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Archive Report: UN Forces Korea

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.

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Role Played By Canada In Korean War

  • Canadian Operation Name: (Korea 1950)
  • Canadian Operation Dates: 1950/06/30 –1957/08/01
  • Mission Mandate: To repel the North Korean aggressors
  • UN Security Council Resolutions 82 (25 June 1950), 83 (27 June 1950), 84 (7 July 1950) and 85 (31 July 1950) (Chapter VII)

Mission Notes:

On 25 June 1950, North Korean military forces crossed the 38th parallel, invading South Korea in an effort to create a single unified Korean state. International reaction was swift. The United Nations Security Council passed Resolutions 82 (25 June 1950), 83 (27 June 1950), 84 (7 July 1950) and 85 (31 July 1950), which called upon North Korea to withdraw its forces north of the 38th parallel. United Nations members were requested to provide such assistance as would allow South Korea to expel the northern aggressors. Further, a unified United Nations Command (UNC) was formed of the military forces sent to assist South Korea, the UN forces to be led by the United States.

In Canada, the Cabinet met on 28 June to discuss possible Canadian responses to the Security Council requests. Lester Pearson, Secretary of State for External Affairs, indicated that the United States was reacting with more air and naval forces and that Great Britain was considering the contribution of a naval force. In addition, Pearson noted that the UN Secretary-General had requested two military officers several weeks previously, the officers to be employed with the United Nations Commission on Korea (UNCOK). Brooke Claxton, Minister of National Defence, indicated that Canada could contribute a number of destroyers and a small squadron of transport aircraft. All decisions on contributions were held off until all possibilities had been explored, although the two officers for UNCOK were approved (see entry for UNCOK and UNCURK).

Of the three military services, the Royal Canadian Navy was the only one in a position to provide a force for immediate deployment. On 30 June, three destroyers based on the west coast were ordered to sail for Pearl Harbor and onwards to Korea. It was only while in Pearl Harbor that HMCS Cayuga, Sioux and Athabaskan were advised that they would be under the operational control of General Douglas MacArthur as Commander United Nations Forces Korea. They arrived in Sasebo, Japan on 30 July, ready to join the defence of the Pusan (Busan) perimeter.

On 19 July, Cabinet approved the deployment of 426 Sqd RCAF, the RCAF’s only long-range transport squadron. 426 would be deployed under the operational command of the United States’ Military Air Transport Service, under the name Operation HAWK. They departed Montreal on 25 July, arrived at McChord Air Force Base, Washington state on the 26thand sent three aircraft to Japan on the 27th.

The question of sending ground troops was more problematic. There was an air of uncertainty as to whether the North Korean actions were an isolated incident, or whether the Soviet Union would use the apparent military weakness of the west to its own advantage. Canada had only one army formation that could be dispatched immediately – the Mobile Striking Force, which was tasked with the defence of Canada. To send this force would be to leave Canada without a ready response in case the Soviet Union challenged the newly-created NATO. Cabinet considered options through July about what type of ground contribution could be made, what equipment would be used (American or British), to whom would the force be attached. On 7 August, Cabinet agreed to send ground troops to Korea.

With the arrival of the RCAF and RCN in Japan in late July 1950, it would be another seven years before the last Canadian forces would be withdrawn from Korea.

Naval Forces during the War

Eight Canadian destroyers participated in the Korean Conflict, with all ships participating at least twice. It is beyond the scope of this description to provide a complete list of activities or a history of the RCN participation in Korea.

During their initial deployment, Cayuga, Sioux and Athabaskan were deployed on the West Coast of Korea, under British command. They served as convoy and carrier escorts, participated in the Inchon landing as escorts for the logistics support group, attacked shore targets and protected friendly islands from sneak attacks. In addition they mounted anti-submarine patrols and from time to time landed and participated in several landings of South Korean Marines on more isolated off-shore islands. The occasional mine was detected and blown up by sending a motor cutter to attach explosives – a risky proposition. Aside from the risk from mines, perhaps the most dangerous part of the first patrol was the evacuation of UN forces from Chinnampo, the port for the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. Cayuga, Athabaskan, and several other allied vessels proceed up Taedong River, with its many shifting sandbars and undredged channels, and evacuated UN forces, bombarded targets ashore and escorted back numerous small craft filled with Korean refugees.

