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Category: The Enemy

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The enemy in Korea

This Chinese soldier fighting in Korea 1950/53 is equipped with a Chinese Type 88 Hangyang rifle (a copy of a German rifle made before WW2). Note the fur cap, the rice bag on his right side and the bandoliers over his shoulders. Note also the cheap footwear and old style leg wrappings called puttees. North Korean infantryman circa 1950/53 with his Soviet made 7.62mm PPSh sub machine gun with a 71 round magazine. He is wearing the winter uniform of quilted jacket and over trousers and a cap with ear flaps. North Korean equipment was basic but functional and showed a close link to Soviet gear which was better quality than Chinese.

The People's Liberation Army in Korea

Chinese Communist Force soldiers (called CCF, or Chicoms or ChiComs) who have been taken prisoner await processing. >>>

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Chinese military intervention in support of the embattled North Koreans in October 1950 was substantial. Over 200,000 soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), drawn from the 38th, 39th, 40th, 42nd, 50th and 66th Armies of X111 Army Group (part of General Lin Piao's Fourth Field Army), moved across the Yalu River on the border with North Korea to the west of the central Taebaek Mountains to confront the American-dominated United Nations Command (UNC) which was in the process of driving north. Despite inferiority of weapons, tactics and operational procedures, this huge influx of manpower caught the UNC units unawares, forcing them back below the 38th parallel into South Korea. Although they were to recover sufficiently to prevent complete disaster, all hopes of an early UN victory disappeared as the war degenerated into a costly stalemate. When this ended in armistice in July 1953, the PLA had suffered enormous casualties - over a million according to some estimates - but had been forced to adapt to the demands of modern inter-state conflict.

When the intervention began the PLA was essentially a revolutionary army, dedicated to the ideals of Maoist communism and widely experienced in the art of insurgency. Most of the 'People's Volunteers' had fought Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Army during the civil war in China (1946-49) and many had conducted guerrilla operations in the 1930s and early 1940 against both the Nationalists and the invading Japanese. They were heavily politicised; commissars and political officers formed a core of Party control at every level of the PLA - and they were made aware of the perceived danger of a UN victory over North Korea.

If anti-communist forces reached the Yalu northern China and Manchuria would be directly threatened. Meanwhile the growing links between the United States and remaining Nationalists in Taiwan (Formosa) could lead to a reopening of the civil war just when China desperately needed time to consolidate its recent victory on the mainland. Faced with such prospects, the motivation of the 'Volunteers' could only be high.

Nor was this their sole advantage, for the traditions of the PLA ensured a significant measure of shock and surprise against UN forces convinced that the war was won. The PLA soldiers were physically tough and capable of moving quickly across difficult terrain without the need for a sophisticated logistics 'tail' to betray their presence. The troops of XIII Army Group, joined in late November 1950 by men of IX Army Group, to the east of the Taebaek mountains, were able to concentrate their forces preparatory to their assault the existence of unlimited UN air power by travelling mainly at night and camouflaging their positions in the day. One army, for example, trekked over 450 Kms, (250 miles) in just 19 days across terrain regarded by the UN as impassable. The army's supply line, in common, with that of other PLA formations, was subsequently attacked from the air, but was sustained by hordes of porters each carrying 35-45kg (80-1001b) of food or ammunition, who moved with equal speed and secrecy. Even if they had not delivered their supplies, the PLA units, true to their guerrilla roots, would certainly have attempted to live off the land. As infantry the PLA displayed great tactical flexibility and were able to deploy rapidly and effectively, and as individuals the PLA troops committed to Korea proved courageous land tenacious in pursuit of their objectives.

These were strengths which could not ensure complete victory, for once the UN had recovered from the initial shock of Chinese intervention, the PLA face, an enemy whose technological and firepower advantages were considerable. The evolution of the 'meat grinder' advance, whereby UN forces pushed for ward behind an overwhelming display of artillery am air power, effectively countered the PLA 'human wave' approach which had swamped UN positions ii late 1950. UN aircraft, concentrating on the supply, choke-points of the Yalu river-crossings, gradually starved the Volunteers of their basic military need, Massed infantry assaults, accompanied by trumpets, flares and a characteristic disregard for casualties continued to be a feature of Chinese tactics through out the war, but by 1952 they were achieving les success. In order to survive, the PLA was slowly, forced to deploy artillery, armour and even its own al: force. responding to the inherent strengths of it adversaries by adopting the trappings of a modern conventional army and grafting them onto a fore, which owed its origins to a peasant-based revolutionary movement. In many ways the PLA is still affected (by this dichotomy).


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces