The Korean War: Chronicles of Trials and Overcoming

Learn about important moments of the Korean War through the flow of cases

North Korean soldiers during the early phase of the Korean War (1950)Original Source: NARA / the National Library of Korea

June 25, 1950: North Korean invasion of South Korea

At 4 a.m. on June 25, 1950, the North Korean military made a surprise attack and crossed the 38th parallel north and invaded South Korea. Since being liberated from the Japanese Occupation in 1945, the Korean Peninsula was split into the military government regions of the USSR and the USA. Three years later, South and North Korea founded their separate governments, and the tension between the two sides exploded as North Korea attempted to unify the nation by force.

ROK soldiers reassembled at Suwon, just after the fall of Seoul (1950-07-01)Original Source: NARA / the National Library of Korea

June 28, 1950: Seoul falls

Unlike the North Korean Army that prepared for this attack for a long time, the South Korean Army was not ready for war. The main forces of the North Korean and South Korean armies clashed in the northern part of Seoul, but South Korea was defeated by the North Korean tanks. The South Korean Army that lost the capital, Seoul on June 28th delayed the advance of North Korea at its defense line on the Han River for one week.

Pvt. Kenneth Shadrick firing Bazooka at North Korean tanks during the Battle of Osan (1950. 7. 5.)Original Source: NARA / the National Archive of Korea

July 5, 1950: Arrival of UN Forces

After hearing news of the North Korean invasion, the US government immediately held a UN Security Council meeting and decided to enter the war on the 28th. Task Force Smith was the first US military unit deployed to Korea on July 5th, and it fought its first battle against the North Korean military at Jukmiryeong in Osan. The North Korean Army was still advancing quickly southward, but the South Korean Army and UN Forces slowed their advance while waiting for more reinforcements.

ROK soldiers inspecting captured enemy weapons during the Busan Perimeter (1950-08-10)Original Source: NARA / the National Library of Korea

August 1950: Nakdonggang River defense line

In early August 1950, more than a month after the outbreak of the war, North Korean forces reached the River Nakdong. There was a fierce battle between the North and South Korean Armies, where the North wanted to take the last remaining territory of the Republic of Korea, and the battle, with combined South Korean and UN Forces, managed to keep North Korea at bay for about a month. The final onslaught by North Korea continued until September failed in the footsteps of Daegu.

U.S. LSTs disembarking UN personnel and equipment on Incheon (1950. 9. 15.)Original Source: NARA / the National Archive of Korea

September 15, 1950: Incheon Landing Operation

The UN Command decided to land on the rear lines of the North Korean military to overturn the tides of war with a single swipe.While the fight for the defense of River Nakdong was at its peak, the UN Forces successfully landed two divisions in Incheon on September 15th and recaptured Seoul on the 28th. Thus, the main supply route of North Korea from Pyongyang to Seoul to Busan was severed, and the North Korean military began to rapidly collapse on all fronts.

Civilians welcomes ROK soldiers crossing 38th parallel at Goseong (1950-10-02)Original Source: NARA / the National Library of Korea

October 1, 1950: Passing the 38th parallel

The combined South Korean and UN Forces that began their counteroffensive from the Nakdonggang River defense line successfully took back all of the South Korean territories in just two weeks. The South Korean Army crossed the 38th parallel for the first time at Yangyang on October 1st and advanced northward to hold North Korea responsible for attacking South Korea and to unify the Korean Peninsula. The combined South Korean and UN Forces soon pushed north on all fronts, capturing major cities including Pyongyang and Wonsan, and continued to march to the border with Manchuria.

Chinese POWs captured by ROK 1st Corps at Hamheung (1950-10-19)Original Source: NARA / the National Library of Korea

October 19, 1950: Intervention from the Chinese Army

As the tides of war turned, North Korea reached out to the USSR and China for help, and China responded by entering the Korean War by deploying about 200,000 soldiers. The advance of the South Korean and UN Forces reached the northernmost point of the Korean Peninsula at the Amnok (Yalu) River and Tumen River, but they faced a crisis with the sudden participation of the Chinese Army.

Refugees waiting for U.S. ships to evacuate from the Hungnam Port (1950-12-19)Original Source: NARA / the National Library of Korea

December 1950: Retreat again, and the Hungnam Evacuation

The war now escalated with the addition of a new enemy. Unprepared for this situation, the South Korean and UN Forces retreated to the 38th parallel by December 14th. In Hamgyeongbuk-do, the US 10th Corps and about 100,000 North Korean refugees who were surrounded by the Chinese Army escaped to South Korea via Hungnam Port.

Soldiers of the 27th Regiment, the 25th Infantry Division defending frontline (1951. 7. 11.)Original Source: NARA / the National Archive of Korea

March-May, 1951: Battlefront back at square one

The Chinese Army captured Seoul in January of 1951 and continued to press south, but their advance was stopped at the 37th parallel north. The South Korean and UN Forces seized this opportunity and went on a counteroffensive and recaptured Seoul in March, and they  pushed up to the 38th parallel. During this time, the stage was set for frontline battles that would continue for the next two years.

Representatives of both UN and the Communist Forces negotiating at Gaeseong (1951. 7. 8.)Original Source: NARA / the National Archive of Korea

July 1951: Beginning of ceasefire talks

As the war started to fall into a stalemate, the UN and communist parties began talks for ceasefires at Kaesong. The talks lasted two years and involved whether to continue battles, withdrawal of foreign forces, and issues related to the exchange of prisoners.

A platoon leader and his sergeant of the 29th Regiment, the 9th ROK Division (1953-05-26)Original Source: NARA / the National Library of Korea

July 1951–July 1953: Battle for the hills

Believing that a permanent demarcation line would be determined depending on the results of the ceasefire talks, the armies on the two sides began fighting to gain more advantageous land. Hills that would gain control over the surrounding area became the main battlegrounds, and the fierce war of attrition where hills changed hands continued day and night. To the west, there were many battles, including the Battle of the Hook, the Battle of Nori Hill, the Battle of Old Baldy, the Battle of White Horse, the Battle of Triangle Hill, the Battle of Capitol Hill, the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge, and the Battle of Hill 351… Many soldiers sacrificed their lives on numerous hills.

U.S. soldiers spraying insecticide to the Communist POWs at Geoje POW Camp (1952-05)Original Source: NARA / the National Library of Korea

May 1952: Another war, prison camps

The war of ideologies was being held not only on the battlefronts but also at prison camps. Communist army prisoners captured by the UN Forces were split into pro-communist and anti-communist, where they were in fierce opposition to each other. The pro-communist prisoners kidnapped the head of the prison camp and had a huge impact on the ceasefire talks regarding issues with the repatriation of prisoners.

Signing of the Armistice Agreement (1953-07-27)Original Source: NARA / the National Library of Korea

July 27, 1953: Signing of the ceasefire agreement

After two long years of suffering, the two sides reached an agreement on the military demarcation line and prisoner exchange, finally signing a ceasefire agreement after 1,127 days of the war. This war that cost the lives of 620,000 South Korean soldiers, 990,000 civilians, and 140,000 UN troops while turning the Korean Peninsula into a wasteland ended as an unresolved war.

1953–Present: What was lost and what was gained

This painful war took the lives and properties of countless people, and enrooted deep anger and hate against the opposite side. But the friendship with the international community, hope for revival, and value of freedom were some precious outcomes of the war. The war is still not officially over even after decades since the bombardments stopped, and the courage and experience of Koreans who overcame crises are also continuing.

Credits: Story

Planning: Koh Han-bin
Editing/Host: Jung Seo-hee

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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