Korea. 1951. View of the flightdeck of the Aircraft Carrier HMAS SYDNEY (III) during a blizzard. Fairey Firefly aircraft are lined up on the left of the photograph with Hawker Sea Furies on the right. Note the black and white identification stripes on the wings. (Naval Historical Collection) AWM301424


The pre-dawn darkness of 25 June 1950 was shattered by the tanks and artillery of the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) pouring over the 38th parallel. The NKPA attack violated the fragile peace that had been in place since the Korean peninsula had been divided into the Communist north and the US-backed south after the fall of the Japanese empire at the end of the Second World War.

The invasion sparked a war in which the recently created United Nations (UN) became a major combatant in its first armed conflict. Australia was among the first countries to respond to communist North Korea’s invasion of the south on 25 June 1950. Mustang fighters of the RAAF flew sorties within a week of the invasion. The Royal Australian Regiment earned its first battle honours in the Korean War and the RAN’s Fleet Air Arm played a vital role in the air war over Korea.

Through 1950 and 1951 the war raged up and down the Korean peninsula. The North Korean offensive was countered by one led by the UN Command. In October 1950 Communist China entered the war and launched a massive attack that drove the UN troops back down south. The UN opposed Chinese numbers with sophisticated military technology and, by 1952, the war had bogged down into a dreadful stalemate. On 27 July 1953 an armistice was finally agreed. The demilitarised zone it created was close to the same demarcation line over which the war had begun. Although an armistice is in place, no peace treaty has been signed. The Korean War has never ended.

From the invasion to the armistice more than 17,000 Australian sailors, soldiers and aviators served under United Nations Command. Australian military casualties include 30 prisoners of war, 1216 wounded and 340 killed of which 43 remain missing in action.