Most people are familiar with the background to the present hostilities in Korea, but it might be as well to refresh our memories regarding the events which led up to the outbreak of the war in Korea on 25th June, 1950, and the subsequent events up to 9th October, 1950, when H.M.S. Theseus started operations in Korean waters.
It will be remembered that as a result of an arrangement made at the Yalta Conference, Korea was divided at the 38th Parallel in August, 1945, and that the Soviet Army accepted the surrender of all Japanese forces to the North, while the U.S. Army accepted surrender of the Japanese forces to the South of that Parallel. Thereafter all attempts to unify the country were successfully frustrated by the Russians As a result of this Russian non-co-operation separate elections were held in 1948 when the People's Republic of North Korea was formed and recognised by the Soviet Union, while the Republic of Korea was inaugurated in the South on 10th May, 1948 and recognised by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 12th December, 1948.
Soviet troops were withdrawn from the North by December. 1948, and by July, 1949 the last few American troops—who had formed a Military Mission to help train the South Koreans to defend themselves—about 500 in number, were withdrawn from the South, although the American occupation had ended officially on 23rd August, 1948. A United Nations commission which arrived in Korea in February, 1949, made several abortive attempts to unite the two halves of the country. While all this was going on a tense political atmosphere was being built up in the approved Hitler/Stalin manner, and there were constant skirmishes between border patrols along the 38th Parallel. Quantities of Russian arms were pushed into North Korea, and by June.1950, the North Korean forces had been built up to about 90,000 troops, 180 tanks and 175 operational-type aircraft—which compared somewhat favourably with the South Korean, or R.O.K. (Republic of Korea) forces of about the same numerical strength, but with no armour, and an air force consisting of 13 Piper Cubs and 10 Harvards. In the absence of the American forces which had departed—chiefly to Japan,11 months before, Moscow deemed the moment propitious on 25th June, 1950, to blow the whistle and the invasion of South Korea by the North Koreans was set in motion.
By the end of June. 1950, the invaders had reached the Han River, Seoul had fallen and the capital had been moved to Taejon. The invaders' advance down the western side of the country was faster than down the eastern side, and by the end of July,1950, only the South-east corner of the country—bounded by the lines joining Nanhal Islands. Hwanggan. Yechon and Yongdok—remained in the defender's hands. The capital had been transferred further south again to Taegu. Fortunately, Pusan. one of the most important ports in the country was still held by the defenders. August,1950 saw further constrictions in the already small perimeter held by the R.O.K. forces, but the build-up of U.N. forces, particularly of American troops—America having stated that she would not tolerate this act of aggression by the North Koreans— had begun and they started to come to the aid of the sorely pressed defenders through the port of Pusan.
The invaders were held and on 15th September, 1950, a UJN. counter-offensive started with a landing at Inchon. This was a bold stroke which succeeded. It was on a big scale, over 260 ships taking part, including a strong Royal Navy force. The main thrust of this attack was directed at Seoul. At the same time forces in the South-eastern corner started to break out of their 125 mile perimeter. A text-book pincer movement developed with forces driving South-east from Inchon and North-west from the Taegu area.
Large numbers of the enemy were cut off in the South-west corner of South Korea where even now they continue to offer guerrilla resistance though it is not now of a very serious nature. On the 9th October, 1950, when Theseus arrived in the Yellow Sea to start operations, the front line stretched roughly from the 38th Parallel on the West coast North-east to a point about 50 miles North of the 38th Parallel on the East coast, just above Wonsan.
At the outbreak of the Korean war, H.M.S. Triumph was on the Far East Station. She assisted at the Inchon landing and did a lot of very good work with the American Navy on both the West and East coasts of Korea.
H.M.S. Theseus sailed from Spithead on 18th August. 1950 to relieve H.M.S. Triumph. who by this time had completed her commission in Far East waters. 17th Carrier Air Group had embarked on the 16th and 17th August, 1950. An intensive training programme was then carried out all the way from U.K. to the Far East, interspersed with brief calls at Malta, Aden, Singapore and Hong Kong. On arrival at Hong Kong on 24th September, a week's exercises were carried out with the Army and R.A.F. defence forces there, and were very much enjoyed by all, though this enjoyment was marred by the very unfortunate death of Lt. Green, whose Fury crashed in the New Territories on 26th September.
