly may be said that the gallant airmen and sailors who contributed so much to the effort are nowhere more highly honored than in the hearts of the doughboys and Marines who fought the ground battles.”

Reassertion That America Was a Maritime Power

Overall, Heinl asserts, “Inchon underscored … that America is a maritime power, that her weapon is the trident, and her strategy that of the oceans. Only through the sure and practiced exercise of sea power could this awkward war in a remote place have been turned upside down in a matter of days.”

He also makes this very astute observation: “Civil wars, Communist wars, and Asian wars are unhappily noted for their ferocity. The Korean War was all three … Not only did the NKPA cause the ruin of Seoul, but they stripped it systematically (as they did Inchon) of all usable industrial machinery and even office furniture, conducting such removals until the very last moment.”

Like Army man Ridgway, Marine Heinl notes, too, that Inchon was a joint inter-service victory, and quotes the words that are inscribed on the monument that stands today at Green Beach on Wolmi-Do and is still honored each year on Sept. 15 by the South Koreans (who “do not forget”):

Red Chinese Enter The Korean War

“The victory was not won by any one nation or any one branch of the military service. … The Inchon-Seoul operation was conducted jointly by the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.” The ROK forces, this writer feels, should be added to the inscription.

The victory had long-term effects that are still felt today, Heinl felt: “It revindicated amphibious assault (and, more fundamentally, maritime strategy) as a modern technique of war. In so doing, it almost unquestionably averted the abolition of the U.S. Marine Corps and naval aviation.”

The war went on, even though many thought it was won (on Oct. 30, 1950, one U.S. newspaper prematurely avowed that “Hard-Hitting UN Forces Wind Up War”). Less than a month later, Red Chinese Marshal Lin Piao launched his massive attack across the Yalu River from Manchuria into North Korea. “Two Chinese Army Groups—the Fourth, operating against Walker, the Third, against Almond [commanding the X Corps]—attacked with overwhelming force,” wrote MacArthur. “It was an entirely new war.”

Still, that was in the future, and even in the light of subsequent events, nothing can be taken from the bold stroke that both the enemy believed impossible of attempt and completely fulfilled its goal and prediction of cutting enemy supplies and reinforcements while at the same time putting him in a vise between two fighting forces.

Inchon Invasion Receives Wide Praise

General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower termed the victory “a brilliant example of strategic leadership,” while General Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz called it “one of the most, if not the most, significant military operations in history.”

It was left to U.S. Navy Admiral “Bull” Halsey to say of the attack: “Characteristic and magnificent. The Inchon landing is the most masterly and audacious strategic stroke in all history.” In 1964, author David Rees in his work Korea: The Limited War, termed Inchon “A 20th Century Cannae, ever to be studied.”

And yet back in those bleak and desolate days of the summer of 1951, MacArthur himself was the first to realize that, in German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s words, “If I fail… everybody will be after my blood.” On the very eve of the landings he noted, “I alone was responsible for tomorrow, and if I failed, the dreadful results would rest on Judgment Day against my soul.”

Originally Published October 3, 2018.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia