Koje-Do (now Geojedo), is an island 40 kilometers southwest of Busan, South Korea, where the United States operated a prisoner of war (POW) camp during the Korean War. North Korean and Chinese prisoners rebelled and seized the camp. At the request of the US military, Canadian troops helped recapture it, but their involvement led to a diplomatic spat between Ottawa and Washington.
Prisoners of War Revolt
By 1952, the US and its United Nations allies were taking large numbers of prisoners of war. Koje-Do was chosen as a location for one POW camp. The island soon became home to 160,000 North Korean and Chinese prisoners. Individual compounds contained as many as 6,000 men.
The prisoners, who were inadequately controlled in the American-operated camp, began to rebel against the camp commanders. In May 1952 they captured much of the camp and held captive camp commander Brigadier General Francis Dodd. While he was held, Dodd allegedly confessed to the inhumane treatment of POWs. He was released unharmed after a few days.
Intent on sharing the burden of POW administration among the other UN forces in Korea, the US requested the help of British Commonwealth army units to deal with the camp rebellion — but did not consult with the governments of those units.
A company of the Royal Canadian Regiment went to Koje-Do on 25 May. Without bloodshed, it helped to restore order to a portion of the camp and guard some of the prisoners. The Canadians were chiefly guarding a compound of 3,200 prisoners, mostly North Korean officers. The communist POWs greeted the Canadians with a large banner that read, “Canadian, British, Dutch, employed by American Imperialists! Don’t be a puppet of American Imperialists to massacre POWs.”
In June, US forces moved into other rebel compounds with infantrymen and tanks. Both sides suffered casualties, but US-led forces re-established control of the prison.
Angered by the deployment of Canadian troops at Koje-Do without its consent, the Canadian government delivered a public diplomatic protest to the US government. Officially, the protest was made on the grounds that it was Canada’s policy to keep Canadian troops unified under Canadian command. But many believed it was because Ottawa feared political repercussions at home if it did not object to the use of Canadian troops in this way.
US authorities were publicly accommodating, and US forces relieved the Royal Canadian Regiment of its POW duty on 8 July 1952. Privately, however, the US was infuriated by the Canadian protest.