Korean War

The Korean War began 25 June 1950, when North Korean armed forces invaded South Korea. The war’s combat phase lasted until an armistice was signed 27 July 1953.

The UN flag in Korea
The United Nations flag flies over the Imjin River, Korea, 1945-1965. Copyright: Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/R112-4226-4-E.
Two young children, who Peter Chisholm came across on patrol during the Korean War.
Image: Peter Chisholm/The Memory Project Archive.\r\nhttp://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/2869:peter-chisholm/
Members of the Korean Service Corps, August 1953.
The Korean Service Corps included Korean males who were unable to serve because of age or disability. They worked on infrastructure projects such as building roads and drainage ditches. In emergencies, they acted as ammunition porters. Image: Peter Chisholm/The Memory Project Archive.\r\n
Allison Furlotte, Korean War veteran
Guardsman Allison Furlotte, 4th Battalion, The Canadian Guards. Valcartier (Quebec), 1952. \r\nImage: Allison Furlotte/The Memory Project Archive. \r\nhttp://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/2793:allison-joseph-furlotte/

The Korean War began 25 June 1950, when North Korean armed forces invaded South Korea. The war’s combat phase lasted until an armistice was signed 27 July 1953. As part of a United Nations (UN) force consisting of 16 countries, 26,791 Canadian military personnel served in the Korean War, during both the combat phase and as peacekeepers afterward. The last Canadian soldiers left Korea in 1957. After the two world wars, Korea remains Canada’s third-bloodiest overseas conflict, taking the lives of 516 Canadians and wounding more than 1,200. The two Koreas remain technically at war today.

Korean Peninsula Divided

Late in the Second World War, the Japanese-held Korean peninsula was liberated by both Soviet and American armed forces. Soviet troops occupied the country north of the 38th parallel, with the Americans to the south. After the war, the Soviets, Americans, and their Korean supporters could not agree on the country’s government. The United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea, which included Canadian members, oversaw elections in May 1948, but the Soviets forbid these elections in the north. The pro-West Republic of Korea (ROK) was then founded in the south and not long after, the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was declared in the north. Both governments sought to unify all of Korea and civil war broke out in the country in the late 1940s.

Meanwhile, in late 1949, the Chinese Civil War ended with the establishment of the communist People’s Republic of China. Communist Chinese and Soviet leaders believed that North Korea could unify Korea by force, without Western interference. The communists were emboldened by the American decision to limit assistance to the non-communist nationalist Chinese regime on the island of Formosa (Taiwan). In late June 1950, with Chinese and Soviet-supplied weapons and equipment, the North Korean Army invaded the ROK.

United Nations Intervenes

The United States led the decision to help the ROK through the UN. The UN General Assembly was dominated by Western countries. Since the Soviets were boycotting the Security Council because of the UN's refusal to include the new communist Chinese regime as one of its five permanent members, the Soviets could not exercise a veto. The Security Council thus condemned North Korean aggression and called on UN members "to render every assistance" to the ROK. On 28 June 1950 Lester B. Pearson, Canada's Secretary of State for External Affairs, encouraged a Canadian response through the UN, and under US military leadership. In the government's view, Canada would fight for the UN and the principle of collective security.

Lester B. Pearson
Lester B. Pearson in Ottawa, Ontario, 1945-68. Copyright: Duncan Cameron/Library and Archives Canada/PA-212238.

Canada’s Military Commitments

Initially, Canada contributed three Royal Canadian Navy destroyers (HMCS Athabaskan, HMCS Cayuga, and HMCS Sioux) and a Royal Canadian Air Force transport squadron, No. 426 “Thunderbird” Squadron. American, UN, and domestic pressure then led to Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent’s announcement on 7 August 1950 of a Canadian Army Special Force (CASF) — later named the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group — to expand the country’s UN contributions to Korea.

Louis St. Laurent
Louis St. Laurent, 1960. Image: National Film Board/Library and Archives Canada/C-000120.
Cdn Delegation at United Nations Conference
The Canadian delegation at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco, California, United States. From left to right are: C.S. Ritchie, P.E. Renaud, Elizabeth MacCallum, Lucien Moraud, Escott Reid, W.F. Chipman, Lester Pearson, J.H. King, Louis St. Laurent, Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King, Gordon Graydon, M.J. Coldwell, Cora Casselman, Jean Desy, Hume Wrong, Louis Rasminsky, L.D. Wilgress, M.A. Pope, R. Chaput. \r\nImage: Nicholas Morant / National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada / C-047570

War’s Early Phases

At first it appeared that the war would be short-lived as, under US General Douglas MacArthur, UN forces drove the North Koreans back, first to the 38th parallel, then to Korea’s border with China. However, by the end of October 1950 thousands of Chinese army "volunteers" crossed the Yalu River into North Korea, driving the UN forces back south.

Canadian Military Participation

In November 1950, the Canadian Army brigade’s 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Regiment, was sent overseas and landed in Korea in December. In May 1951, the rest of the Canadian brigade arrived. For the army, the Korean War became largely a “war of patrols” in rough, mountainous terrain, but infantry, tank, and artillery units were also involved in heavy fighting at the battles of Kapyong (22-25 April 1951), Hill 355, also known as Kowang-San, (22-25 November 1951 and 22-24 October 1952), and Hill 187 (2-3 May 1953), among many other actions. Eight Canadian warships took turns in Korean waters protecting UN aircraft carriers, busting enemy trains along the coasts, and helping other onshore operations. The air force’s transport planes ferried people and materials across the Pacific Ocean, while 22 Canadian pilots flew jet aircraft with the United States Air Force in Korea.