RCN vessels also operated on the East Coast of Korea with the USN. Here, the activities were similar to those on the West Coast, but with one addition. The East Coast of Korea is mountainous, but has a narrow coastal plain. Railway lines run along the coast, often in plain sight of ships at sea, and here, the UN destroyers were materially able to contribute to the war effort by attacking trains running along the coast. Those ships who could prove they had destroyed at least one train were able to join the “Trainbusters Club”. The RCN vessels took to the effort with a vengeance, destroying more trains than any other navy.

By the time of the Armistice, eight RCN destroyers had participated in the conflict: HMCSs Athabaskan – 3 deployments; Cayuga – 2 deployment; Crusader – 1 deployment; Haida – 1 deployment; Huron – 2 deployments; Iroquois – 2 deployments; Nootka – 2 deployments and Sioux – 2 deployments.

Air Forces during the War

The RCAF contributed one transport squadron to the United Nations effort, and 22 fighter pilots on exchange with the USAF. The main thrust of RCAF activities in the period of the Korean War was to build up its own forces and deploy them to Europe, providing support to NATO at a time when a large portion of USAF resources were engulfed in Korea and when the Soviet union could have taken advantage of perceived NATO weaknesses.

During the Korean War, 426 Squadron served with the USAF in transporting personnel and supplies to the Korean theatre. These operations are described in the entry under Operation HAWK.

In March 1951, the USAF suggested that RCAF pilots would benefit from exchanges with USAF squadrons in the Korean theatre. Canada accepted the offer as a way of giving RCAF pilots combat experience and a programme was instituted to post them, on an individual basis, to either the 18th Interceptor Wing at Kimpo just west of Seoul, or the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at Suwon, south of Seoul. Their tour of duty would be six months or 50 combat missions, whichever came first; most found that they flew the requisite sorties in three to four months, accumulating about 70 hours of combat flying time, and 20 hours non-combat.

The first pilot dispatched under this programme was Flying Officer B. Simpson, but he was not the first Canadian to see combat in Korea, as Flight Lieutenant Omer Levesque had already been on exchange with the USAF when war broke out in Korea and proceeded there with his American squadron.

The two squadrons undertook a myriad of roles: fighter sweeps and patrols behind enemy lines; combat air patrols covering the search and rescue of downed pilots; fighter bomber missions; and escorting photo reconnaissance aircraft.

Overall, RCAF pilots scored nine “kills”, two “probables” and 10 “damaged”. One pilot, Squadron Leader Andrew MacKenzie, was taken prisoner when his aircraft was accidentally shot down by one of his squadron mates. He was not released until 1955.

The RCAF also contributed other personnel. Thirteen RCAF Nursing Sisters flew with the USAF Military Air Transport Service, bringing wounded soldiers from Korea to the United States and Canada. Occasionally, they flew on 426 Squadron flights. The RCAF also sent, on an individual basis, technical experts in a variety of trades for brief periods of time.

Operation Hawk

  • Canadian Operation Name: Operation Hawk
  • Canadian Operation Dates: 1950/07/25 to 1954/05/25
  • Mission Mandate:
  • To provide airlift support to United Nations Command, as requested through United Nations Security Council Resolutions 82 (25 June 1950), 83 (27 June 1950), and 84 (7 July 1950)

Mission Notes:

After consultations with the United States, it was determined that for the Air Force contribution, a squadron of transport aircraft would be the most valuable because the United States’ Military Air Transport Service (MATS) had a greatly reduced capability at that time. After the effort of the Berlin Airlift, a large proportion of MATS’ aircraft were undergoing extended maintenance and cleaning. Accordingly, the Cabinet approved the deployment of 426 Squadron on 19 July 1950, under the name of Operation HAWK.

