The Forgotten War

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8055 MASH   – (NORMASH)

(Norwegian Mobile Army Surgical Hospital)

Report by Eilif Ness, Corporal, Guard Squad Nov. 1952 – May 1953

“On June 25, 1950, seven divisions of North Korean troops crossed the border into South Korea, intending to conquer the entire South in three weeks. The South Korean Army was com­pletely unprepared for the attack, and the only US force in Korea was a tiny advisory mission. The US government, under President Harry Truman – with the approval of the UN Security Council[1] – quickly decided to use US and UN forces to draw a line against the Communists in Korea, initially transferring forces from Japan.

Harry Truman downplayed the nature of the conflict because he was intent on limit­ing any sense of growing confrontation with the Soviet Union. Therefore, the con­flict was not called a “war”, but “a United Nations police action« – a terminology that endured. The Korean War came to last three years, not three weeks, but it did not become a Great War, such as World War II, nor did it, like Vietnam a gen­eration later, come to divide and haunt history.

More than half a century later, the Korean War remains The Forgotten War, outside the world’s general consciousness. Unlike Vietnam, the Korean War took place before television news came into its own. In the days of Korea, television news shows were short, bland, and of marginal influence – it was still largely a newspaper war in black and white.

Over the years, hundreds of movies were made about World War II – as late as 2001-2003 (major anniversaries of the Korean War) four major World War II films were made. Only four movies were ever made about the Korean War – two in 1951, one in 1956 and one in 1970. The three first were minor, forgot­ten movies; the last one became famous.

Robert Altman’s 1970 movie MASH, about a mobile surgical hospital during the Korean War, eventually led to a long running TV sitcom series that became very popular the world over. The sitcom did not in any way portray the terrible grisliness of that war; it did, however, create a niche for the Korean War in popular culture.

Thus, the true brutality of the Korean War never really penetrated the world’s conscious­ness. 34,000[2] UN troops died in it (28,000 of them Americans), and the South Korean Army lost 162,000 killed. The Chinese and North Korean losses were estimated at half a million.

The already considerable tension between the West and the Communist world grew even more serious when miscalculations brought China into the war. When finally an armed truce ensued, both sides claimed victory, although the dividing line was little different from the one that existed when the war began.

The Korean War had none of the glory of the recently concluded World War II – it was a grinding, limited war that nothing was going to come out of. After the Chinese entered the war in November 1950, the possibility of a large breakthrough never seemed near, much less anything approaching victory.

Soldiers returning from the Korean War found that their friends and neighbours were not really interested in what they had seen and done. The subject of the war was quickly dispensed with in conversation. So, the soldiers of Korea wound up with a kind of second-class status compared to that of the men who had fought in previous wars – a source of some bitterness.”

(Condensed from the Introduction chapter in the book “The Coldest Winter” by David Halberstam, 2008)

[1]  The approval of the Security Council was due to the Soviet Union boycotting the Security Council meetings at the time (for other reasons), so they did not get to use their veto.

[2]  Killed in action. In addition, 21,000 died of illnesses and accidents, to total 55,000 lives lost by UN forces. 

The largest and bloodiest …

Out of UN’s many military missions[3] over the years, none has ever been so terribly bloody, with such enormous casualties, involving such large forces and so heavy weapons.

The UN effort in Korea involved nearly one million men: 9 divisions with personnel from 21 nations, who, together with 13 South Korean divisions fought against 1.2 million North Korean and Chinese forces for three years. Military losses:  34,600 UN troops killed in action, Republic of Korea Army: 162,400 killed in action (see Annex B for exact figures).  The opposition’s losses are not known, but are estimated at more than half a million killed.

Recently (2013) South Korea hosted a reunion in memory of the signing of the armistice in July 1953. I was among the Norwegian veterans of the Korean War selected to participate in this reunion. It was a fabulous arrangement, held in Seoul and in Pusan, with more than 4000 veterans (all of them – necessarily – octogenarians!). However, all the speeches and the festivities left me with a distinct feeling of a need for a review and update of the Norwegian participation in the Korean War. This feeling was reinforced by the presence of the much younger Norwegian military who accompanied us on the vist – some of the with recent experience from Afghanistan – they deserve to be told about the real context of NORMASH.

Norway’s participation

The Norwegian contingent to the UN forces in Korea consisted of a”Mobile Army Surgical Hospital” – (MASH) – operating near the front line as component of the US 8th Army. It was operationally attached to US Army I. Corps (Bullseye) with the designation 8055 MASH (called NORMASH).

The unit was manned by 106 Norwegians (18 of which were women) under the command of a colonel (who also was NORMASH’ chief surgeon). The (all-Norwegian) medical staff numbered 58: 15 surgeons, 18 nurses and 25 assistant nurses. Support personnel (adminis­tration, communi­cations, supply, transport, materiel, catering and security) numbered 48 Norwegians, reinforced with one platoon of ROK[4] Army mili­tary police. In addition, about 60 Korean civilians were recruited locally as support staff.

Cpl. Eilif Ness, 1952
Cpl. Eilif Ness, 1952

The Guard detail, responsible for camp security and perimeter defence, consisted of one squad (10 men) Norwe­gians (infantry) commanded by a First Sergeant, plus the Korean MP platoon (40). The latter manned six guard posts along the camp perimeter (listening posts at night) – a wide belt of barbed wire with trip flares. The Norwegi­ans manned the main gate and patrolled the listening posts at night.

[3]  Notably, the Korean War was a United Nations operation under the UN flag (see footnote no. 1 above), just as the later Suez action (1956) and the Congo intervention (1960). The later Vietnam War, however, was a US led operation without UN approval, as were  the  two Gulf Wars, the Afghan War and the Iraqi War. More about this on page 16.

