Royal Marine Commandos in the Korean War

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United Kingdom’s elite Marines fought alongside their American and South Korean Marine brethren from 1950 to 1952.

The Korean War, fought from 1950 to 1952, was a military confrontation backed whole heartedly by the United Nations. The United Kingdom, as part of the United Nations, sent military aid in various forms, including the men of 41 (Independent) Commando unit. These men were elite, highly trained, and highly disciplined troops that were extremely effective in combat. 41 Commando was specifically formed for the fighting in the Korean theater of war.

Royal Marine Commando Training

The men of the Royal Marine Commandos were all volunteers. At the time of the Korean War volunteers for the Royal Marine Commandos enlisted for a minimum of twelve years so long as they were over the age of 17 and under the age of 28. When the men passed the physical examination and qualifications they were sent to the Royal Marine Commando training depot in Kent. The initial training lasted fifteen weeks, followed by two weeks aboard a ship for basic seamanship, then another seventeen weeks of advanced infantry and commando training. By the time the Royal Marine Commando recruit won the coveted green beret – their badge of honor – he was a an extremely skilled and professional soldier.

When the men of 41 Commando were sent to Korea, they were outfitted and equipped by the United States Army. The men wore U.S. Army uniforms, carried U.S. Army weapons, but retained their distinctive green berets. Thus equipped the men of 41 Commando carried out numerous operations behind North Korean People’s Army (NKPD) lines, as well as in areas held by the Chinese Communist forces which had crossed the Yalu River and pushed the American Tenth Corps back towards the coast.

The Royal Marines in Korea

Behind enemy lines the men of 41 Commando operated with elements of the United States Marine Corps as well as Republic of Korea’s Marine Corps. 41 Commando Marines ambushed enemy troops, destroyed rail lines, communications, and destroyed key logistical support elements. 41 Commando was also part of the general retreat from the Chosin Reservoir where several divisions of Chinese forces attacked the American Tenth Corps.

A smaller element of 41 Commando had been separated along the road to Koto-ri from the Chosin Resevoir. Here, on this road, the Royal Marines had fought for seven days, from November 30, 1950, to December 7, 1950. When they were reunited with their fellow 41 Commando members and the USMC, they brought along with them nearly fifty wounded, twelve of whom had to be evacuated via litters.

The men of 41 Commando also suffered casualties when, as part of a special task force, they carried out an ill-prepared raid devised by General Edward M. Almond. Almond, as commanding general of Tenth Corps, ordered the attack on Sinbul-San, which was a North Korean military strong hold. Regardless of the sense, or senselessness of the order, the men of the 41 Commando carried out their orders with the courage and professionalism for which generations of Royal Marine Commandos are known.

Sources:

  1. Fowler, Will. Royal marine Commando, 1950-82. New York: Osprey, 2009.
  2. Stanton, Shelby L. America’s Tenth Legion. California: Presidio, 1989.