As it was, 426 Squadron had already begun making its own preparations for a possible deployment. As the RCAF’s only long-range transport squadron, they expected to be called upon to provide support to any Canadian contribution to the United Nations’ efforts. 426 Squadron’s planning included the use of six Canadair North Star aircraft, flying from one of the Northwest states in the United States for a period of one year. In this planning, the squadron was helped by the fact they had completed Operation Mobility in the past year, which saw them quickly deploy to Edmonton and operate from that location over several months.

Canadair North Star

On 20 July, 426 Squadron was ordered to deploy to McChord Air Force Base, Washington State, to be integrated into the United States MATS’ efforts. Six aircraft would initially deploy, transporting personnel and materiel to Japan, with the caveat that the aircraft were not to fly to South Korea. Five days later, six North Stars departed for McChord, arriving on the 26th. On the 27th, the three aircraft departed for Japan.

Six aircraft with twelve crews and 180 support personnel on board left Dorval Airport in formation over Montreal, then over the Peace Tower in Ottawa, where the body of The Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon W. L. MacKenzie King was lying in state. After over flying to Toronto, the Squadron broke formation and the aircraft proceeded individually to McChord arriving early on 26 July. The operational plan called for one departure every morning; aircraft would be flown at 150 hours and aircrew at 110 hours per month. Three aircraft departed McChord on 27 July with slip crews and servicing personnel to set up the North Pacific route through Anchorage and Shemya to Haneda AFB at Tokyo. The round trip was 10,000 miles, the flying time was in the order of 50 hours depending of course on the weather conditions and enroute winds

Flying operations involved long crew days and particularly challenging weather conditions at the terminals along the Aleutian chain of islands where high winds and low clouds or fog were the norm. Many aircrew flew in excess of the planned rate of 110 hours per month and on occasion some individuals exceeded the 200 hour mark.

Operations from McChord proved difficult at first. It was a fighter base suddenly taken over by MATS and its seven transport squadrons (including 426 Sqn) And consequently there was a lack of servicing facilities, accommodations, messing and other amenities for such a large number of personnel and aircraft. These shortcomings were rapidly corrected as the US military machine swung into high gear and construction was begun at breakneck speed. Highly original nose hangars were just one of the buildings erected to address the lack of maintenance space and shelter.

Relations with their USAF counterparts were very good. 426 Squadron navigators helped develop a standard navigation briefing for all flights to Japan, while the maintainers quickly borrowed newer LORAN sets (radio navigation aids) from their USAF counterparts, to replace the wartime sets in service in the North Stars. This provided more accurate and reliable navigation assistance on the long distances flown between refueling stops. A gentleman’s agreement was also arranged to provide flying hours for USAF navigators (of which there was a surplus) so that they could maintain their proficiency – essentially by having a USAF navigator fly with the squadron when the North Star carried only one RCAF navigator.

The chosen route was via Elmendorf Air Force Base, near Anchorage, Alaska; Shemya Island, in the Aleutian chain; and Misawa, Japan, before offloading at Haneda, near Tokyo. The aircraft then returned via the same route. From the end of November 1950 to mid-June 1951, North Stars returning to McChord took a southern route back from Japan. This involved flying to Wake Island and Honolulu for refueling, before making landfall and refueling near San Francisco and then on to McChord. A total of 125 flights returned via this route, with injured American and Canadian servicemen being the main passengers.

North Star Routing

To support these operations, a detachment of maintenance personnel was stationed in Alaska, initially at Elmendorf, before being moved to Adak and later Shemya, where they stayed until the end of the operation, and also at Haneda to prepare the North Stars for the long flight back to McChord. While the southern return route was in operation, a detachment was also maintained at Honolulu. That few flights suffered mechanical difficulties of any kind is testament to the skills of the ground crews.

