Fighting with Friends: Coalition Warfare in Korean Waters, 1950-1953

By Williamson, Corbin | Joint Force Quarterly, October 2016 | Go to article overview

Fighting with Friends: Coalition Warfare in Korean Waters, 1950-1953


Williamson, Corbin, Joint Force Quarterly


In late June 1950, President Harry Truman ordered U.S. forces into combat against the North Korean invasion of South Korea. One of the first units to respond was a combined U.S. Navy-Royal Navy task force with one aircraft carrier from each navy. Throughout the Korean War, British and American naval forces operated together to support the decisive actions on land. Although Anglo-American naval relations were close throughout the Korean War, these ties could be strained and frayed when U.S. Navy commanders operated as though the Royal Navy was a mirror image of their own fleet. This case study in managing multinational operations serves as a timely reminder for commanders and operators of the importance of understanding the history and organizational structure of their coalition partners and of being prepared to adjust practices and procedures based on this knowledge. The experience of Rear Admiral George Dyer illustrates the dangers of mirror-imaging coalition allies, even those as close as the Royal Navy.

Dyer took command of Task Force 95, the United Nations (UN) Blockading and Escort Force, in June 1951, after ending a tour as the deputy commandant of the National War College in Washington, DC. Dyer brought a great deal of experience to his new command, having held several staff and surface warfare positions in both the Pacific and Atlantic during World War II. (1) Task Force 95 was under the command of Seventh Fleet, which reported to Vice Admiral Turner Joy, Commander Naval

Forces Far East, and General Douglas MacArthur, the overall UN commander. The Task Force was responsible for three task missions: providing air and naval gunfire support along the Korean Peninsula's west coast, blockading North Korea on both coasts, and escorting convoys to and from Japan. The first mission, west coast air and gunfire support, fell to Task Group 95.2, commanded by a British officer, Rear Admiral Alan Scott-Moncrieff. (2)

Dyer's Approach to Naval Bombardment

Dyer entered his position with a firm conviction about the role of naval power in Korea. He believed that his force should use more firepower against the enemy than had previously been the case "in an effort to keep up the pressure on the Communists at a high level," a reference by Dyer to the ongoing armistice talks between Chinese and UN negotiators. From his perspective, the UN was giving away too much at the talks and increasing the military pressure on the Communists might force them into greater concessions. (3) Dyer's personal letters to friends and fellow officers back home frequently enumerated the total numbers of bombs and shells expended by Task Force 95. For example, in an August 1951 letter, he approvingly wrote that daily his ships were firing 500-1,000 shells and his planes were dropping 10-25 tons of bombs. (4) Under his leadership, commanding officers who received fire from the shore and returned fire received top priority for awards and decorations. He told a friend in early 1952, "I believe that those who fight the war, in counter-distinction with those who are merely present while the fighting goes on about them, are deserving of some special recognition." (5)

Dyer's approach to naval bombardment aggravated the British, especially Scott-Moncrieff. He complained about Dyer's practice of judging "a ship's efficiency and aggressiveness ... in proportion to the ammunition expended." The British admiral also deplored the "injunctions to 'get into the shooting war'" that came down from Dyer's flagship. (6) Britain's economy remained weakened from the strains of World War II and rationing was still in force in 1950. Accordingly, the Royal Navy sought to conserve ammunition by firing only at verified targets and by avoiding the American practice of "harassing fire." British and Commonwealth naval officers frequently complained about the extravagant American expenditure of ammunition. One Canadian officer described the U. …

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