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FRENCH PARTICIPATION IN THE KOREAN WAR

"I shall speak briefly of the 23rd US Infantry Regiment, Colonel Paul L. Freeman commanding, [and] with the French Battalion…. Isolated far in advance of the general battle line, completely surrounded in near-zero weather, they repelled repeated assaults by day and night by vastly superior numbers of Chinese. They were finally relieved…. I want to say that these American fighting men, with their French comrades-in-arms, measured up in every way to the battle conduct of the finest troops America and France have produced throughout their national existence."

General Ridgway's statement before a joint session of Congress in May 1952.

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On 25 June 1950, 7 North Korean divisions crossed over the 38th parallel, supported by 150 tanks. Less than 60 days later, the invasion force, which met with hardly any resistance, was occupying almost the whole peninsula.

On 22 July, following the British, the Turks and the Australians, France announced that it would join the multinational force, responsible for the implementation of international law and for reestablishing the territorial integrity of South Korea. However, it took the determination of a few French political officials and two General Officers to make this generous move a reality. Indeed, France was hardly back on its feet in the wake of the disastrous Second World War and its army was already engaged in Indochina.

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The Chief of Staff of the French Army, General Blanc, who refused to make available active units still anemic and badly equipped, decided to form a battalion of volunteers made up of active and reserve personnel.

Lieutenant General Monclar, Inspector of the Foreign Legion, supported the idea and proposed to be the Commander of that unusual unit which readiness time was considerably reduced. The winner at Narvick, wounded 17 times during the two World Wars, General Monclar, accepted to wear again the stripes of a Lieutenant Colonel.

General Ridgway, commanding the 8th Army, reviews the French Battalion (Feb. 51).Arrived in Pusan on November 29, 1950, the battalion regrouped at Suwon and was placed under the operational control of the 23rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, 2nd U.S. Infantry Division. Triggering at first skepticism among the Americans, it did not take long for the French volunteers, rather facetious and sometimes undisciplined, to win the esteem of the U.N. forces and especially of General Ridgway, Commander of the 8th Army, by carrying out several successful hits.

From January 7 to 12 January 1951, the French Battalion participated in the Battle of Wonju where, thanks to a decisive bayonet attack, it stopped the Chinese advance. That episode was echoed around the world by American war correspondents reporting from the theater.

It was followed by the battles of Twin Tunnels (1 - 2 February 1951) and of Chipyong-Ni (3 - 16 February 1951). These combats, during which the battalion resisted the attacks of four Chinese divisions for three days, allowed the 8th Army to score a victorious counter-offensive.

Less than three weeks later, the battalion, which had already won two American Presidential Citations, was again engaged in combat for hill # 1037 (Hongchon region, 50 miles east of Seoul). The seizing of hill 1037 in minus 30-degree cold, opened the road to the 38th parallel. It resulted in 40 dead and 200 wounded.

In the spring of 1951, the battalion crossed the 38th parallel into the Hwachon region. The sacrifice of the engineering platoon allowed to stop a new Chinese offensive. This feat of arms won the battalion its third American Presidential citation.

In the fall of 1951, the French volunteers took part in the battle of Heartbreak Ridge where they won fame again during a night attack. In the course of these combats which lasted a month, 60 French soldiers were killed and 200 were wounded.Bridge built by the 2nd U.S. Infantry Division and named GOUPIL Bridge in memory of Captain Robert Goupil killed in Heartbreak.

In the fall of 1952, after a lethal war of positions, similar to Verdun during WW I, the battalion put a halt in Chongwon, North Korea, to a Chinese offensive toward Seoul. This resistance resulted in 47 dead and 144 wounded. The total Chinese losses against the French battalion were estimated at 2000 men.

In the winter and the spring of 1953, the battalion took part in combats which kept the North Korean and Chinese forces from reaching Seoul.

After the signing of the armistice in July 1953, the French Battalion left Korea with five French Citations to the Order of the Army; the French Fourragère in the colors of the Military Medal; two Korean Presidential Citations; and three American Distinguished Unit Citations.

The French Battalion was the most famous unit of the United Nations Forces in this war.

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The French Navy took part also in this conflict to repel the Communist North Korean and Chinese forces: Commanded by Commander Cabanie, the frigate "La Grandière" reached the theater of operations on 29 July 1950 and immediately engaged in transport and escort missions between Japan and Pusan (South Korea). In recognition of its action, the crew of the ship was awarded the Korean War Service Medal.

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In total, 3421 French servicemen were involved in the Korea War. Of these, 287 were killed in action; 1350 wounded in action; 7 missing in action; and 12 became prisoners of war.

Embassy of France in the United States - May 3, 2002



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