Thailand's Contribution to the Land Campaigns of the United Nations in the Korean War
In last month's edition, I covered the beginning of the Korean War in June 1950 and Thailand's response to UN calls for help. Thai forces landed in South Korea in November 1950 but did not see action for four months. They acquitted themselves well.
On 2 June, the Thais, along with Greek, Turkish, and Philippine troops, and heavily supported by US artillery, tanks and air strikes, fought a successful eight-day battle to secure what was known as the Chorwon-Kumhwa area, approximately 32 kilometres inside North Korea.
Soon after this victory the conflict developed into a stalemate which became eerily reminiscent of the Western Front of the First World War. What had previously been a series of lengthy advances and equally lengthy withdrawals settled into a series of main line positions with artillery duels outweighing small arms engagements.
Between 31 July and 7 September 1951, Thai troops assisted the US 1st Cavalry Division and other UN units with the defence of Yuldong (Yultong), north of Yeoncheon. This was soon after peace talks had commenced and rumours of a settlement 'within weeks' constantly swept through the lines. From mid-1951 until the end of the war the UNC followed a policy of attempting to hold the main battle line rather than trying to achieve an all-out military victory.
For the Thais, the harsh Korean winters were harder to endure than the numerous Chinese and North Korean frontal assaults and artillery and mortar barrages made against their section of the UN line. Most of the men had never seen snow and a number fell victim to frostbite.
By the second winter (1951-1952) the Thais were supplied with American winter clothing and equipment and their officers given ready-made log bunkers for use as command posts. A group of 200 Thai replacement soldiers who arrived shortly after were given intensive cold weather training.
For the Thai land forces, perhaps their finest performance came in October and November 1952. The 21st Infantry Regiment replaced an American regiment on Hill 255, which was better known as Pork Chop Hill due to its shape. Hill 255 was one of six peaks which had been secured by the UN as part of a buffer for their line. The Chinese and North Koreans decided that it, and a number of other hills, needed to be recaptured and launched fierce assaults on Pork Chop Hill on the nights of 10 and 11 November. The Thais, supported by American artillery, held the line and killed more than 800 Chinese troops over the two nights. Another heavy Chinese attack was launched on 21 December, but again the Thai line held firm. When they were relieved by an American formation, the US soldiers found the departing Thais had written 'take good care of our Pork Chop' on one of the walls of the wooden bunkers.
In a separate incident, Major Alvin Price, the American commander of a battalion in the 2nd Infantry Division, was travelling in a jeep in South Korea with other soldiers, including the commander of a Thai battalion, when they came under mortar fire. They stopped the jeep and took cover in a ditch, all except the Thai commander. Price, a Second World War veteran, left his cover and, in his words, "…went back and got him and pulled him over into the ditch." Soon after he left the army in 1953, Price was awarded the Order of the Crown of Thailand by a grateful Thai government.
One of the last actions for the Thais began on 13 July 1953 at Hill 351 and became known as the battle of Kumhwa. A series of Chinese assaults against the position were beaten back over the next two weeks as armistice talks neared an end.
Finally, on 27 July 1953 after lengthy negotiations, an armistice was signed at Panmunjon. Both sides agreed to retire a distance of two kilometres from the last line of military contact, thereby creating a Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). Large numbers of US and UN troops, among them elements of the TEF, remained in South Korea to provide defence and act as a deterrent to further North Korean and Chinese aggression.
On 31 January 1955 more than 800 Thai soldiers and sailors arrived in Bangkok from South Korea. Large crowds were at the port to welcome the troops home after their service with UN and ROK forces.
When Prime Minister Pibul Songgram addressed the returnees he stated, "It is necessary to withdraw the Thai Expeditionary Force, because the situation around our own country requires careful watching."
All told, the TEF consisted of three infantry battalions, four naval vessels, and one air transport company. Over the 33 months the TEF spent fighting in Korea these units lost 91 men killed in battle. Another 27 died of other causes and 794 had been wounded or injured. Five men were missing.
Additionally, apart from the United States, Thailand was one of 10 other nations to send nurses to serve with the UNC.
A special cremation ceremony for the 118 men who died in Korea took place on 24 March 1955, presided over by King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
On 22 June 1972 the last 157 Thai troops left South Korea, completing almost 22 years of help in the military defence of that country. All told, around 18,500 Thai military personnel served tours of duty in Korea between 1950 and 1972.
Unfortunately we couldn't find any pictures to accompany this final part of the article apart from the one above of Prime Minister Pibul Songgram Apologies for that