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Korean War Introduction

"The Air Force is on trial in Korea."
- Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, USAF Chief of Staff, 1950

The U.S. Air Force was only three years old as a separate service when North Korea invaded South Korea in the summer of 1950. The next three years brought significant changes in technology, roles and tactics, marking the beginning of the modern Air Force.

When World War II ended, the United States accepted the surrender of the Japanese in Korea south of the 38th parallel, while the Soviet Union accepted the Japanese surrender north of that line. Although the western Allies intended that Korea become an independent democracy, the Soviet Union had other plans.

In 1947 the United States put the problem of Korean independence before the United Nations. When the UN ordered free elections throughout the country, the Soviet Union refused to allow them in the north. Free elections in the southern half of Korea in May of 1948 established the Republic of Korea. The Soviets created a rival communist government in the north, the "People's Democratic Republic of Korea."

With governments established in both halves of Korea, the Soviets announced their intention to leave the country and challenged the United States to do the same. After training a small national force for internal security in South Korea, the United States departed, leaving only a few military advisors. In the north, the Soviets oversaw the creation of the well-trained and equipped North Korean People's Army with Soviet tanks, heavy artillery, and aircraft. After assuring the military superiority of North Korea, the Soviets left in 1949. Less than a year later, border skirmishes between north and south exploded into all-out war with the North Korean invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950.

U.S. and UN Roles
The United States was committed to defending South Korea against communist aggression. Although the United States had no official treaty obligating it to South Korea, President Harry Truman ordered U.S. forces in the Far East into action on June 27, and three days later authorized air attacks in North Korea. He also began to mobilize reserves for the coming battles.

The Korean crisis was also the first major test for the five-year-old United Nations. On June 25, 1950, the United Nations Security Council met to address the crisis. The Soviet Union, boycotting the UN because the international body did not recognize communist rule in China, did not attend. On June 27, the U.S. proposed the UN intervene in Korea with armed force. With the Soviets absent and unable to veto the measure, the resolution passed. In addition to South Korea and the U.S., 15 other member nations sent military forces to stop the communist attack.

Click on the following links to learn more about the Korean War.

K-Bases in Korea
Dust, Mud and Snow: An Airman's Life in Korea
Army Green to Air Force Blue
R&R: Rest and Relaxation

Click here to return to the Korean War Gallery.


Find Out More
Dr. Conrad C. Crane: "The Air Force Learns and Adapts in Korea" (00:57:17)
Other Resources
Korean War Chronology (Provided by AFHRA)
Korean War Campaigns (Provided by AFHRA)
USAF Organizations in Korea (Provided by AFHRA)
USAF Historical Study No. 71: Korean Operations, 1950 (Provided by AFHRA)
USAF Historical Study No. 72: Korean Operations, 1950-1952 (Provided by AFHRA)
USAF Historical Study No. 127: Korean Operations, 1952-1953 (Provided by AFHRA): Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
USAF Historical Study No. 131: USAF in Korea, 1950-1953 (Provided by AFHRA): Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4