CBC Interview with Lt. Col. Dextraze
Normand Eaves, at the mike, and Norman McBain, at the controls, interviewing Lt. Col. James Dextraze, commanding officer of the Royal 22nd Regiment\r\n\u00a9 Government of Canada. Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada (2012).\r\nSource: Library and Archives Canada/Credit: Paul E. Tomelin/Department of National Defence fonds/PA-183979\r\n
Private G.U.I. L mbert
Private G.U.I. Lambert, 2nd Battalion Royal 22e Regiment, reads comic book in slit trench, Korea, 28 May, 1951.\r\n\u00a9 Government of Canada. Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada (2012).\r\nSource: Library and Archives Canada/Credit: Paul E. Tomelin/Department of National Defence fonds/PA-128806\r\n
Private Heath Matthews of Charlie Company
Private Heath Matthews of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, awaiting medical aid after night patrol near Hill 166\r\n\u00a9 Government of Canada. Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada (2012).\r\nSource: Library and Archives Canada/Credit: Paul E. Tomelin/Department of National Defence fonds/PA-128850\r\n
Korean Armistice signed
Canadian soldiers in Japan celebrating after the announcement that the armistice was signed, ending the Korean War, 27 July 1953. Image: Fred Joyce/The Memory Project Archive.
2nd Battalion PPCLI in Korea
A 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry soldier with locals in Korea, ca. 1943-1965. Image: Canadian Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/R112-2643-X-E
René Lévesque in Korea
René Levesque, puts his mini-tape recorder on his head as he makes his way toward RCR troops deeper in enemy territory. Korea, 14 August, 1951.\u00a0Image: Canadian Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/C-077793.
André Therrien with Vincent Massey, Governor General of Canada.
Lieutenant André Therrien receiving the Military Cross for bravery in Korea from His Excellency the Governor General of Canada Vincent Massey. The ceremony took place in front of 2nd Battalion, Le Royal 22e Régiment at Camp Valcartier, Quebec in summer 1952. \r\nImage: André Therrien/The Memory Project Archive.\r\nhttp://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/2632:andre-therrien/
Allison Furlotte, Korean War veteran
Guardsman Allison Furlotte, 4th Battalion, The Canadian Guards. Valcartier (Quebec), 1952. \r\nImage: Allison Furlotte/The Memory Project Archive. \r\nhttp://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/2793:allison-joseph-furlotte/
Sailor Leonard Wells of HMCS Cayuga in Korea, 1950-1952.
Image: Leonard Wells/The Memory Project Archive. http://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/2642:leonard-wells/
Daniel Kendrick, Korean War veteran.
Neil Goodwill and Daniel Kendrick in Sasebo, Japan, 1953. \r\nImage: Daniel Kendrick/The Memory Project Archive.\r\nhttp://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/2851:daniel-kendrick/
HMCS Huron, Korean War, Daniel Kendrick
HMCS Huron in dry dock for repairs in Sasebo, Japan after running aground on the Korean island of Yang-do on 13 July 1953.\r\nImage: Daniel Kendrick/The Memory Project Archive. \r\nhttp://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/2851:daniel-kendrick/
South Korean navy patrol ship, foundered on rocks and sinking in the Yellow Sea, 1952. Image: Don Jatiouk/The Memory Project Archive. \r\nhttp://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/2267:don-jatiouk/
Joseph Ganin, Korean War veteran.
At the frontline in 1952, soldiers are ready to go replace American troops. Joseph Ganin is on the right.\r\nImage: Joseph Ganin, The Memory Project Archive.\r\nhttp://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/2576:joseph-ganin/
Joseph Ganin, Korean War veteran.
Josseph Ganin, Korean War veteran, aboard the boat that brings him back to Canada, his tour in Korea complete.\r\nImage: Joseph Ganin/The Memory Project Archive.\r\nhttp://www.thememoryproject.com/stories/2576:joseph-ganin/
John Woods at 25 Canadian Infantry Brigade headquarters, Korea, 1951.
Image: John Woods/The Memory Project Archive.\r\n
United Nations Poster
A poster for the United Nations in 1943, issued by the United States Office of War Information. Image: Harry Mayerovitch/Library and Archives Canada/1981-32-23

End of the War and Aftermath

After several months of movement by both sides, in mid-1951 the front lines became static near the 38th parallel. Until the war ended the fighting took place along these lines, mostly consisting of patrols and raids against hilltop trench positions across the area in-between UN and enemy lines, known as “No Man’s Land.” During the two years that followed the 1953 armistice, Canadians continued to serve in Korea; many were troops who guarded and patrolled the ROK’s side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which continues to separate the two Koreas. All Canadian armed forces personnel who served in Korea from 1950 to 1957 are considered Korean War veterans.

See also Koje-Do and Battle of Kapyong.


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Further Reading

  • William Johnston, A War of Patrols: Canadian Army Operations in Korea (2003)

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