The flights in 1950 carried mainly personnel and special freight, with mail for the Royal Canadian Navy destroyers when mail bags were ready. A MATS C-54 could only carry 7500-8500 lbs, while a North Star could carry 10,000. MATS put this capability to good use. Initially, flights were scheduled at the rate of one per day, but only 426 Squadron was able to meet that standard helped by the fact that 12 North Stars were on strength by October 1950. As MATS started returning its Berlin Airlift aircraft to service and as new aircraft were coming on line, the requirement to maintain one flight a day was reduced to 17 a month in February 1951, and then to 10 a month in June 1952.

The flights to Japan were not easy. Icing was a problem for most of the year, while the Aleutians chain is also subject to dense fog on a more frequent basis than almost any other place on earth. Landings at Shemya were almost always under Ground Controlled Approach, and in winter had the additional hazard of strong winds. The route also took 426 Squadron close to the Soviet Union. Soviet bases often spoofed or mimicked western air traffic controllers in an effort to divert flights, while the slightest error in navigation could put an aircraft over Soviet territorial waters, where an interception could legally have taken place and the aircraft forced to land in the Soviet Union.

Another problem was faulty charts. On one occasion, for example a North Star landing at a Japanese airfield to which the squadron had not flown before clipped the top of a mountain, while descending through clouds because the information provided by the navigator was erroneous. Despite all the risks, only one North Star crashed throughout the entire operation. On 27 December 1953, while returning from Japan, the nose strut of a North Star fractured on landing in Shemya during a heavy snow storm with strong cross-winds and a snow-covered runway. Although the aircraft slid into a gully and was a write-off, nobody was seriously injured.

RCAF North Stars flew to South Korea six times, five in 1951 and once in 1952. All trips departed from Japan, landed in South Korea, and departed within a few hours. On three occasions, this involved taking senior military personnel to meetings and twice bringing Christmas mail and goods to Canadian troops serving in Korea (1951 and 1952).

The long distance training and the self-reliance of the maintenance detachments that these Trans-Pacific flights provided were a valuable opportunity for the RCAF to train personnel. In March 1951, the RCAF began rotating personnel through the air and ground crew positions, thereby providing as many airmen with experience in this manner of operation as possible.

Although the Korean War ended with an armistice on July 1953, Operation Hawk continued, in part because no Western government was sure that the armistice would hold. The operation was finally concluded on 25 May 1954 after more than 34,000 flying hours. 426 Squadron airlifted more than 13,300 personnel across the Pacific and carried more than 7,000,000 lbs of freight. At least 764 personnel rotated through 426 Squadron.

The statistics for the Squadron on the Korean airlift are impressive. In just under four years, 599 round trips were made to the Far East. This entailed a total of 34,000 flying hours without loss of cargo or a single passenger. No one was injured on flight operations which was a miracle when one considers the numerous incidents and "near misses".

Ground Forces during the War

When Canada decided to contribute land forces to the conflict the government chose to do so by mobilizing a volunteer “special service force” drawn largely from veterans of the Second World War. These became the 2nd Battalions of the three regular army infantry regiments (The Royal Canadian Regiment, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and the Royal 22nd Regiment), supported initially by C Squadron, Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) (2nd Armoured Regiment); 2nd Field Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery; 57th Canadian Independent Field squadron (Royal Canadian Engineers), and the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade Signals Squadron. First to arrive were 2nd Battalion PPCLI, in mid-February 1951, the rest of what would be called 25 Brigade following in May. The Brigade served under American command until the creation of the 1st Commonwealth Division.

Volunteers for the Special Service Force signed on for one-year. Accordingly, beginning in 1952, the original Special Service units and sub-units were replaced by the “regular” “first battalions” of the three infantry regiments and regular armoured, engineer and signal squadrons. All the other component corps of the army – medical, service, dental, ordnance, provost and RCEME - were of course represented in the theatre as well. The Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, it should be added, provided pilots for aerial surveillance and spotting duties. A third rotation took place one year later.

Although there was a dramatic ebb and flow to the Korean conflict in its early months, the front line had essentially stabilized by the time most Canadians who served there had arrived. Further, patrolling and holding the line were the norm, not major offensive operations. But that did not diminish their contribution. Indeed, at Kapyong and Hill 355, the steadfastness of the Canadian units against overwhelming Chinese forces was remarkable, and the allied line did not break.