H.M.S. Triumph arrived at Hong Kong on 29th September, and after a quick take-over from her, Theseus proceeded to Sasebo. the U.N. Naval Base in Japan. In overall command of the U.N. Naval Forces was Comnavfe—Vice-Admiral Joy, U.S.N.. with his H.Q. at Tokyo. Operating under him were four Task Forces, one of which was T.F. 95, under the command of Rear-Admiral Smith, U.S.N. T.F. 95 was split up into four groups. T.G. 95.6 was a minesweeping group. T.G. 95.7 was the R.OJC. Navy. T.G. 95.2 was the East Coast Blockade Group. T.G. 95.1 was the West Coast Blockade Group. T.G. 95.1 consisted of British Commonwealth and other allied warships, and was under the command of Rear-Admiral W. G. Andrewes. later Vice-Admiral Sir W. G. Andrewes, with his H.Q. in the "Ladybird," a converted passenger ship which was secured to the jetty at Sasebo. Theseus was placed in Task Group 95.1. and with a screen of, usually, four destroyers, formed Task Element 95.11. Later, a U.S.N. Light Fleet Carrier, the "Bataan," and some U.S.N. destroyers were added to this Group.
The aim of the Combined Navies was to maintain a continuous blockade of the enemy-held coasts of Korea, to prevent amphibious landings of men or supplies by the enemy, to protect U.N. sea transport and to support the U.N. land forces by air and by bombardment.
Theseus' job was to carry out a daily first-light armed reconnaissance of the West coast to check up on any enemy shipping movement and mining activity, to fly CAP's and AS Patrols over elements of the group as required, to provide bombardment spotting aircraft as required, and to provide aircraft in indirect or close air support of the land forces along the battle-front. During Theseus' first operational period—9th to 22nd October, 1950—a considerable advance was made by the U.N. forces to a line North of Pyongyang—Wonsan. During this time targets attacked were in the Wanchall Province and as far North as Pakchon and Chonju. Four days replenishment in Sasebo followed before the second operational period which was from 29th October to 5th November. 1950.
By November 5th, the land forces had reached their furthest point in the advance towards the Manchurian Border. On that day elements of the Chinese "Volunteers" poured over the border to commit what General MacArthur termed "one of the worst breaches of international law on record." In spite of this attack the requirements for an aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea were regarded as no longer necessary and Theseus was withdrawn to Hong Kong. She stayed there for just over a fortnight, during which time further exercises were carried out with the Army and R.A.F. But, with the Chinese Communist forces launching a major offensive a serious situation developed in Korea, the U.N. forces went into full retreat and Theseus was hurriedly recalled to the West coast of Korea to render badly needed air support to the U.N. Land Forces.
From the 5th to 26th December, Theseus operated at a very high pressure in the Yellow Sea with only a brief break of three days for replenishment. This taxed everyone on board, particularly the aircrews, to the full. Thereafter, an alternating cycle of 9 or 10 days operations and 9 or 10 days replenishment at Sasebo or Kure was organised, with, at first, the U.S. Carriers "Badoeng Straits" and "Sicily" and later the U.S. Carrier "Bataan," working in the opposite watch, and taking over the command of Task Element 95.11. This routine worked very well.
Early January, 1951 saw the launching of another major Chinese Communist offensive which drove the U.N. forces back to a line South of Suwon and Wonju by mid-January. The enemy was stopped and held there and then the U.N. forces went over to the offensive and fought back slowly and steadily consolidating their gains as they went along. As Lt. General Ridgeway put it, "the U.N. forces are now more concerned with killing the enemy and destroying his equipment than with acquiring real estate." On the last day of Theseus' operations, 19th April, 1951, the front line was for the most part North of the 38th Parallel. On 20th April, Theseus returned to Sasebo having carried out nearly 7 months very intensive operations. On 23rd-24th April Theseus handed over at Sasebo to H.M.S. Glory, who had arrived from U.K. to take over from her, and left Sasebo on 25th April, bound for U.K.