[4] Republic of Korea Army

60 years later …  

The reunion festivities in Seoul and Pusan in July 2013 were memorable events – four thousand surviving veterans from 21 nations met again.

NORMASH Veterans visit Uijongbu in 2013
NORMASH Veterans visit Uijongbu in 2013

Norwegian  Korean War veterans visited Korean veterans and the Mayor of Uijongbu: Peder Fintland, Aage Kjeldsen, Gerd Semb, Arvid Fjære and Eilif Ness.

As the festivities went along, I gradually got the impression that the passing of time had created an image of the Norwegian role in Korea as a kind of humanitarian venture that had provided medical services to around 90.000 people. This is not a true picture, and obscures NORMASH’ true role.

The figure of 90.000 treated patients is essentially correct, but hides the fact that the Norwegian participation in the Korean War formed part of a large military operation and was an important contribution to the UN forces great effort in Korea.

There are several reasons for this gradual development. The primary reason, however, is very simple: By Present Day norms, most people – particularly in Norway – like to appear in the humanitarian role rather than in a military one – there is a marked reluctance to appear in any military role. Norway’s engagements in Bosnia, in Libya and in particular in  Afghanistan have done little to change the political attitudes. However, Norway’s military of today has accumulated extensive know-how, and a high number of personnel with actual war experience – more that at any time since WW2

Several books and many articles have been published about NORMASH, but numbers and hard facts are few and far between. Actual figures are hard to find, as well as information about the various forces that participated and which we were part of. I feel that it is time to – once again – review (this time in closer dtail) NORMASH’ real role in the Korean War.

As all medical services – including those of the military – are humanitarian in nature, the Norwegian hospital contingency was of course a humanitarian contribution.

Military medical services, however, are just as essential to any military operation as are supply, transportation and communications. In addition to its primary task of abating the effects of personnel injuries, the qualities and mere presence of medical services are of great importance to the morale and combat efficiency of all units.

BLITZKRIEG

The Korean War started as a blitzkrieg. The North Korean Army’s massive attack across the 38th parallel overran the capital Seoul in only four days, and in less than four weeks swept South Korean and US forces all the way down to Pusan on the south-east coast. It was not until late July that large UN forces arrived in Korea.

On September 15th, the UN forces’ newly created Xth Corps (1st Marine Division og US 7th Infantry Division) made an amphibious attack at Inchon, just south of Seoul. They smashed through the North Korean forces, leaving a large part of it cut off in the south, and in a mere two months swept North Korea all the way to the Chinese border at Yalu River. This brought China into the war. A large scale Chinese Army counterattack forced UN forces back past the 38th parallel again, beyond Seoul. Then, during the spring of 1951 UN forces recaptured lost territory up to and just beyond the 38th parallel, where all had started.

THE TRENCH WAR

This blitz-krieg phase lasted 11 months – the war razed Seoul four times. July 1951 the war changed character completely – it became a World War I-style static war of tren­ches and bunkers, domina­ted by artillery, mortars, night pat­rols and close quarters fighting. For the next two years, as armi­stice negotia­tions proceeded at a snail’s pace, intense and bitter fighting took place over insigni­ficant patches of ground at a very high cost in human lives.

Key hills and outposts on the Main Line of Resistance 1951-53
Key hills and outposts on the Main Line of Resistance 1951-53

THE MASH CONCEPT

MASH stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, a mobile surgical unit whose primary task is to follow combat units as close as possible, so that the seriously wounded receive surgical attention with the least possible delay. A MASH is (was) an operationally self-sufficient military unit with its own transport and supply services and its own defence.

The idea of providing advanced medical services as close as possible to the actual combat was launched towards the end of WW2 because so many of the seriously wounded died before reaching surgical treatment units. The idea was to counter this by having small mobile surgical units follow the combat units in the field to provide immediate surgery.

At the Normandy invasion, Auxiliary Surgical Groups (ASG) were introduced as forward units of the rear field hospitals. An ASG consisted of two surgeons, an anaesthetist, a nurse and two technicians, operating few kilometres behind the fighting. It paid off well: shorter transport and early surgical treatment dramatically reduced mortality among the wounded.

Immediately following WW2, the ASG concept was enlarged and renamed «Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals» with 60-bed capacity and a larger medical team, fully mobile with their own transport, and could be dismantled ready for transport in six hours, and reassembled in four hours after arrival. The idea was that there should be one MASH per division.

By June 25th 1950, when the Korean War hit a totally unprepared Western world as a bomb­shell, the MASH concept was untested and other US medical units in Japan had to equip and man three units at very short notice. These arrived in Korea in July-September. The first MASH unit in action was US 8209 MASH, which accompanied US 1st Cavalry Division on July 18th, closely followed by 8225 MASH being added to US 25th Infantry Division, which was already in place. US 8076 MASH followed on 25th July. These three MASH units served the entire UN operation throughout the 1950 campaign.

MASH in action 1952
MASH in action 1952

The rapid withdrawals and advances during the first 13 months – the movements spanned a war theatre extending nearly 1000 kilometres – created enormous transport problems, and the rear field hospitals (at Pusan) were unable to hang on to the advancing units. The MASH units became the only medical units in forward positions, and had to cope with sick and injured in addition to the battle wounded. In order to cope, the MASHs were enlarged, staff was increased and capacity enlarged to 200 beds. The idea of one MASH per division had to be abandoned – the result was one MASH per Corps, serving four divisions.

As the war changed from the fast-moving phase into a trench war, conditions were created which rendered the MASH concept most effective. They were placed as close to the front as possible, just out of enemy artillery range (at that time about 20 kilometres), which meant 10-15 km behind the trenches. By the time NORMASH arri­ved on the scene in July 1951 it was 60-bed unit with 83 staff, but by October it was increased to the new 200-bed standard with 106 staff.

