Korean War Timeline

          Wars can never be fully understood without a study of underlying causes. This was particularly true when we structured a timeline exhibiting Korean War facts.

          The Korean War added a factor that was less evident than in other conflicts. This war was replete with obstacles to conclude the hostilities and, concurrently, negotiations to find solutions. One obstacle, the desire for a clear and conclusive victory, is apparent in most wars, but in Korea that wish for a clean, concluding victory was impaired by an obvious deadlock. Each of the belligerents had an early shot at that clear cut victory, but failed to close the deal. The subtle obstacles for ending the Korean War were best expressed by Elizabeth A. Stanley (Ending the Korean War) “--------wars can only end once all the belligerents develop similar expectations about the war”. In the Korean war, this meant a mutual recognition of the existence of the stalemate.

          We add the caveat that the mutual understanding of the parties was conditioned on changing domestic forces. In this regard, we will refer, in our timeline of Korean War facts, to the United States, Soviet Union and China. You may gauge that the causes were more important than the actual war. The war was never really terminated and the effects of the causes outlived the battles. Ergo: the Cold War.

After your review of this Korean War timeline, we call your attention to the additional links located below this table detailing the decisive elements of this war. We have intentionally omitted from the timeline many battles to which we have devoted a separate link and intensive study.

Korean War and its Causes

Korean War Timeline
Korean War Timeline

Sino-Japanese War: Russian Empire grapples with Japan and the latter scores an unprecedented victory. One of the spoils of war was the Japanese ruthless control of Korean peninsular until 1945. Russian Empire falls in 1917 and civil war erupts resulting in a one party government in 1922 (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics---USSR---led by Joseph Stalin).
Korean War Timeline

One of the penalties imposed on Japan at the end of World War 2 was the loss of Korea. A precursor of the causes of this mid century Korean war was the decision to divide (rather than unify) Korea along the 38th parallel. Soviet Union controlled the north and the United States the southern half of the peninsular.
Korean War Timeline

United Nations formed and given enforcement mechanisms lacking in League of Nations. First session convened in London, January 1946.
1946 President Harry Truman leads congress to pass National Security Act creating a Department of Defense, Department of the Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This provided government with a new management system for future wars. Although 4 years before war, this became a salient Korean War fact and particularly the part played by the Central Intelligence Agency.
1946-1948 In a little known Korean War fact, these years were dedicated to attempts to unify north and south under United Nations auspices.
1947-1949 Truman Doctrine: aimed at containment of communism, treating the potential fall of Greece and turkey resulting from these forces as a threat to the United States. Marshall Plan created to rebuild Europe as free markets and, unsaid, as a defense against the spread of Soviet style communism. Formation of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) an obvious bulwark against Soviet designs on western Europe. Although none of these programs and organizations made mention of the Soviet Union, its intent was most obvious to that government and directly fits into the pattern of Korean War facts. Essentially, containment supported the "domino" policy that theorized as communism sought expansion into neighboring countries it would create a snowball effect engulfing more and more free nations and hence the dominoes would fall. Soviets particularly concerned about programs that would assist German rearmament.
Korean War Timeline

Soviet Union and the United States administrative and military occupations end and withdraw from the Koreas.
North Korea ideologically akin to Soviet Union establishes a totalitarian regime under the leadership of Kim il Sung. The north becomes a client state of the Soviet Union dependent on the advice and largess of the latter.
President Truman integrates armed services fully implemented during Korean War.
South Korea gains independence as Republic of Korea (ROK)
Korean War Timeline

President Truman reelected. He has serious reservations about Soviet intentions and commences to sway isolationist sentiments toward limited intervention seemingly without Korea in mind.
Congressional Republicans accuse Truman administration of communist infiltration in executive departments. In the wealth of Korean War facts, this little known cause adds to the drum beat of eventual intervention in Korea.
Korean War Timeline

North Korea now known as Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) as a communist dictatorship fully supported by the Soviet Union which furnished military training for cadre of DPRK. Russia sees this as an opportunity to gain influence in the Pacific rim.
Syngman Rhee elected president of a militarily weak Republic of Korea (ROK). His government lacked any real democratic institutions. As staunchly anti-communist, United States stands with that government.
Chinese communist forces are victorious in its civil war to gain control of its mainland and releases trained North Korean troops it utilized in its own war. A foundation of a strengthened North Korean army---a highly significant event and a critical Korean War fact.
Korean War Timeline

