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Guns of the Korean War.

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* A journalist called it "the peculiar war." The Korean War was certainly that. The United States, a newly emerged superpower, together with allied forces were arrayed against two nations with tenth-rate military strength. The fighting flared up and down the battered eastern Asian peninsula, degenerated into World War I-type trench warfare, and finally ground to a halt at almost the same place where it began. When Red China belatedly entered the fray, a frustrated American soldier called it "The war we can't win, we can't lose, we can't quit!"

But the biggest shocker was the arms employed.

As early as 1945, U.S. military experts began preparing for a clean, fast, "pushbutton" war. American defense strategy called for decisive employment of air power and atomic bomb delivery systems; small arms were generally considered obsolete by the Pentagon. On june 25, 1950, North Korea suddenly attacked across the 38th parallel, the arbitrary political demarcation line separating the U.S.-backed South Korean people from the Soviet-supported North Koreans.

Thus began a lowly rifleman's war of hilltop-and-rice paddy battles fought in the dirt, snow and everlasting mud. It was the first big war of the Atomic Age, but it was fought in the old way. The A-bomb was designed to demolish civilians huddled in large cities--not soldiers spread out in protected positions on battlefields.

The decisive arms proved to be the foot soldier's basic tools: grenades, bayonets, pistols, submachine guns and rifles, supported by everything up to rockets and bombs. In an attempt to limit and end the conflict, President Harr S. Truman spent 2-1/2 years playing down possible U.S. use of the A-bomb and carrying on protracted peace talks, but the inconclusive fighting dragged on and on. Ironically his successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, finally ended the seesaw contest, July 27, 1953, by threatening to use "tactical" nuclear arms and the Bomb. Neither side won--it was settled with an armistice.

Notwithstanding dramatic and rapid advances of military hardware during World War II, U.S. and United Nations foot troops fell back on older guns that had fought that global conflagration while their adversaries, the North Koreans and the Communist Chinese, did the same, but the latter fielded a vast hodgepodge of small arms. The Communist inventory consisted largely of captured arms manufactured by several nations including many of American make taken during the long Chinese civil war. They used few Soviet arms by comparison.

None of the newly developed "assault"-type rifles were used by either side.

During the much-publicized "human wave" attacks on United Nations forces in the fall of 1950, U.N. fighting men reported that many rear-rank Chinese troops rushed forward unarmed (they were expected to retrieve the guns of fallen comrades) or wielding sticks and clubs! In this phase, the war became a struggle of Chinese manpower against U.N. firepower and led to a stalemate.

North Korea and China were confronted by United Nations troops headed by General Doughlas MacArthur, who was early fired by President Truman in a public dispute over conduct of the war. U.N. units included the American 8th Army, which comprised the largest single manpower commitment, the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army, and individual combat contingents from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France Belgium, the Netherlands, Brazil, Greece, Turkey, Thailand, Ethiopia, Colombia, South Africa, Luxembourgh and the Philippine Republic.

Although the U.N. forces generally outgunned the communists, the small arms of the two sides were fairly well matched.

Great Britain's standard sidearm at the time was the six-shot Enfield .380 revolver, No. 2 Mark I (in two versions), backed-up by the older standard Webley Mark VI, No. 1 revolver with its bone-shocking .455 caliber. American troops, as most military arms watchers know, holstered the seven-shot Colt M1911A1 .45 Automatic.

On the other side was the eight-shot TT30 and TT33 Russian Tokarev in 7.62X25mm, a high-velocity bottle-necked cartridge. Red officers also carried a nightmarish assortment of pistols and revolvers, ranging from 7.63mm Mauser and .45 ACP "Broomhandle" pistols to captured 13-shot, 9mm Canadian-made FN Browning P-35 autos and indigenous copies.

Following in the footsteps of the World War II Soviet Army before them, North Koreans and Communist Chinese relied heavily on submachine guns, but they were especially partial to the .45 ACP U.S. Thompson military models 1928A1 through the M1A1 SMGs taken mostly from the Nationalist Chinese. Also popular were the 9mm British Sten SMGs, particularly the Mark II-type and the .45 ACP U.S. M3 "spray" gun with the bolt cocking handle mounted on the right side.

The famous "burp" gun SMG, generally portrayed at the time as the classic attack arm of the communist side, was the 7.62mm auto pistol cartridge Russian PPSh 1941. This arm, which took a 71-round drum magazine, was in wide use by the North Koreans and was manufactured and reconditioned by them at their Pyongyang Arsenal. Sergeant hal Bolefahr, a Southern Californian today who was a wartime member of the 1st Marine Division, carried a captured PPSh 41 on many night patrols.

"But I finally had to give it up," he related. "Its distinctive sound drew friendly fire. I liked it--it was lightweight, though its magazine was tough to load." He also carried a privately purchased Colt Official Police .38 and an M1 Thompson SMG liberated from a burned-out U.S. tank. Bolefahr was finally wounded by a PPSh while taking a hilltop trench.