THE NORWEGIAN CONTRIBUTION

It was the Norwegian Red Cross who initiated what became – in the end – a military field hospital, and they organised the first contingent sent to Korea. Only when the first hospital staff was relieved by contingent no. 2, (October ‘51) – was the responsibility transferred to the Norwegian Army medical branch (FSAN). However, the Norwegian Red Cross continued handling all personnel recruitment during the entire operation 1951-54.

As opposed to the Swedish and Danish contributions – the Swedish hospital in Pusan and the Danish hospital ship Jutlan­dia at Inchon – both operating far from the actual fighting – the Norwegian field hospital was a unit of the US 8th Army operat­ing in the actual battle zone.

Commencing with contingent no. 2, all Norwegian personnel held US military ranks and wore US uniforms (with US 8th Army insignia), and, even if we were a non-combat unit, all non-medical personnel wore arms at all times.

The United Nations command was very pleased that Norway placed its contingent directly under the command of the US 8th Army. By carrying out its mission in the combat area proper the Norwegian contri­bution was placed in a class separate from the other contributors  of medical support – the nearest comparable was the Indian 60th (Para) Field Ambulance that formed part of 1st Common­wealth Division.

NORMASH

By July 1951 the Norwegian field hospital finally set up its tents – one whole year after the start of the war (10 months after Sweden had set up its hospital in Pusan, and 5 months after the Danish hospital ship ”Jutlandia” anchored outside Pusan). In April, officers from the Norwegian Army medical branch had been in Japan and procured complete equipment for a 60-bed MASH from the US Army for delivery to Korea.

July 13th NORMASH went into active service at Uijongbu, about 20 km nord for Seoul and 16 km behind the front line, as part of US I Corps (Bullseye) as 8055 MASH, to serve the Corps‘ four infantry divisions (60.000 men). It was full speed from the first hour: During its first 40 days, NORMASH received 1048 patients – 23 of them Korean civilians.

During August and September UN advanced further northwards, and October 1st 1951, NOR­MASH moved 18 km. north to Tongduchon. It was at that point that staff was increased to 106. At the same time it was decided to extend Norway’s participation beyond the first six months, and to transfer the respon­sibility from the Norwegian Red Cross to the Norwegian Army Medical Service (FSAN).

In June 1952, NORMASH moved a further 3 km northwards, to Habongam-ri, 18 km. south west of the front line, where it was to remain for the rest of the war.

NORMASH Bivouac at Habongam-ri 1952
NORMASH Bivouac at Habongam-ri 1952
NORMASH Main Gate
NORMASH Main Gate

INTENSITY

1 Corps’ sector was the westernmost 40 kilometres of the front, from the Han River estuary to Chorwon. It was hotly contested because it blocked the main road to Seoul, only 40 kilometres to the south, which lead to heavy fighting about the strategic points T-bone Hill, Pork Chop Hill, Old Baldy, Little Gibraltar, The Hook and Nevada cities (map page 4).

These fights for the road to Seoul lasted over 20 months and produced a steady stream of wounded for NOR­MASH. The intensity of the fighting can be illustrated with figures: During the month of June 1953, UN forces fired 2.7 million rounds of artillery. That means 90.000 rounds per day – 63 rounds a minute around the clock. Enemy artillery added to this.

90 000 rounds in a month = one every 30 seconds + plus incoming fire
90 000 rounds in a month = one every 30 seconds + plus incoming fire

All the time, as long as we were there, artillery fire was a constant background day and night, the horizon an incessant sea of flames at night. After e few days one got used to it …

The Korean War makes the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan look like Lilliput wars. At July 27th 1953, UN forces counted 934.000 men against North Korea’s and China’s 1.2 million (see Annex B). Except for the Vietnam War (which was not a UN action) the number of casualties of the Korean War completely over­shadows all other wars since World War 2.

155 mm Self Propelled Artillery
155 mm Self Propelled Artillery

The UN units lost 197.000 dead and missing (presumed dead) and 558.971 wounded. The number of wounded in the Korean War was the same as the total forces deployed (all branches) in Desert Storm (Iraq) in 1991 (550.000). In Korea, UN lost 54.000 in three years; in Iraq US losses were 5.000 over 8 years. More than two thirds of the UN losses were South Korean – the loss rates of the ROK-divisions were more than double those of the US divisions. The North Korean and Chinese losses were much higher.

The forward positions of the MASH units – close to the combat units – created a highly efficient medical and surgical service, which became even more effective as helicopters were put into use for evacuation of the wounded (even if road transport by ambulance continued to the primary means of evacuation) which saved thousands of lives.

GROUND BREAKING MEDICAL ADVANCES

New methods and means of wound treatment were developed, and the mortality rate among the wounded were halved in comparison to World War 2.(from over 4 % to 2.5 % in Korea), and new surgical methods and procedures reduced the amputation rate dramatically (from 36 % to 13 %). In addition, considerable reduc­tions in the mortality rate from war related diseases such as typhoid, dysen­tery, hemorrhagic fever etc.

NORMASH Post-Op 1952
NORMASH Post-Op 1952

Thus, NORMASH personnel became part of ground breaking developments in emer­gency medical services. The large number of wounded during the Korean War, and the closeness to the scene of fighting, imparted a unique and compre­hensive experience in both the treatment of war wounds and in handling large numbers of patients at short notice.

During the development of this report, I had long conversations with Lt. Col. Harald David Meum, who had extensive expeience from Norwegian participation in operations both in Bosnia and in Afghanistan – he informed me that many of the methods and techniques in use today, not only in a military context, but also by emergency services were developed in the heat of battle in Korea.

