The introduction of Chinese forces into the Korean War greatly altered the dynamic of the battlefield. Sweeping north from the Pusan breakout, UN and American forces overwhelmed their North Korean adversaries and drove deep into North Korean territory. Despite the threat of Chinese intervention on behalf of the North Koreans should UN/American troops continue their push north, Gen. Douglas MacArthur continued driving his forces across the 38th Parallel. The Chinese assembled a sizeable force of 250,000 troops and called it the People’s Volunteer Army. From years of experience fighting in the Second Sino-Japanese War, as well as the Chinese Civil War, this army was well trained and equipped to face the United Nations and American forces in Korea.
The Chinese counterattack quickly drove the UN/US forces back across the 38th Parallel. Prior to Chinese intervention, elements of the US Army’s 1st Cavalry Division had reached the Yalu River, which borders the North Korean and Chinese frontier. The introduction of 250,000 Chinese troops into the fold caused the UN/US to consolidate their forces and perform a fighting withdrawal back across the 38th Parallel. In the spring of 1951 the Chinese flooded an additional 700,000 troops into the fight for what became known as the Spring Offensive. In response to the offensive, the UN/US launched Operation Courageous. The goal of the operation was to trap a large number of Chinese and North Korean troops between the Han and Imjin Rivers. As part of Operation Courageous, an airborne operation was conducted. The operation became known as Operation Tomahawk. A regimental combat team from the 11th Airborne Division, the 187th RCT “Rakkasans” made up the bulk of the American airborne forces used.
The operation proved successful and allowed UN and American forces to sweep back north towards the 38th Parallel, but the ground counterattack was stalled by Chinese and North Korean defenses. Following Operation Courageous, the war shifted from a maneuver battlefield to a static one. For the next three years little ground was gained by either side, and the conflict took on the appearance of the Western Front from World War I. The armistice was signed between North and South Korea in July 1953, and while sporadic fighting has continued since the end of the conflict, no major offensive operations have been conducted between the two sides.
Look for more information regarding Korean War airborne operations in the upcoming Modern War issue #20 with the article “Operation Tomahawk: A Korean War Airborne Assault” and join the conversation on Facebook!