The American landing at Inchon, South Korea, a western port city not far from the capital of Seoul, on Sept. 15, 1950, was a huge gamble on the part of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander of United Nations forces in the Far East. The invasion by the First Marine Division and the Army’s Seventh Infantry Division faced numerous daunting obstacles and could have been hung up by the tricky tides of the port, shallow waters, North Korean resistance, or poor weather.
Despite the obstacles, the Inchon Landing was a military success that relieved pressure on the United Nations forces holed up within the Pusan perimeter, about 100 miles south of Inchon, where they were besieged by the North Korean People’s Army. The Korean War had begun on June 25, when North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung ordered the NKPA to drive south to capture South Korea and thus regain the entire Korean peninsula for the Communists. Shocked, American and Republic of Korea forces reeled south before stabilizing around the port of Pusan. When MacArthur’s forces made their surprise landing at Inchon and then recaptured Seoul two weeks later, the NKPA was forced to retreat headlong up the peninsula. With Allied forces now breaking out of Pusan to meet up with the invading Inchon forces, 125,000 North Korean soldiers were captured in a classic pincer movement.
Emboldened By Success
The Inchon landings were important because they broke the back of the North Korean attack and saved South Korea from being taken over by Kim Il-Sung. But this daring feat of arms and seminal victory was also important, ironically enough, because it widened and lengthened the Korean conflict. Instead of being content with halting the North Korean onslaught, MacArthur -- nothing if not vainglorious -- was emboldened by his success at Inchon. He decided to destroy the NKPA by driving north all the way to the banks of the Yalu River, which marked North Korea’s borders with China.
Forced To Retreat
In a mirror image of Kim Il-Sung’s plan, MacArthur’s goal was to reunite all of Korea under the leadership Syngman Rhee, the South Korean leader. But as fall turned to winter and the American and U.N. forces reached the frozen wastes along the Yalu River, they discovered that the Chinese would not allow their North Korean allies to be overwhelmed. In late November, the Chinese poured across the Yalu, engaged the U.S. and U.N. forces in bitter fighting and forced them to retreat. The lines of battle stabilized along the 38th parallel in July 1951, but the war would only end two painful and bloody years later with a cease-fire that kept the country permanently divided at just the point where it had been when the North Koreans invaded in June 1950.
His Last Invasion
Douglas MacArthur continued to push for an escalation of the conflict, even after President Harry Truman sought to open peace negotiations with the Chinese. On April 11, 1951, almost seven months after the Inchon landings, Truman fired him, making the Inchon invasion MacArthur’s last grand success.
- Naval History & Heritage: Inchon Invasion, September 1950.
- History Net: Korean War: Operation Chromite
- History.com: This Day in History: September 15, 1950: U.S. Forces Land at Inchon
- PBS.org: The American Experience: The Korean War
- The Harry S. Truman Library.org: FAQ: Why Did President Truman Dismiss General MacArthur
- Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images