TRANSPORT OF THE WOUNDED – MEDEVAC

Korean War Ambulance
Korean War Ambulance

Road transport by ambulance dominated medevac (medical evacuation)– slow and bumpy even for the short hauls to the nearest MASH. The first two years of the war it was road trans­port only, even if the static war made for faster and better road transport. By 1952, however, as suitable helicopters became available, use of medevac by air gradually came into use.

H5 Dragonfly unloading woundedat NORMASH 1952
H5 Dragonfly unloading wounded at NORMASH 1952

Early in the Korean War, the H-5 Dragonfly was a widely used liaison helicopter. It was not an ambulance, but a system of two outboard stretch­ers with covers was developed and it saw limited ambulance use. 8076 MASH was the first to receive wounded by helicopter.

1952 saw the arrival of more than 100 of the helicopter type most used in Korea: the H-13G Sioux, a small three-seat bubble (later to be world famous through the TV series MASH).

H-13G Sioux helicopter
H-13G Sioux helicopter

The Sioux used one stretcher on each skid, sometimes with a cover, sometimes with just with tied-down blankets – primitive but effective.The versatility of the Sioux – it could land almost anywhere – led to its extensive use for medevac, even if the patients were exposed, limiting it to relatively short flights.  .

H-19 Chickasaw helcopter
H-19 Chickasaw helcopter

Finally, in 1953 a consider­ably larger heli­copter came into service: the H-19 Chi­cka­saw, which allowed for medi­cal treatment of the wounded during flight. In ambu­lance version the Chickasaw could accom­mo­date 8 stretchers and allowed in-flight treatment of patients, a tremendous improvement in medevac.

THE PATIENTS

The losses of the nine UN divisions (apart from ROK losses) during the static war alone (June ’51 – July ‘53) were about 13.000 killed and 50.000 wounded (KIA and WIA only). NORMASH’ mission was to serve the four infantry divisions (60.000 men) that made up I. Corps of the US 8th Army.

At any given time it took 18.000 men to man the 40 km. of trenches that made up I. Corps’ sector of the front, and their activities (mostly night-time patrols) and the artillery and mortar duels resulted in a daily average of 3 killed and 14 wounded plus 3 other injuries (varying greatly from day to day, peaking at 64 surgery patients in 24 hours on  July 1st, 1953).

Iron Triangle near Kumwah jJanuary 1953
Iron Triangle near Kumwah jJanuary 1953

During NORMASH’ first 737 days –while there was a full scale war going on – we were a military surgical hospital, treating just under 20.000 patients. 12.271 of them were hospital­ised (62%), the remaining 7.500 were ”out­patients”, mostly Korean civilians (some of them war wounded). 10.488 of those hospitalised (86%) were sent on to rear hospitals, while 1.706 patients (14%) were released and returned to unit.

During active war, the capacity for treating civilian patients at an active MASH was of course very limited. As combat wounded had priority over all else, civilian patients could not be allowed to reduce capacity. Due to the medical needs of the (limited) local population in the immediate camp area (Tongduchon village), NORMASH’ commanding officer  raised this question with the US 8th Army HQ several times; the end result, however, was that the number of civilian day patients at NORMASH (based on my own observations) averaged less than 10 per day up to the armistice (See Table II, and Annex A).

NORMASH’ MILITARY EFFORT

In order to determine NORMASH’ purely military role, one must dig deep. By analysing the available data, combining several sources, adding one’s own experience and some qualified guessing, it is possible to produce a fairly informative picture. The figures become particularly interesting when divided between active war service and post-hostility activities, i.e before and after the armistice July 27th, 1953.

”More than 90.000 patients” is a statement that appears repeatedly in most descriptions of NORMASH. The prominence of this impressive figure is understandable, but has little to do with NORMASH’ real mission. Analyses of the detailed patient statistics show that 8,000 were dental patients, that 70.000 of them were treated after termination of hostilities (July 27th  1953), that 56,000 of them were Korean civilians, and that 95 % of these were ”out­patients” (treatment without hospitalisation)

Subsequent to the armistice becoming effective July 27th, 1953, NORMASH gradually chan­ged character. During the following 448 days  – until October 18th, 1954 – NORMASH treated three quarters of the much publicised 90.000 patients, two thirds of them Korean civilians – practically all of them ”outpatients”. Only 5 % (2.554) were hospitalised.

Lowered military readiness requi­re­ments led to considerably exten­ded average hospitalisation times to an average of 14.5 days per pat­ient, as opposed to the 3-day limit of the MASH-concept. Very few patients were sent on to other hospitals.

NORMASH became an ordi­nary hospital: military personnel made up only 31 % of the patients.

US 25th Division bunkers on the le side of a hill
US 25th Division bunkers on the lee side of White Horse hill March 1953

COMBAT WOUNDS

5.326 combat wounded were received during the active hostilities period. These made up 55% of all hospitalised patients; a similar number were admitted for other reasons: 20% were identified as ”other injuries” (traffic accidents, work accidents, frostbite, fractures, accidental gunshots, violence etc.), while 25% were identified as ”illnesses”. Most of the illnesses were typically war related, as mentioned above.

”Other injuries” and ”illnesses” made up about 45 % of  all those hospitalised before the ceasefire. After the ceasefire, all the hospitalised belonged to this two patient categories. These figures are consistent with official US Army records, which show that 38% of the Korean War losses were not combat related (KIA+ MIA = 33.629); total losses: 54.246.

WHO WERE THE PATIENTS?

