The Korean War Timeline

Frozen Chosin

U.S. Marines retreating from the attacking Chinese at the Chosin Resevoir


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BEGAN: June 25, 1950

ENDED: July , 1953



PREDECESSOR: Korean Resistance to Japanese Occupation, World War 2

CONCURRENT: The Cold War, The First Indochina War, China-Taiwan Cold War

SUCCESSOR: Ongoing Korean Border Battles and Incidents

The Korean War was the first major military conflict of the Cold War between the Western powers and the Communist nations in the years following World War Two. The war lasted three years, cost millions of lives, devasted both North and South Korea, and actually continues to this day as the military conflict concluded with a truce, not an actual peace treaty. The Korean War involved all of the major powers of the 1950s: The United States, United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia (the Soviet Union), as well as the relatively new United Nations. The war in Korea was just one of several major conflicts pitting the Western powers against Communist forces, but this was the only one at the time that carried the potential for escalating into a Third World War. Such a world war could easily have become a nuclear conflict as both the U.S. and Soviet Union possessed atomic weapons.

Below is a public domain timeline of events in the Korean War, provided by the U.S. Army. Map source: United States Military Academy (West Point)

Korean War Timeline 1950 - 1953

June 25, 1950

North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) invades across the 38th Parallel with 135,000 men. The outnumbered Republic of Korea Army (ROK), which does not have effective anti-tank weapons, field artillery, or combat aircraft, suffers heavy casualties. North Korean forces enter the South Korean capital of Seoul on June 28.

July 5, 1950

First battle between the U.S. Army and the NKPA. The 24th Infantry Division’s Task Force Smith, a battalion combat team deployed from Japan, attempted to delay the advance of a NKPA division near Osan. Outnumbered and poorly equipped, Task Force Smith delays the North Koreans for only a short period before retreating with heavy casualties.

Aug. 6 - Sept. 12, 1950

Defense of the Pusan Perimeter. After a series of costly delaying actions during July, the U.S. Eighth Army withdrew on Aug. 1 into a final defensive line around the key port city of Pusan. After deploying from Japan the previous month, the U.S. Eighth Army had assumed command of all U.S., ROK, and other nations’ ground combat units fighting to defeat the North Korean invasion. As reinforcements from the United States and several other nations arrive at the port, the Eighth Army directed the successful defense of the perimeter against major NKPA attacks in August and September.

Sept. 15, 1950

X Corps amphibious assault at Inchon, Seoul’s port city. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Far East Command and commander-in-chief of United Nations force, plans to liberate Seoul and crush the NKPA between X Corps and Eighth Army begins its breakout from the Pusan Perimeter on Sept. 16.

Sept. 28, 1950

X Corps completes the liberation of Seoul. Eighth Army has linked up with X Corps, and while many North Korean soldiers escape, most NKPA units are destroyed.

Oct. 19, 1950

Eighth Army seizes Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (AKA North Korea), after UN forces shift from the defense of South Korea to the destruction of the North Korean regime. The NKPA can mount only very limited and generally ineffective opposition. Meanwhile, X Corps has been withdrawn from Seoul to land in northeastern Korea.

November 26 - 30, 1950

Two army groups of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) attack and defeat outnumbered UN forces in North Korea, inflicting heavy casualties. The People's Republic of China (PRC), after warning the UN, intervenes to prevent the destruction of the North Korean regime and the establishment of a united, American-allied Korea on its border. After the attack, the Eighth Army breaks contact with the Chinese and retreats into South Korea; X Corps is withdrawn by sea to South Korea where it joins Eighth Army. Two significant battles during this period include the 2nd Infantry Division's harrowing withdrawal through the Kunu-ri gauntlet and the 1st Marine Division's heroic efforts in the Chosin Reservoir battle. While the majority of U.S. and UN forces manage to survive these first battles with the Chinese, the retreat from North Korea is a significant defeat for Allied forces.

Jan. 4, 1951

U.N. forces evacuate Seoul after the Chinese and NKPA launch another major offensive. Eighth Army breaks contact with the enemy and withdraws to a new defensive line south of the Han River,deep inside South Korean territory.

Jan. 24, 1951

Eighth Army begins a counter-offensive with an emphasis on using its superior firepower to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy. After defeating another major enemy attack in February, the counter-offensive continues.

March 14, 1951

Eighth Army retakes Seoul against light enemy resistance.

March 27, 1951

Eighth Army reaches 38th Parallel. Enemy resistance continues to be light, but intelligence indicates that the Chinese are massing their forces for another major offensive.

April 11, 1951

President Truman relieves Gen. MacArthur from his commmand after MacArthur had publicly and repeatedly questioned President Truman’s strategy for the war. At the time, this was a very controversial move, and Truman's public opinion ratings plummet at home. Many Americans hail MacArthur as a here.

