From Cold War to Present Day


The Korean War

2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, Kap'yong, Korea, 24-25 April 1951

Caption: 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, Kap'yong, Korea, 24-25 April 1951

View Multimedia - Peacekeeping Operations

Caption: View Multimedia - Peacekeeping Operations

Canada's actions on behalf of the peace objective have occasionally involved significant resources. This was the case with the first major peace mission under the aegis of the U.N., though commanded by the United States, better known as the Korean War. In 1945 the Japanese occupying northern Korea had surrendered to the Soviets, those in southern Korea to the Americans. The Allied agreement stipulated that Korea-wide elections would be held immediately. A special U.N. commission responsible for supervising the election process came to naught. During the night of 24/25 June 1950, North Korea decided to settle Korean reunification in its own way, launching a massive attack on the southern portion of the peninsula. The Cold War, which had been raging since 1945 but with more bite after 1948, now risked turning into a real war. The empty-chair policy adopted by the USSR on the Security Council at that time enabled that body to resolve on a U.S.-led intervention on behalf of South Korea.

On 30 June, to help restore peace, Canada sent three destroyers that would quickly become involved in convoy escort and bombardment in support of U.N. troop landings and departures and against enemy trains using coastal railways. In July an air transport squadron was also placed under U.N. command to serve between the U.S. and Japan. On 7 August came the announcement that a Canadian Army Special Force was being formed. Rather than sending the Regular Force brigade, the volunteer principle was employed, as in 1914 and 1939, to create the 25th Infantry Brigade. The three existing regiments would each form a second volunteer battalion for the occasion.

The honour of being the first to see combat fell to the 2nd Battalion PPCLI. By the summer of 1951, when the Canadian brigade in Korea was complete, it would form part of the 1st Commonwealth Division, which included Australian and British troops as well. An action that was intended to be brief would continue for four years. Canada would ultimately commit, in rotation, its Regular Force battalions as well as the 3rd Battalion that each regiment would add to its 1st and 2nd battalions.

Back in 1945 the planned Canadian division for the war in the Pacific was to have received U.S.-style training and equipment. This is exactly what happened in 1950 with regard to training, although the equipment was a mixture of Canadian, British and American.

Before the arrival of Canadians in the field, the troops supporting South Korea, mainly American, re-established a temporary balance. By November 1950 they had retaken everything that had been lost in the south - actually, most of South Korea - and had made such advances in the north that they were close to the Chinese border.

At this point the Chinese became directly involved, joining their North Korean allies to drive back the U.N., which counterattacked in February 1951. This phase of the fighting engaged the 2nd Battalion PPCLI. By mid-April they were north of the border as it had existed since 1945. On 22 April, however, a South Korean division was routed north of Kap'yong, and the 27th Commonwealth Brigade was brought up from its reserve position to prevent a breakthrough across the Kap'yong Valley. From dusk on the 22nd until the morning of the 23rd, the PPCLI fought off all attacks with minimal casualties - 10 dead and 23 wounded. This feat would earn it a mention in despatches from the U.S. president, a unique event in Canadian military history. It also more or less marked the end of the Chinese-led advance. The front was re-established around the 38th Parallel on the frontier that had separated the two Koreas before hostilities began. The years 1952 and 1953 would see a number of small- and medium-scale defensive battles and actions for control of no man's land until a truce was signed on 27 July 1953. Some of these engagements would be costlier than Kap'yong. In May 1953, for example, the Canadians lost 60 men during an attack on a position held by the 3rd Battalion RCR. In November 1953 the men of the 2nd Battalion Royal 22e Régiment suffered a fierce attack. On 8 November 1954 the Canadian combatants returned home.

Almost 22,000 Canadians served in Korea. With more than 1,500 casualties, including 309 dead, this action became the third most costly of Canada's overseas military commitments.

Additional Images

Canadian infantryman in Korea, 1951-54
Canadian M4A3E8 Sherman tanks, Korea, 1951