A breakdown by nationality shows that patients representing 15 different nations (plus some POWs from North Korea og China) landed on NOR­MASH’ operating tables, which means nearly all of the participating nations were represented. How could this be, when NORMASH covered less than 25 % of the front line? The explana­tion lies in the way UN forces were organised.

The core of the UN forces was the 8 div­isions of USA plus the Common­wealth Division, and ROKs 12 divisio­ns (about 300.000 men).

These 21 divisions made up five Corps, each of 4 or 5 divisions, covering the 165 kilometre front as follows (West to East): US I.Corps, US IX.Corps, ROK II.Corps, US X.Corps, ROK I.Corps.

All combat units sent by UN member countries were seconded to US divisions – except the ground forces from the nations of the British Common­wealth, who combined to constitute the 1st Commonwealth Inf­antry Division.

NORMASH served I. Corps’ sector – the western part of the front, from the Han River estuary to just west of Chorwon, about 40 kilometres of frontline. Each Corps would change its component units as divisions were moved about; two divisions, however, were part of I. Corps throughout: Com­mon­wealth Division and ROK 1st Division.

Table I: Secondment of non-US UN contingents to US Army unit (numbers as of July 1953):

Non-US UN contingents seconded to US and Commonwealth Divisions
Country Contingent (type of unit) Personnel Seconded to
UK 2 Inf. brigades +1 tank battalion 14.198 1st Commonw. Inf. Division
Canada 1 Infantry brigade 6.146 1st Commonw. Inf. Division
Australia 1 Infantry regiment (2 battalions) 2.282 1st Commonw. Inf. Division
New Zealand 1 Artillery battallion 1.385 1st Commonw. Inf. Division
India 1 Field ambulance 90 1st Commonw. Inf. Division
Turkey 1 Infantry brigade 5.453 US 2nd Infantry Division .
France 1 Infantry battalion 1.119 US 2nd Infantry Division
Netherland 1 Infantry battalion 819 US 2nd Infantry Division
Ethiopia 1 Infantry battalion 1.271 US 7th Infantry Division
Colombia 1 Infantry battalion 1.068 US 7th Infantry Division
Thailand 1 Infantrt regim. (3 battalions) 2.120 US 25th Infantry Division
Belgium 1 Infantry battalion 900 US 3rd Infantry Division
Luxembourg 1 Infantry platoon 44 Part of the Belgian battalion
Philippines 1 Infantry battalion w/artillery 1.496 US 3rd & 45th Infantry Division
Greece 1 Infantry battalion 1.263 US 1st Cavalry Division
Norway 1 MASH 106 US I. Corps
39.654

Altogether, six other divisions were part of US I. Corps for shorter periods: US 1st Cavalry (1951), US 25th (1951), 1st US Marine Div (1952-53), US 45th (1951-52), US 2nd (1952), US 3rd (1952), US 7th (1953), and US 25th again (1953). Only two US-divisions never formed part of I. Corps during the war : US 24th and US 40th Infantry Div. ROK 9th Div a short time in 1952 – the remaining 10 ROK-divisions all formed part of the other four Corps.

Old Baldy trenches Jan. 1953
Old Baldy trenches Jan. 1953

Thus, almost all the UN contingents seconded to the US divisions served in the I. Corps sector at one time or another, so their wounded, injured or ill wound up at NOR­MASH, which explains why the patients represen­ted so many nations.

At the most intensive periods of fighting in the I. Corps sector during the static war – November/Decem­ber 1952 – the battles for Pork Chop Hill and The Hook – and March 1953, the Pork Chop-Old Baldy and Reno-Carson-Vegas battles, both 2nd Div, 25th Div, 7th Div and Common­wealth Div were involved, and thus Australians, Brits, Canadians, Colombians, Ethiopians, French, Dutch, Thais and Turks.

Totals for the whole war for the same nine divisions (KIA and WIA only, apart from ROK) were 27.619 killed og 103.257 wounded (ROK losses were much higher than for UN units – most data indicate percentages three times higher).

Table II: In-patients at NORMASH 13. July 1951 – 27. July 1953 (737 days)

NORMASH-patients by nationality og unit
Nationality Division Number
USA 1Marine,1Cavalry, 2 ,3, 7, 25, 45th Infantry Divisions 5,259
ROK Army (South Korea) 1, 2, 9th Infantry Divisions 2,082
UK 1st Commonwealth Division 2,059
Canada 1st Commonwealth Division 1,241
Australia 1st Commonwealth Division 447
Belgium & Luxembourg US 3rd Infantry Division 130
North Korea/China Wounded prisoners of war 172
Ethiopia US 7th Infantry Division 68
Greece US 3rd Infantry  Division 62
Colombia US 7th Infantry Division 53
Thailand US 45th Infantry Division 50
France US 2nd Infantry Division 39
Turkey US 25th Infantry Division 28
Netherland US 2nd Infantry Division 28
Philippines US 3rd & 45th Infantry Division 21
India 1st Commonwealth Division 3
Uknown nationality 24
China (UN soldier) 1
Sweden 1
TOTAL   11,768
South Korean civilians 2,720
Norway 50

Besides I. Corps’ ROK-divisions (1st and 9th), IX. Corps had two ROK-divisions (2nd og 9th); X. Corps also had two (12th and 20th) while ROK I. Corps and ROK II. Corps were  ROK only (with ROK divisions 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th, 15th, 21st and Capital Division).

Koresn Service Corps - unarmed porter who carried food and ammo up and the dead and wounded down
Korean Service Corps – unarmed porter who carried food and ammo up and the dead and wounded down

In addition to the regular military forces, there was the Korean Service Corps – more than 50.000 strong – unarmed and on foot, who served the entire front line as porters. They were the ones who carried all supplies on their backs from where the trucks stopped, up the hills, into the trenches – ammunition, food, and all other kinds of stuff up, an d the dead and the  wounded down. Their losses are not recorded anywhere.