April 22 - 29, 1951 & May 16-20, 1951

Chinese Spring Offensives. After forcing the outnumbered Eighth Army to make tactical withdrawals, Chinese and North Korean units in April and May are decimated by superior UN firepower. This is the last attempt by either side to win the war by inflicting a crushing battlefield defeat on the enemy’s army.

July 10, 1951

Armistice negotiations begin as both the US and the PRC decide that the costs are too high to unify the peninsula under their Korean ally, and they instead settle for a continuation of a Korea divided between two regimes. To pressure the communists and to seize better terrain for defensive lines, Eighth Army mounts a series of limited-objective attacks during the summer and autumn that are successful, but very costly because of fierce enemy resistance.

Nov. 12, 1951

Eighth Army assumes the “active defense” as the UN’s objectives in the armistice negotiations, and the growing unpopularity of the war in the United States, rule out major offensives with high casualties. In the active defense, UN forces hold a main line of resistance, protected by fortified outposts, from which units patrol and conduct raids against enemy positions.

May 7 - June 10, 1952

On May 7, NKPA prisoners-of-war at the UN POW camp on Koje Island capture the camp commander. He is released unharmed after an American officer signs a statement admitting to the mistreatment of POWs. A great propaganda victory for the communists, this incident is the most notable example of the communist strategy to turn POW camps into another battlefield of the war. During June, the UN POW camp system is reorganized to improve security, although communist POWs will continue to provoke violent incidents until the end of the war.

July 17 - Aug. 4, 1952

Battle for Outpost Old Baldy. The 2nd Infantry Division loses the outpost to a Chinese attack that demonstrates the enemy’s greatly expanded artillery force, mounts several unsuccessful counterattacks, and then finally retakes the outpost. While patrolling is now the most common form of combat, the Chinese for the next year will attempt to pressure the UN at the armistice negotiations by inflicting heavy casualties on UN units with attacks on outposts.

Oct. 6 - 15, 1952

Battle for White Horse Mountain. The successful defense of this position by the ROK 9th Division, with the assistance of U.S. artillery and air strikes, against heavy Chinese attacks signals the great improvements the ROK has made, with the aid of American advisers, in its tactical and technical competence since the first year of the war.

Oct. 8, 1952

Armistice negotiations recessed because of a deadlock on the issue of repatriation of POWs. While the Geneva Convention of 1949 mandates immediate repatriation of POWs after hostilities end, the United States decides to press for allowing POWs to choose whether they will be repatriated. The U.S. takes this position because screening of enemy POWs has revealed that tens of thousands of them are either South Koreans conscripted into the NKPA or Nationalist veterans of the Chinese Civil War drafted into the PLA after the communist victory in that war. These POWs do not want to go to North Korea or to Communist China after hostilities end.

April 26, 1953

Armistice negotiations resume. While both South and North Koreans still desire to defeat each other and unify the peninsula, the UN and the PRC wish to end what has become a bloody and expensive war whose objective, the status quo ante bellum, is for them not worth the cost of continuing.

May 28-29, 1953

25th Infantry Division battle for Nevada outpost complex. The Chinese repeatedly attack to take these outposts, suffering very heavy casualties, until Eighth Army decides to abandon the outposts. With an armistice agreement in sight, senior UN commanders conclude that holding an outpost, after the Chinese have demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice whatever number of soldiers required to take it, is not worth the cost in UN soldiers’ lives. The Chinese take several other outposts with this tactic, which is designed to distract from their concessions at the armistice negotiations and to keep pressuring the UN during the final stage of the negotiations.

June 8, 1953

Agreement reached at armistice negotiations on repatriation of POWs. All POWs will choose whether they will be repatriated, and both sides will be allowed an attempt to persuade its POWs to choose to be repatriated.

July 13-19, 1953

Chinese offensive against ROK units in Kumsong Salient. A major attack breaks through ROK lines and inflicts heavy losses, but the Chinese do not attempt to exploit the breach even though they also have suffered heavy casualties. The purpose of the attack is to punish the South Koreans for unilaterally releasing 27,000 POWs who had refused repatriation and to distract world attention from the concessions made at the armistice negotiations.

July 27, 1953

Armistice signed at Panmunjom. Both sides then withdraw slightly to create a demilitarized zone between the two Korean regimes.

Aug. 1953 - Feb. 1954

Exchange of POWs. A total of 82,493 Koreans and Chinese POWs are repatriated, as are 13,444 UN POWs (3,746 of which are Americans). 21,839 communist POWs refuse repatriation, as do 347 UN POWs, including 21 Americans.


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