Three versions of Colonel John Thompson's renowned bullet sprayer, the same as used by Chinese Communist forces, served alongside the .45 ACP M3A1 U.S. "grease gun" SMG with U.S. forces in Korea, even though the M3A1 had officially replaced the Tommy early in World War II. British Commonwealth troops on the peninsula could be found with several versions of the much-discussed British 9mm Sten SMG--Marks II through V. Australians were seen packing the 9mm Owen, a unique design inspired by the Sten and the 9mm Austen, a SMG based on the WWII German MP40 and the Sten.

The excellent and menacing 7.62mm Russian PPS M1943 with folding stock was an item of primary issue to Chinese paratroop units but was used by others.

As usual, the unglamorous rifle was the real workhorse of the battlefield. Americans led the way with the reliable (under all of Korea's extreme weather conditions) .30-06 semi-automatic M1 Garand rifle. The .30 caliber U.S. Carbine--particularly the selective-fire M2 version--was used extensively but drew many complaints because of malfunctions and general failure to operate in sub-zero cold.

Chinese forces employed U.S. Garands, M1 carbines and a mismash of U.S. shoulder arms including 1903 Springfields and 1917 Enfields as well as German Mausers and a huge collection of World War II Japanese rifles. A rifle much-used by communist forces in Korea was the bolt-action 9.62mm M1944 Mosin-Nagant Carbine, an import from Soviet Russia with a nondetachable folding spike bayonet. By war's end, the Red Chinese had replaced most of their crazy-quilt arms with Soviet types.

The M1918A2 U.S. .30 caliber Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), a full-auto-only arm, was a legend and almost in a class by itself by the time of the Korean War. U.S. Army and Marine units employed it as the squad automatic arm, but most other nations employed light machine guns in the rifle squad close support role. The BAR was much liked by GIs and Marines for its steady reliability and dependable firepower (its moderate cyclic rate was 500 rounds per minute) in all types of weather. The only major complaint against it was its 15-1/2-pound unloaded weight (17 pounds loaded with 20-round magazine).

While British Ordnance engineers strove to perfect their innovative EM2 "bullpup" assault rifle with its precedent-setting .280 (7mm) cartridge, Tommies in Korea were holding their own with the .303 Lee-Enfield Rifle No 4, Mark 1 bolt action. With a basic design that dated to the late 19th century, the famous SMLE was in the same class and from the same time period as the Soviet Mosin-Nagant 7.62mm bolt-action rifle. The two grew up together and fought on the same side in two world wars only to wind up opposing each other in faraway Korea.

Australian and New Zealand troops still shouldered the older Lee-Enfield .303 Rifle No. 1, Mark III*, the sturdy, dependable predecessor of the above No. 4 rifle. Commonwealth Lee-Enfields gained a richly deserved reputation in World War I of being the fastest military bolt-action rifles in the world.

Troops from most of the countries who helped stop the Red tide in Korea--Brazil, Turkey, Thailand, Ethiopia, Colombia and the Philippines were outfitted and armed with U.S. small arms. Commonwealth nations generally followed the British lead in armament.

France took many of their own arms into the field. French Army troops at the outbreak of the Korean War were using the 7.5mm M1949 rifle (MAS 49), 9mm M1950 auto pistols of the Colt-Browning type, MAS Type 38 SMGs in 7.65mm long pistol cartridges and M1949 (MAT 49) SMGs in 9mm.

Belgian foot soldiers made use of their excellent M1949 semi-automatic FN rifle in .30 caliber. This rifle is a direct descendent of today's FN-FAL battle rifles. The standard Belgian pistol was the 13-shot, 9mm Browning Hi-Power manufactured at the FN plant in their own country. This pistol was issued with fixed sights or a tangent long-range rear sight. Their squad automatic arm was the .30 caliber FN Type D machine rifle, a modified look-alike of the U.S. BAR.

Greek infantrymen had no standard rifle in 1950. They had employed Belgian-made Mausers and British and Italian arms into the late 1940s. Standard Greek military sidearms included the 7.62mm Russian Nagant and Pieper revolvers.

Because of Korea's rugged mountainous terrain, most of the land battles were small unit actions led by junior officers and non-commissioned officers. Because of this, it was mainly the small guns that prosecuted the day-to-day war.

During the height of the fighting, America's Joint Chiefs of Staff called the Korean War "The wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong enemy." They expected the "real" war to be fought in western Europe with the Kremlin's immediate forces. Korea was thought to be a diversion.

Whatever else it may have been, it is clear today that the Korean War was a showcase of Atomic Age wars--fought not with awesome nuclear weapons, but perhaps prudently with basic small arms wielded by the all-important rifleman.
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Author:Rutledge, Lee A.
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Aug 1, 1985
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