In the mid 1990’s, subsequent to the break-up of the Soviet Union, Politburo (Executive policy makers) records on the secret meetings among North Korea, China and the Soviets are publicly disclosed and described the conflicting positions of the ruling parties regarding war in Korea.
Numerous reports of minor skirmishes along 38th parallel.
Aug 1949 Sung lobbies Stalin to approve his invasion of South Korea and makes the case that Korean population in south ready to revolt against the Rhee government because they desired unification. Stalin unconvinced about the efficacy of an invasion and certainly concerned about intentions of United States to intervene.
Russians successfully test Atomic bomb and starts cold war arms race.
1950 A key Korean War fact occurs when Mao Zedong leads China to victory and control of mainland China.
Sung continues efforts to entice Soviets to back his invasion and simultaneously attempts to influence China. He adroitly pressures each of those governments with hints about extending their influence or being left behind.
Jan 1950 U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, declares that the vital interest of the United States geographical defense perimeter in Pacific encloses Japan, but pointedly omits South Korea. This echoes General Douglas McArthur who publicly discounts the possibility of an invasion of south Korea. The secret records of the Politburo are not clear on whether these statements influenced the decision of the Soviet Union.
Korean War Timeline

Sino-Soviet Treaty strengthens material and military cooperation with Chinese government, a new entity after its civil war.
March The ultimate prewar act: Soviets secretly approve North Korea invasion and begin training and supplying them and furnishing them with an invasion plan.
April Soviet records reveal Stalin state of mind indicating a more hawkish view supported by Mao victory in China and securing atom bomb.
Korean War Timeline

U.S. Congress approves a 2 year aid package for South Korea reversing a decision earlier in the month.
China (Mao) agrees to invasion on the condition that Russia will not be actively involved.
June President Truman deploys air force to evacuate Americans from Korea.
June 24 North Korea crosses, in force, 38th parallel and invades South Korea.
June 25 United Nations Security Council called into emergency session. Soviet Union boycotts session due to permanent seating of Taiwan representing China instead of Communist mainland government. In Soviet absence and their veto power not in effect, Council Resolution 82 passed demanding that North Korea end invasion. This legitimized United Nations actions and the most dramatic of the early events in the pantheon of Korean War facts.
Korean War Timeline

June 27
UN passes Resolution 83 finding North Korea violated the peace and demanded that their forces return to north of the 38th parallel. Soviets absent for the vote.
June 28 U.S. air force bombs North Korean forces. Two days later air force given authority to bomb North Korea and deploy ground troops.
June 29 Seoul, capital of South Korea, falls to North Korean forces.
July 7 UN passes Resolution 84 requesting member nations to supply troops to join a military action under a U.S. commander. 16 nations comply and mission known as a “police action”. General Douglas McArthur takes command on following day. Troops of many countries served directly under United States command.
July 14 President Rhee places ROK forces under the United Nations command.
July is recalled as particularly difficult on U.S. troops who suffer heavy casualties with a few fragile victories. U.S. discovers North Korean atrocities against U.S. prisoners of war.
Aug 4-Sept 18 North Korean troops drove U.S. and ROK forces to southeastern corner of South Korea and established a defensive position about the port of Pusan and known as the Pusan perimeter.
Korean War Timeline

Sept 15
General McArthur constructed a daring plan to rescue the defenders of Pusan and cut N. Korean supply lines. His U.S. Marine troops made an amphibious landing at the port of Inchon, drove inland creating a pincer movement with a counter attacking Pusan force that destroyed the North Korean army.
Sept 29 UN forces recapture Seoul and drive north.
Sept 30 Washington authorizes General McArthur to cross northward over the 38th parallel.
Korean War Timeline
Chinese premier Zhou Enlai warns Washington that China will intervene in the event UN forces cross 38th parallel. Many in Chinese government are anti war because of failing economy after their civil war. However, Mao, now convinced by N. Korea about the efficacy of the war, claims that China’s internal security threatened by reactionary pro western forces. President Truman dismisses the threat as mere blackmail of the United Nations.
Oct 7 UN forces cross 38th parallel.
Oct 10 Zhou travels to Moscow to negotiate for aid for war effort. Soviets will only extend aid on credit and advises that their air force will only operate defensively in Chinese air space.
Oct 14 Chinese troops respond to UN crossing 38th parallel and enter North Korea crossing international boundary, Yalu River. Chinese refer to their soldiers as “volunteers”.
Korean War Timeline