Korean War Timeline during  the 4th NORMASH contingent, October 1952 – May 1953:

  • Oct. 14-25 1952: The battle for Hill 598 (Sniper Ridge). US 7th Infantry Division defended Kumhwa againstkChnese attacks (the Iron Triangle).
  • Oct. 26-28, 1952: Battle of the Hook (Commonwealth Division).
  • Nov. 3, 1952: Chnese attack on Hill 851 (Heartbreak Ridge) held by 2nd Battalion, 160th Infantry Regiment (US 40th Infantry Division)
  • Dec. 25, 1952: Chinese attack on T-Bone Hill. 38th Infantry Regiment (US 2nd Infantry Division) repulsed the Chinese after hard fighting.
  • Jan. 25, 1953: US 7th Infantry Divisions 31st Infantry Regiment attacked Spud Hill.
  • March 17, 1953: Massive Chinese attack on Hill 355 (Little Gibraltar),which was held by 9th Infantry Regi­ment (US 2nd Infantry Division).
  • March 23-24, 1953: Chinese attack on Old Baldy/Pork Chop Hill defended by 31st Inf­antry Regiment (US 7th Infantry Division). Old Baldy was lost (defended by the Colombi­an battalion) but became no man’s land.
  • March 26-30, 1953: Massive attacks on outposts Nevada cities (Vegas-Reno-Carson), defended by the 5th Marine Regiment – one Chinese regiment was annihilated.
  • April 16-18, 1953:Last battle of Pork Chop Hill. 17th and 31st Infantry Regiments (US 7th Infantry Divi­sion) suffered heavy losses, but Pork Chop Hill was held.

DAILY LIFE AT NORMASH

As described above, the guard squad of 10, with 40 Korean military ­police, were responsible for guarding and defending the hospital camp. Many of the MPs were North Koreans who had enlisted in the ROK Army. The hospital camp was in a zone 20 km deep behind the actual front line.

This zone was used by units temporarily in reserve positions, and by many Corps level support units. There were very few civilians in this area, and there­fore few communist guerrillas (North Korean troops cut off by the Inchon landing, blending into the local population) which were a real problem further south.

Our perimeter defence consisted of a wide field of barbed wire with numerous trip-flares surrounding the camp. Six guard posts (listening posts at night) were manned by Kore­an MPs. One Norwegian patrolled the listening posts at night. Our main contact with the war, apart from supervising the ambulance and supply traffic through the main gate, was the incessant thunder of artillery fire.

The TV-series MASH gave a perfect picture of NOR­MASH: the tents, the mud, the equipment and the atmosphere (excepting Hot­lips), even if it falsely leaves the impression that helicopter was the primary transport for the wounded (90 % of all wounded came by road in ambu­lances), and also features convalescents. There are no con­valescents in a MASH – all patients are shipped to the rear within 72 hours after treatment.

The Norwegians who competed for the hotly contested positions at NOR­MASH: could be divided roughly into three categories by motivation: 1) Idealists eager to save lives, 2) the advent­urous, and 3) those with military background who wanted war experience on their records.

The first category quickly engaged in off-duty activities like running a health policlinic for the few civilians still in the area, and became dedicated to that. The other two groups found their way to groups of their own kind among other UN units in the area, and visited the front as often as they got the chance.

Guard duty was not strenuous, but terribly monotonous: The routine was two hours guard duty/six hours off for nine days, the tenth day was off duty for 24 hours midnight to midnight. The mono­tony was broken each time heavy fighting broke out at the front in our sector (such as when Old Baldy changed hands twice in two days) – that was always followed by a rush of wounded, overfilling pre-op, and every hand available was called on to empty the ambulances and move the wounded around.

The bright side of life was he Sergeant’s Club – every night the NCO mess tent was turned into a bar, open 1800 to midnight, with very reasonably priced drinks (money was Scrips only – US military money). Personnel carrying weapons were not served, and as all non-medical personnel carried arms at all times, a table was set up in a corner of the tent for them to leave their weapons.

The Club was open to all UN personnel, including those from units camped in the neighborhood. As the word spread around, interpretation of ”neighborhood” became quite liberal, and produced visitors from all kinds of surrounding units, giving us an insight into the enormous machinery that constitutes a modern army – all kinds of specialist units: water supply, solid waste, road repair, vehicle recovery, mail etc., even corpse identification units.

About every six weeks, Ist. Corps front line units swit­ched into standby posi­tions behind the front line proper. They quickly found out about NORMASH’ Club and were allowed in as guests of one of the guards. A couple of times when one of 1st US Marine Division’s battalions camped in the vicinity, their bad manners led to incidents requiring us to close the gates, which created stress – and sometimes gunfire.

Because the Commonwealth Division was part of I. Corps and thus in the sector we served, Australians and Brits were frequent guests: 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regi­ment og 1st Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment, which resulted in frequent contact between their personnel and us Norwegians – a reciprocal affinity that is a well known phenomenon.

These visits went both ways, and opened up an almost fee access for us to the front line in the Commonwealth Division sector, including the forward outposts. This we used on our days off – we hitchhiked up to the front to visit our fiends there.

Final Remark: Norwegian personnel made a great effort for civilian Koreans, but that should not be allowed to overshadow the fact that that Norway’s participation in the Korean War was a MILITARY effort. A large majority of the hospital’s activities after the armistice of July1953 was treatment of civilian patients. 

