Later, the ROK chief of engineers would be tried by court-martial and summarily shot

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

As the North Korean army (Inmun Gun) approached Seoul, thousands of civilians and soldiers tried to flee across the Han river, which ROK combat engineers had rigged for demolition — as T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War):

At that moment the bridge blew. A sheet of orange fire burst across the dark night, and the ground shook. With an ear-shattering roar, two long spans on the south side of the river dropped into the swirling dark water.

No one will ever know how many soldiers and civilians died in the explosion or were hurled screaming into the Han to drown. The best estimates indicate the number was near one thousand.

There had been no warning of any kind to the traffic thronging the bridge. Later, the ROK chief of engineers would be tried by court-martial and summarily shot for his part in the demolitions. But no one in the Rhee Government ever brought up the matter of the Vice-Minister of Defense, who had given the order that ensured the destruction of the ROK Army.

Trapped by the premature blowing of the Han bridges, 44,000 men of the divisions north of the river would die or disappear. Their vital artillery and equipment would be lost with them.


On the 28th of June, only a rabble held the south shores of the Han. The ROK Army Command could account for only 22,000 men of the 98,000 its rolls had carried out on the 25th.

The Army of the Taehan Minkuk, which had been called “the best damn army outside the United States,” had not merely been defeated. It had been destroyed.


  1. Kirk says:

    Command and control of bridge demolition is a stone bitch. It’s bad enough when you’re doing it in a military-dominated vacuum, but when there are hordes of non-combatant civilians and infiltrators…?

    I’ve been over that ground in Korea an awful lot during field exercises, and I’ve actually been “the guy” during training, manning the control points for the demo. The whole thing is fraught with potential for really horrible outcomes–You have a set of orders that seem clear when you undertake the job, but the chaos of even simulated battle can make a hash of those such that you’re sitting there with no idea of what to do, and making the decision is on your lowly shoulders because you’ve got zero communications with your higher, and circumstances have evolved way out of what the orders foresaw.

    T’ain’t no joke, any of this. The poor bastard at Remagen got executed for his trouble, just like this poor bastard did–And, neither one of them was really at “fault”. Blame the enemy, more than anything else.

    The other thing is, looking back at the whole “atrocity” issue in the Korean War, the root of the problem was the Norks and Chinese using civilians as human shields and using infiltration tactics to get close up on bridge guards and others. It reached a point where the US and ROKA troops really had no other option than to essentially machinegun masses of civilians, in order to prevent being overrun and slaughtered themselves. There were no doubt cases where there were no enemies in the ranks of the civilians, but how could you know that, and what the hell did you do about it? You let them get close, and then there’s a bunch of enemy soldiers pulling out submachineguns and knives, killing your guys. I met and talked to one Korean War-era Engineer officer who described watching helplessly from an OP while his bridge guard detachment got wiped out by infiltrators because one of his NCOs wasn’t heartless enough to order the guns to open fire on the mob charging the bridge. He’d had to detonate the charges while the bridge was covered with civilians shortly after, because they could see the Norks starting to dismantle the charges… That scene’s aftermath was something he could still call up, some sixty-odd years later, and it haunted him.

    War is a messy, messy thing. Best not to get in them, in the first place–But, once you do? Prosecute them with ruthless pragmatism, and don’t stop until you’ve won.

  2. Slumord says:

    Good post.

    I think a lot of people who have never actually exercised any real world power fail to understand that that sometimes there are no easy decisions and that it is a question of trade-offs which they simply cannot understand. Trying to minimise civilian casualties, for example, frequently ends causing more of them.

    Here’s Curtis LeMay on the subject:

    Right at the start of the war, unofficially I slipped a message in “under the carpet” in the Pentagon that we ought to turn SAC loose with incendiaries on some North Korean towns. The answer came back, under the carpet again, that there would be too many civilian casualties; we couldn’t do anything like that. So we went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another, and some in South Korea, too. We even burned down Pusan — an accident, but we burned it down anyway. The Marines started a battle down there with no enemy in sight. Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure? Over a period of three years, this seemed to be acceptable to everybody, but to kill a few people at the start right away, no, we can’t seem to stomach that.

  3. Lu An Li says:

    The same thing happened when the main bridge was dropped into the Naktong river, vicinity Pusan.

    Hundreds of civilians being told to go back when the bridge was ready to blown. They continued to cross the bridge so the American officer gave the order to blow the bridge. Hundreds of Koreans did die.

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