The above is a chronological presentation of Theseus' operations from 18th August, 1950 to 25th April, 1951. Here now are a few random observations, and a list of records and achievements carried out during this campaign :—
1. Extremes of weather had to be faced by the ship's company. On the outward passage training was carried out in very hot and humid conditions. In the Yellow Sea a bitterly cold winter with snow and ice had to be overcome.
2. The weather for flying was fair during the operational period in the Yellow Sea, but mist and fog were an ever-present danger.
3. The Carrier Air Group deservedly won the Boyd Trophy for 1950 for their excellent efforts. A thousand accident-free deck landings was only one of the many records they pot op.
4. Fifty sorties a day was the minimum number planned for, throughout each operational period. This was always achieved unless the weather interfered.
5. Here are some
statistics for the period 18th August, 1950 up to 19th April, 1951, when we
finished operations in the Korean Campaign :—
(a) Number of Deck Landings ... ... 4,594
(b) Number of Catapult Launchings ... 3,593
(c) Number of Hours Flown ... ... 10,189
(d) Number of Flying Days ... ... 114
(e) Average number of Hours per Pilot ...268
6. Here is a Boxscore for the whole of the operational period in Korea.
operational periods were :—
FROM TO FROM TO
8th Oct.—15th Oct., 1950 26th Jan.—3rd Feb., 1951
16th Oct.—22nd Oct., 1950 14th Feb.—23rd Feb., 1951
29th Oct.—3rd Nov., 1950 5th Mar.—13th Mar., 1951
5th Dec—26th Dec, 1950 23rd Mar—1st April, 1951
7th Jan.—17th Jan., 1951 9th April—19th April, 1951
Miles steamed on operations ... ... 36,401
Sorties flown ... ... ... 3,446
Area covered by reconnaissance aircraft 23,492,730 sq. miles.
Number of flying days ... ... 86
(i) 40mm and below ... ... 523,220
(ii) Rockets ... ... ... 6,617
(iii Bombs, 5001bs. ... ... ... 1,390
Bombs, 1,000 lbs. ... ... 84
(iv) Depth Charges ... ... ... 76
Destroyed— 93 Junks, 153 Railway Trucks, 25 Railway Bridges, 485 Buildings, 73 Road Trucks, 66 Store Dumps, 6 Railway Tunnels, 17 Warehouses, 33 Gun Positions,
16 Road Bridges, 13 Railway Engines, 8 Tanks, 3 Railway Stations, 19 Factories, 5 Power Stations, 10 Command Posts, 4 Railway Sheds, 2 Jetties, 3 Cars, 1 Hangar, 5 Road Blocks, 12 Carts, 51 Barrack Buildings, 2 Steam Rollers, 2 Omnibuses, 1 Tug, 1 Excavator, 1 Floating Bridge, 1 "Bulldozer," 1 Pump House.
Damaged— 18 Road Bridges, 77 Junks, 69 Railway Wagons, 1 Gun Position. 35 Buildings. 2 Store Dumps, 22 Warehouses, 34 Road Trucks, 1 Tractor, 15 Railway Bridges, 5 Railway Tunnels, 1 Airfield Runway, 4 Tanks, 18 Barrack Buildings, 1 Excavator, 4 Railway Sheds, 5 Factories, 10 Vehicle Revetments, 42, Sampans,
Observed Enemy Casualties— 1,750
Injured from H.M.S. Theseus —
Lt. Leonard, Lt. Humphreys, Lt. Julian, Lt. Keighley-Peach. All these pilots have completely recovered, or are recovering from their injuries.
Lt.-Cdr. Gordon-Smith, Lt. Kelly, Lt. Pinsent, Lt. Hamilton. Mr. Bailey and Acmn. II Loveys. All these aircrew were picked up safely by destroyers or helicopters.
The American helicopter rescue service cannot be too highly praised. Lts. Leonard, Humphreys, Keighley-Peach and Bowman were picked up behind enemy lines by these grand helicopter crews and Lts. Hamilton, Pinsent and Mr. Bailey and Acmn. II Loveys were picked up out of the sea by them. Lt.-Cdr. Gordon-Smith and Lt. Kelly were picked up by destroyers.