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Historical Vignette 098 - The Important Role the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Played during the Korean War

The Important Role the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Played during the Korean War 

In 1950 the Korean Peninsula was an inhospitable place to wage war. Steep mountain ranges, narrow valleys, and numerous rivers divided its landmass. The summers were oppressively hot, the winters bitterly cold, and the monsoon season turned what few roads there were into muddy quagmires and transformed meandering streams into raging torrents. In short, Korea’s arduous terrain and climate, coupled with a poor transportation network, made it a very difficult environment for the United States and its United Nations (UN) allies to fight.

Soldiers from the 65th Engineers repair a bypass on the road to Chonju, 27 Sept. 1950

In conjunction with the difficult terrain, North Korea’s surprise attack also placed a premium on U.S. Army engineer operations. In the opening weeks of the war, engineers bought the UN forces valuable time; they destroyed bridges and other vital facilities to impede the enemy’s advance, and after the UN forces withdrew to Pusan, engineers helped build a defensive line that enabled the beleagured defenders to hang on. Also, during those chaotic early months of the war, engineer units frequently fought as infantry.

 

Engineers destroy a bridge over the Han River, 18 Jul. 1950

Later, when UN forces went on the attack, engineers were in the vanguard building and maintaining roads, constructing bridges, operating ferries, rebuilding ports, and unloading cargo. The intervention of Chinese forces in November 1950 posed new challenges; engineers built roads and bridges to facilitate the UN withdrawal, while at the same time destroying vital facilities and supplies to deny them to the enemy. The engineers often were the unsung heroes of the Korean War, for they helped create the environment that allowed the United States and its allies to fight and win. 

Engineers build a Bailey bridge across the Naktong River at Waegwan, 1 Oct. 1950

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July 2005