Should any doubt remain as to the nature of NORMASH’ role in the Korean War, it should be removed permanently by the text that accompanied the United States’ unit decoration The Merito­rious Unit Commendation which was awarded to NORMASH twice: For the period July 1951 to Jul 1952 and again for the period July 1952 to July 1953:

“The Meritorious Unit Commendation is awarded by the United States to military units for exceptionally meritorious conduct in perfor­mance of outstanding services for at least six continuous months during military operations against an armed enemy. The services must be directly related to the combat effort.” 

In addition, NORMASH was awarded The Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation. This decoration is issued by the government of South Korea to both Korean and foreign military units “for exceptionally outstanding perfor­mance of duty in action against an armed enemy.“

The Big Cheat: The 1988 Nobel Peace Prize

When industrial magnate Alfred Nobel instituted his series of prizes (administered by the Swedish Academy) he separated out the Peace Prize, and entrusted its administration to Norway’s parliament, the Storting. The Storting appoints the five member of the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committe, usually three previous politicians and two cultural personalities.

In 1988, the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee decided to award its prize for 1988 to “the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces”, a decision that was widely applauded, at least until the fine print became apparent with the text of the award speech, which had been carefully worded to exclude UN action in Korea in 1950-53:

“The original United Nations treaty does mention the possibility of military involvement on the part of the United Nations in the event of hostilities, but, because of the relationship between the great powers, it has never been possible to make use of this part of the treaty – the possible exception being the action in Korea in 1950.

… peace keeping operations were commenced in 1956 (…) in connection with the Suez crisis. The Security Coun­cil was unable to act because of a veto from two of the member states. This was solved by summoning the UN General Assembly to a special session, which passed the «Uniting for Peace» resolution that gives the United Nations’ General Assem­bly the power to intervene in the event of the Security Council being unable to act. This resolution was used to deploy a peacekeeping force …”

The “possible exception” referred to happens to be the only time that UN Security Council – UN’s highest operational authority – actually did appr­ove a military action as the Treaty permitted. It so happened that “the relationship between the great powers” at the time prevented a Soviet veto (see footnote 1, page 2).

So, in 1988, the Nobel Committee chose, as the starting point for “UN Peacekeeping Forces”, a clever paper manoeuvre that permitted the bypassing of the Security Council in 1956, rather than the legal, straightfor­ward decision of 1950. That way, they managed to ex­clude a previous legal UN action that cost 34,000 (non-Korean) UN forces’ lives. Which proves that today, most people (particularly politicians) like to appear in a humanitarian role rather than in a military one.

How did I get into this war?

On the 25th of  June 1950 I had just signed on the Norwegian merchant ship M/S ”Høegh Silverbeam” in Australia, when the news came over the ship’s radio: North Korea had launched a full scale attack on South Korea. I was 19, only five years had passed since World War 2 – World War 3 seemed to be just around the corner. Little did I realise at that moment that just two years hence, I would be in the middle of the Korean War.

Before that, however, I visied Italy and Spain for a year, then  I did my national service in the Engineer Regiment, serving in the Norwegian 521 Brigade in Sch­leswig-Holstein, part of the British Army of the Rhine in occupied Germany. When that service neared its end in the autumn of 1952, a circular arrived, offering enlistment for service with the Norwegian field hospital in Korea.

Hitchiking to the font - Kumwah March 1953
Hitchiking to the font – Kumwah March 1953

It was well paid: 6000 kroner guaranteed in the bank for 6 months of service – nearly a year’s wages at that time – here was a potential study financing. The competition was stiff – nearly 1000 applicants fought for 106 positions. The recommendation from my CO in Germany, experience from working abroad and language qualifications got me in.

A lifetime later, I see clearly that my half-year in Korea shaped me in more senses than one. It is impossible to imagine what war really is – unless you have been in it yourself. No movie, no TV can impart that experience. You must be there, inside it. Reality etches it into your memory.

When you are in the middle of it, it hits you in the gut – it is war: guns roar, people die, there is no way out. You are a tiny, tiny wheel in a gigantic machine: An army on war footing, with death and destruction as it purpose, with its own rules and laws.

Only the incredible adaptability of the human mind makes it possible to remain sane. Once you do get out, the experience remains with you forever.

 

ANNEX A

Note on the organisation of US Army units in 1952.

For the guidance of those who are not familiar with military organisation models of 60 years ago, I add the following informative note:

The size and composition of the various ground forces of the US 8th Army in Korea largely followed the lines of World War 2. Units at each level norm­ally comprised 3 identical elements (subunits) plus staff personnel and/or sup­port unit(s). Basically, infantry units were composed as follows (person­nel numbers are approximate):

  • Squad: 8 riflemen plus one machinegun (2 men): Total 10.
  • Platoon: 3 rifle squads plus staff (8): Total 38.
  • Company:3 rifle platoons plus staff/support (30): Total 150.
  • Battalion: 3 rifle companies plus one weapons company (130) plus support company plus staff (120): Total 700.
  • Regiment: 3 battalions plus one support battalion (600) plus staff (300): Total 3,000.
  • Division: 3 infantry regiments plus one artillery regiment (2000), one engineer regiment (2000), one signals regiment (1500). one transport regiment (2500), medical staff (500), plus division staff (200): Total 18,000.

The infantry Squad is the smallest unit of infantry, commanded by a corporal or a sergeant. Named numerically (1st squad, 2nd squad, 3rd squad)

An infantry Platoon of three rifle squads plus staff is commanded by a lieutenant with a 2nd lieutenant as 2iC. Named numerically (1st platoon, 2nd platoon etc.)

An infantry Company of three rifle platoons plus a weapons platoon (mortars, medium machine guns and light anti-tank weapons) plus staff is commanded by a Captain with 1st lieutenant as 2iC. Named alphabetically (A company, B company, etc).

