The Korean War is commonly remembered as fought by the North and South Korean armies, as well as American and Chinese troops. Little memory remains of the bravery and sacrifice of British soldiers in the Korean theater, despite a human cost which far exceeded that of all others wars fought by Britain since the Second World War. Upon the attack on South Korea in the summer of 1950, British troops stationed in Hong Kong were hastily sent to support their American allies and defend what little territory remained under Southern control. These men, who formed the 27th Infantry Brigade and 41 Commando, knew little if anything about Korea prior to their deployment, yet they undertook some of the war’s most critical missions.
Our guest for this episode, author and journalist Andrew Salmon, wrote two books documenting the deployment of British forces during the war. Scorched Earth, Black Snow covers the 27th Brigade and 41 Commando in the second half of 1950, from hasty preparations in Hong Kong to desperate battles in the Korean winter. To The Last Round, set in 1951, follows Britain’s 29th Infantry Brigade and sheds light on one of its battalions, the Royal Ulster Rifles, who fought an entire Chinese army to the very last cartridge near the Imjin River, despite being surrounded and utterly outnumbered.
In this interview, we talked about the significance of the Korean War for Britain, the importance of preserving the memory of these men and their sacrifice, and what the author tried to convey with his book.
Andrew Salmon covers the Korean peninsula for Forbes, The Washington Times, the Daily Telegraph and the South China Morning Post. He is also a frequent contributor to major South Korean outlets. In addition to his books on the Korean war, he also wrote Modern Korea: All that Matters, an introductory book on modern Korean history, and is now interested in researching the history of Seoul. Mr. Salmon holds a BA in History and Literature from the University of Kent at Canterbury and an MA in Asian Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.
Sixty men managed to get out and the rest were killed, wounded or prisonners. So the Royal Ulster battalion was essentially wiped out as a fighting force but after holding a critical pass through the hills that the Chinese really wanted to take for three nights. And if you read the Chinese after action reports – why their biggest ever offensive failed? They say: “Well, our troops had difficulties deploying in the close terrains of the Imjin valley.” I think that’s a tremendous tribute to 29th Brigade and, of course, the Royal Ulsters who were wiped out but who managed to hold the Chinese […] during the shock period of their offensive.
The interview was recorded on October 8th in Seoul.