The Korean War: Handbook of the Literature and Research

By Lester H. Brune; Robin Higham | Go to book overview

6 Great Britain and the
Korean War

Callum MacDonald

After the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK), Britain made the largest military contribution to the Unified Command during the Korean War. In 1950 two infantry brigades with armored support were committed to the fighting, which later joined Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, and Indian contingents to form the Commonwealth Division. The bulk of the Far Eastern fleet, consisting of an aircraft carrier, two cruisers, two destroyers, and three frigates, was immediately sent into action. The RAF contributed some Sunderland flying boats and liaison aircraft. A few pilots were rotated through U.S. Air Force and Australian fighter squadrons in the later stages of the war. As the official history by Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley, The British Part in the Korean War ( 1990), emphasizes, this commitment stretched Britain's already-extended military resources to the limit and deployed forces to an area of the world never before considered vital to British interests.

At the Moscow conference in December 1945, Britain was reluctant to assume any responsibilities in the four-power trusteeship for Korea proposed by the United States. When this scheme collapsed and the ROK was created in 1948, the Foreign Office thought that sooner or later, the new state would fall victim to its communist rival in the North. Nobody believed that Washington would intervene to prevent this outcome; the ROK, like nationalist China, had been written off by the Americans, it was thought. At the highest levels of policymaking, few had much time to spare for Korea. British interests were concentrated in Western Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. When the Clement Attlee cabinet first met to discuss the crisis, some ministers did not even know where Korea was.

An article by Jong-yil Ra ( 1989) shows that neglect of Korean issues persisted after June 1950. On the basis of Foreign Office material, Ra

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