An infantry Battalion of three rifle companies plus one heavy weapons company (D-) with heavy mortars, recoilless guns, heavy machine guns, anti-tank guns plus one support company (E-) of engineers, signals, medics and transport, plus staff, is commanded by a Lt. colonel with a Major as 2iC. Battalions are numbered numerically 1stBn, 2nd Bn, 3rd Bn.

The next larger unit might be one of two types:

1) A Regiment of 3 battal­ions plus addi­tional regiment-level units of engineers, armour (tanks), artil­lery, signals and division staff commended by a Colonel. Three regiments would form a Division commanded by a Major General (total 18,000-20,000) .

2) A Brigade of 3 battalions with additional company- or battalion-size units of engineers, armour (tanks), artillery and signals (sometimes called Regimental Combat Teams – RCT) commanded by a Colonel, comprising 4,000 – 5,000 men. Three such Brigades would form a Division (total 12,000-15,000).

The difference between a Division with a Regiment structure and one with a Brigade structure is that a Division of Regiments would operate only as a complete Div­ision, while Divisions of Brigades would be able to let their com­ponent Brigades (or RCTs) operate as independent units.  In the Korean War the Regimental system was pre­dominant.

In very large theatres of war, such as World War 2 (and the Korean War) most armed forces subordinate their Divisions to one further level: Corps (numbered by Roman numerals (I, II, III)

Each Corps would comprise three to five Divisions, their role being to provide support at levels above and beyond the Division-level capabili­ties, such as heavy artillery, anti-aircraft defences, logistics, transport systems,  medical services (the MASH were typical Corps-level support – one MASH for each Corps).

Corps also provide other advanced heavy support, such as running civil utilities like water supply, waste management, electric power, railway systems, main­taining roads and bridges, communications (tele­phone systems and public broadcasting) etc., as well as organising the supply needs of its component divisions.

Three Corps plus additional administrative and command units would form an Army.

The UN side of the Korean War was organised with five Corps. The compo­sition of each Corps varied over time as divisions were rotated and exchan­ged, and some Corps comprised both US and ROK divisions. At the time of the armistice (July 1953), the five Corps of the UN army were composed as follows:

  • I Corps (US): 1st US Marine Div., Commonwealth Div., 7th US Div., ROK 1st and ROK 9th Div. (5 divisions)
  • IX Corps (US): 25th US Div., ROK 2nd, ROK 7th Div.(3 Divisions)
  • X Corps (US): 40th US Div, 45th US Div, ROK 12th Div, ROK 20th (4 Divisions)
  • ROK I Corps: ROK 6th Div, 8th Div and 11th (3 Divisions)
  • ROK II Corps: ROK 15th Div, 21st and Capital Div. (3 Divisions)

The three US Corps constituted the US 8th Army.

The two ROK Corps constituted the ROK Army.

 

ANNEX B

NORMASH PATIENT DATA

Total Before the armistice After the armistice
All patients 90,000* 27,201 62,799 *Undocumented
Dental patients 8,000 4,000 4,000 Estimated
All patients ex dental. 82,000 19,701 62,299 Calculated
Military patients 26,030 12,201 13,829 Calculated
Civilian patients 55,970 7,500* 48,470 * Estimated
Hospitalised 14,755* 12,201 2,554 *Documented
Combat wounds 5,326* 5,326 0 * Documented
Other injuries 4,086* 2,492 1,594 * Documented
Diseases 4,998* 3,048 1,950 * Documented
Died at the MASH 150* 150 0 * Documented
Released for service 4,314* 1,760 2,554 * Documented
Transferred to other hospitals 10,488* 10,488 0 * Documented
Unregistered* 345* 0 345 * Documented
Days in action 1,185 737 448 Calculated
Mil. patients per day 22 17 31 Calculated
Civ.patients per day 47 10 108 Calculated
69 27 139 Calculated
Hospitalised, % 18.0% 61.9% 4.1% Calculated
Hospital days* 73,637* 36,603* 37,034* * Documented
Hospital days per patient 5.0 3.0 14.5 Calculated
Documented data are from dr.  Bernh. Paus’ report, FSAN 1955. Undocumented figures are estimates and calculations by the author of this report

 

ANNEX C

 

UNITED NATIONS FORCES IN KOREA as of 27 July 1953

 

Number   of troops:
Country: KIA MIA WIA POW
Republic of Korea 590,911 137,899 24,495 450,742 8,343
United States  302,483 23,715 4,820 92,134 7,245
Commonwealth 24,101 1,964 n.a. 4,972 n.a.
 – UK  14,198 1,078 n.a. 2,692 n.a.
 – Canada 6,146 516 n.a. 1,042 7
 – Australia  2,282 339 n.a. 1,160 n.a.
 – New Zealand 1,385 31 n.a. 78 n.a.
 – India 90 0 0 0 n.a.
Turkey 5,453 721 168 2,111 n.a.
Thailand  2,120 136 0 469 0
Philippines  1,496 92 0 356 0
Ethiopia  1,271 122 0 566 0
Greece  1,263 194 0 459 0
France 1,119 287 7 1,350 12
Colombia  1,068 146 69 448 0
Belgium  900 97 0 355 0
Luxembourg  44 7 0 21 0
South Africa 826 20 0 16 0
Netherlands 819 116 3 n.a. 1
Norway 106 0 0 0 0
Denmark 150 0 0 0 0
Sweden 174 0 0 0 0
Italy 50 0 0 0 0
Total troops 934,354 167,480 29,562 558,971 15,608
Total killed 197,042 KIA: Killed in action
MIA: Missing in action
WIA: Wounded in action
POW: Prisoners of War
n.a. : Data not available

 

Divisions

 

 Nations

Non-C Nations

 

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