The Headquarters, 25 Canadian Infantry Brigade (25 CIB) was formed on 9 August 1950. It arrived in Korea on 4 May 1951 and left 2 December 1954 with the reduction of the Canadian contribution. A Canadian Section, Headquarters First (Commonwealth) Division was formed on 1 August 1951 and disbanded 20 May 1956. Canadian personnel attached to division headquarters, which included the position of GSO 1, the division’s principal staff officer, usually numbered from 20 to 30, and were responsible for planning within the 1st Commonwealth Division.

A Canadian Military Mission, Far East (CMMFE) was created in September 1950 to provide Canadian representation at the United Nations Forces (UNF) Headquarters in Tokyo. The Commander CMMFE responsibilities included making the preparation for the arrival of Canadian ground troops in theatre, advising the Canadian Chiefs of Staff on the general battle situation and on future United Nations Forces plans, and acting as a channel to convey information between Canada and the UNF. In these duties, he was responsible to the Commander, 25 Canadian Infantry Brigade.

While the bulk of Canadian personnel served in Korea, smaller numbers served in Japan, in support of the effort in Korea. These were mainly administrative units, and included an ordnance liaison group, a postal unit and signal troop. In June 1951 with the formation of the 1st Commonwealth Division, a Canadian contribution was made to the Commonwealth Hospital. The largest unit was the 25th Canadian Reinforcement Group, which was responsible for the holding and training of reinforcements until they were needed in Korea. All of these units were located at Kure, on the southwestern coast of the main island of Honshu.

In October 1951, it was decided to reorganize and streamline the Canadian forces involved in supplying the troops in Korea. The Canadian Section, Line of Communications and Base Troops, British Commonwealth Forces in Korea was created. To it were later added a convalescent centre, a leave unit and a welfare adjunct.

After the Armistice

Fighting in Korea came to an end on 27 July 1953, but the signing of the armistice on that date did not end the Canadian role in Korea. The armistice agreement was not signed by the governments involved in the United Nations’ efforts, but rather by the Commander, United Nations Command. As a result, it was the United Nations that acceded to the cease-fire and the military contribution that continued after the armistice was in support of the UN Command. There was considerable doubt as to whether either President Syngman Rhee of South Korea or the Chinese/North Korean forces would honour the armistice. The requirement to maintain forces in Korea therefore continued.

As a result, the RCAF continued Operation Hawk until 25 May 1954. Several fighter pilots also served on exchange with USAF forces in Korea. The RCN maintained three ships on station in Korean waters throughout 1954. It was not until 26 December 1954 that this was reduced to one ship. The RCN contribution was eliminated on 7 September 1955.

After the armistice, the First Commonwealth Division continued as a formation in Korea, although it later shifted its headquarters to Tokyo under the name British Commonwealth Forces, Korea (BCFK). The Division was disbanded in November 1954, although the title continued until March 1956. Canada continued to participate in the Commonwealth contingent, although there was no formal agreement.

The Canadian brigade did not reduce its strength until November 1954 when most of its units returned to Canada. The 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade Headquarters was disbanded in December 1954. These reductions were carried out in consultation with Commonwealth governments and the United Nations Command. Remaining in Korea were the 2ndBattalion, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, No. 3 Field Ambulance, a provost detachment and three other minor units. Most of these were withdrawn in April 1955, leaving the total Canadian commitment at 20 officers and 260 men with the field forces in Korea and the headquarters in Japan. Further reductions in the UN would follow as the armistice seemed to hold. In March 1956, No. 3 Field Ambulance (RCAMC) departed to be replaced by the newly formed Canadian Medical Detachment composed of both medical and dental personnel. The CMMFE would also remain in Tokyo for a total Canadian contingent of 42 persons.

This arrangement was to last a little over one year. The last Canadian troops were pulled out of Korea and Japan in August 1957, leaving only one Canadian Officer and one Canadian NCM with the UNC.

Source:Government of Canada

SY 2020-02-03

Acknowledgments: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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