Thursday, November 25, 2010

Korea Volunteer Corps of Belgium

Today with the tensions again high between North and South Korea I will look back at the Belgian contribution to the Korean War which was the first major test of the United Nations as a peace-keeping force in the world. It was on 25 June 1950 that the militaries of communist North Korea crossed the border to invade South Korea and the Kingdom of Belgium, acting on the direction of the UN Security Council Resolution for members of the United Nations to aid the Republic of Korea, acted to send a Belgian military force to Korea. Professional soldiers, reservists and conscripts could volunteer for service and in a show of patriotism and concern for the poor people of South Korea some 2,000 Belgians quickly volunteered. However, recruiting was limited and so only 700 of these were chosen for overseas service and given their distinctive brown berets.

The first on service was the Korea Volunteer Corps (Corps Volontaires Corea) which consisted of 900 infantry soldiers. The First Belgium Battalion (1 Bataillon Belge) arrived in December of 1950. For the first wave of recruits there was extensive training to be done to prepare for service on the Korean peninsula but after time the Belgian United Nations Command (BUNC), which also included a platoon of volunteers from the neighbor Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, sailed from Antwerp on the ship KAMINA and arrived at Pusan, South Korea on 31 January 1951. The First Belgium Battalion was attached to the Third Infantry Division of the United States and was later replaced by the Second Belgium Battalion in August of 1951. The Second Belgium Battalion remained in Korea until June of 1955. This included also the forty-four men of the Luxembourg volunteers who served alongside the Belgian battalions throughout the duration of the war.

There had to be further training after arriving in Korea and the Belgians first gained their knowledge of Korean warfare by carrying out patrols against communist guerillas in the area of Waegwan. It was after that that the BUNC was put in the line of battle with the U.S. Third Division close to Seoul along the Han River on 7 March 1951. Only the following month the Belgian forces saw serious combat operations when they received their first battle honors for the engagement along the Imjin River. In August the first battalion was relieved by the second who came by ship and by airplane to keep the Belgian military presence up to strength and maintain the national commitment to the UN “police action”.

Some countries involved in the Korean War could not contribute much and had token forces that saw duty mostly behind the lines, out of danger and with little impact on the war, but certainly very crucial to the overall military operation, however, this was not true of the Belgian contingent which had many combat experiences and earned numerous battle honors in Korea. The BUNC had fought at the battles Haktang-Ni in October 1951, Chatkol in April 1953 and by the time of the armistice cease-fire the BUNC was reduced by combat and attrition to only about 200 men on 30 December 1954 and the last Belgian soldiers left Korea on 15 June of 1955. During their service the BUNC earned four Belgian citations recognized by the Order of Leopold I on the battalion flag, the United States Presidential Unit Citation and two Korean Presidential Unit Citations along with numerous individual decorations, medals and citations for the valiant soldiers. Luxembourg also decorated the unit for their service.

For more information click on to Belgian Volunteer Corps - Korea

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