Our Time in Hell: The Korean War1:44:07

Our Time in Hell: The Korean War

On 25 June 1950, the North Korean army invaded South Korea, violating a truce struck at the end of World War II, and starting a conflict that would bring the U.S., China, and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war. By August 1950, the North Koreans had pushed the ill-prepared American and United Nations forces into a small area around the port city of Pusan.

Facing strong opposition from President Truman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur launched a massive invasion of the port of Inchon and went on to recapture Seoul, turning the tide of the war. When the North Koreans retreated to their homeland, MacArthur followed them, assuring a skeptical Truman that the Chinese would not enter the war. Little did he know that Chairman Mao was sending a quarter-million troops into North Korea to repel the Americans and take the whole peninsula.

Our Time in Hell tells the story of the Korean War with newsreels, old footage and extensive interviews with American soldiers.

The Korean War

The Korean War began when North Korea invaded South Korea.  The United Nations, with the United States as the principal force, came to the aid of South Korea. China came to the aid of North Korea, and the Soviet Union gave some assistance.

Korea was ruled by Japan from 1910 until the closing days of World War II. In August 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, as a result of an agreement with the United States, and liberated Korea north of the 38th parallel. U.S. forces subsequently moved into the south. By 1948, as a product of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, Korea was split into two regions, with separate governments. Both governments claimed to be the legitimate government of all of Korea, and neither side accepted the border as permanent. The conflict escalated into open warfare when North Korean forces—supported by the Soviet Union and China—moved into the south on 25 June 1950. On that day, the United Nations Security Council recognized this North Korean act as invasion and called for an immediate ceasefire. On 27 June, the Security Council adopted S/RES/83: Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea and decided the formation and dispatch of the UN Forces in Korea. Twenty-one countries of the United Nations eventually contributed to the UN force, with the United States providing 88% of the UN’s military personnel.

After the first two months of war, South Korean forces were on the point of defeat, forced back to the Pusan Perimeter. In September 1950, an amphibious UN counter-offensive was launched at Inchon, and cut off many North Korean troops. Those who escaped envelopment and capture were rapidly forced back north all the way to the border with China at the Yalu River, or into the mountainous interior. At this point, in October 1950, Chinese forces crossed the Yalu and entered the war. Chinese intervention triggered a retreat of UN forces which continued until mid-1951.

After these reversals of fortune, which saw Seoul change hands four times, the last two years of fighting became a war of attrition, with the front line close to the 38th parallel. The war in the air, however, was never a stalemate. North Korea was subject to a massive bombing campaign. Jet fighters confronted each other in air-to-air combat for the first time in history, and Soviet pilots covertly flew in defense of their communist allies.

The fighting ended on 27 July 1953, when an armistice was signed. The agreement created the Korean Demilitarized Zone to separate North and South Korea, and allowed the return of prisoners. However, no peace treaty has been signed, and the two Koreas are technically still at war. Periodic clashes, many of which are deadly, continue to the present.

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