Oct 15
Almost simultaneously with Chinese crossing into N. Korea, General McArthur met with President Truman on Wake Island to report on the progress of the war and assured Truman that Chinese would not intervene. There appeared to be a meeting of the minds which would unravel in April.
Oct 19 UN captures Pyongyang, capital of the north.
Nov 24 McArthur orders a bold offense intending UN troops to drive to the Yalu River and tells his troops they will be, “home for Christmas”. Chinese troops effect an ambush and drive is a disaster.
Dec 4 Lt. Jesse Brown shot down over Korea. First African-American pilot to die from his injuries after a daring and failed attempt at rescue.
Jan 1951 Chinese capture Seoul. Ultimately retaken by UN March 18. The offensives undertaken by the belligerents underscore a stalemate which was , nevertheless, deadly in terms of casualties.
April 11 McArthur increasingly at odds with Truman over strategies. The general publicly declaring a desire to blockade Chinese coast and bomb their mainland. Truman fearful that this would invite Soviet entry into the war. A potential prelude to World War III .Truman recalls and removes McArthur from command and asserts civilian control over the military. Appoints General Matthew Ridgeway as replacement.
July 10 Belligerents’ forces face each other over the 38th parallel and first truce talks at Kaesong, N. Korea, a city located on the 38th parallel. Talks fail although they agree on agenda.
Sept 23 UN forces advance several miles north of 38th parallel and engage North Korean forces over 3 week period and take “Heartbreak Ridge”.
Nov 27,1951 - April 1952 New truce talks commence in tents at Panmunjom, North Korea. Parties agreed on truce line, 38th parallel, but could not agree on nature of prisoner exchange. Both sides relatively inactive during heavy winter weather, and casualties commensurately reduced. During this period, until April 1952, prisoners were screened to determine if they chose repatriation. This was a source of dispute with Chinese who sought involuntary repatriation of all their nationals. President Truman called that position “repugnant to moral principles” and insisted that negotiators recognize this precept.
Korean War Timeline

United Nations announced that about 60% of Chinese and North Korean prisoners of war voluntarily refused repatriation. Chinese negotiators refused to accept. One of the most significant aspects of Korean war facts is the shadow of Stalin in the truce talks. He was quite comfortable with a continuing war that sapped United States resources and this sentiment acted as a brake on Chinese desire to end the war. North Korea was essentially sidelined in favor of their patrons wishes.
May Hard line Chinese prisoners held on Koje-do island POW camp captured the American commandant, General Francis T. Dodd, and forced the Americans to discontinue screening for voluntary repatriation.
June-July Both sides had utilized the prior relative winter calm to strengthen their positions and engaged in fierce artillery battles and limited outpost skirmishes.
August-Sept The battle for hills and ridges began a new aspect to the war. The control of the mountainous redoubts was considered a first line of defense for each side. Battles were inconclusive with control changing hands constantly. Although limited in scope, casualties weighed heavily on American leaders.
Oct 8 UN negotiators leave armistice table frustrated with inability to resolve prisoner repatriation issues.
Oct 14 In an effort to convince the Chinese of their intentions to prosecute the war, Americans mounted large offensive to take Triangle Hill, but were unsuccessful after heavy casualties on both sides. Thereafter, the sides retired to their winter positions and repeated the 1951 scenario.
Korean War Timeline

Jan 1953
Dwight Eisenhower elected president after campaigning to conclude the war. Nevertheless, communist leaders were fearful that this election might signal a hard line to continue the war.
March Joseph Stalin dies shifting new Soviet leaders’ position on the war. This alters the trajectory of Korean War facts.
Apr 26 Negotiators return to Panmunjom and Communists agree to voluntary repatriation.
Mar-May Communist forces commence new attacks hoping that additional territorial gains would strengthen their positions in the final armistice terms.
June While the negotiators hammered out details of the agreement, Communist forces commenced a new offensive attaining several miles of new territory. Historians look at this Korean War fact and believe these last “minute” actions were meant to bolster a history of communist victories.
July 6 A last communist successful offensive to dislodge Americans from a hill outpost called “Old Baldy”.
July 20-27 Armistice declared ending the war and the ultimate Korean War fact.

We have chosen to view each of the American wars as machines driven by diverse parts. Some of these elements are significant because of their evidently large size and others are insignificantly small. Nevertheless, there is an interdependence of the parts which we display as a wheel and spokes (links) that is integral to the operation of the war machine. The wheel is particularly apt in describing the vagaries of strategies and tactics of war that have gone awry by noting that “the wheel(s) have come off “. That is an obvious conclusion to be drawn from the data of Korean War facts.

Korean War Facts

Korean War Memorial

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