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The Korean War Museum That Was on Yoido Island
The Korean War Memorial Museum, located north of Yongsan-Gu in Seoul, opened in 1994. Prior to that there was a museum on Yoido Island in Seoul. I visited the museum on Yoido Island a couple of times in 1986 and in 1991. This article is about the museum that was on Yoido Island and some of its artifacts.
The museum had a nominal entrance fee. A Korean banner at the entrance read “Remember 6.25”. This is a reference to the day North Korea invaded South Korea, June 25th 1950. The museum was a large outdoor area. It did have a couple of small buildings that contained some artifacts. It was an impressive collection of Korean War vintage military equipment. The equipment used in the Korean Conflict was a mixture of the latest early 1950s and World War II era technology. The museum had examples of 1950s and 1940s military equipment. It also had some post Korean Conflict military equipment. It also had some artifacts that illustrated North Korea’s post-ceasefire aggression. Modern skyscrapers, including the 63 Building, a 63-story building that was then the tallest building outside North America, surrounded the museum. Other skyscrapers were under construction. This illustrated how far the Republic of Korea had come from the war-torn country it was in the 1950s. There weren’t many patrons on the days I was there. Most of the patrons were part of a single group.
The collection included a C-124 Globemaster II. Douglas delivered 447 C-124s during its production run from 1949 to 1955. It could carry 68,500 pounds of cargo or 200 combat troops.[i] Visitors could go inside this aircraft’s cargo bay. The cargo bay had pictures of the C-124 in action.
There was a B-29 Superfortress named “Unification”. This expressed the forlorn hope Koreans have of a reunited Korea. B-29s were World War II bombers that carried out strategic bombing raids against Japan. The U.S. Air Force used them during the Korean Conflict in strategic and tactical bombing missions. They flew 21,000 sorties and dropped 167,000 tons of bombs. Officially the U.S. lost 20 B-29s to communist fire and 14 to other causes during the conflict.[ii] The actual losses were much higher. The USAF didn’t count aircraft as lost to enemy fire if they went down over the ocean, crashed in South Korea, or were written off when they returned to base. Enemy fire cost the USAF almost 100 B-29s.[iii]
There was an F-86 Sabre, tail number 13-180, with Republic of Korea (ROK) Air Force markings. Although the F-86 was the premier fighter during the Korean Conflict the ROK Air Force didn’t get F-86s until after the ceasefire. The Korean Conflict had the largest jet vs jet air battles in history. These large air battles pitted F-86s against MiG-15s. F-86s claimed 829 of the 954 air-air kills credited to 5th Air Force aircraft in the Korean Conflict. These kills included 811 MiG-15s.[iv]
A B-26 Invader was also in the collection. This aircraft’s designation can cause some confusion. When the Air Force became a separate service the Air Force changed some aircraft designations. The Korean War Douglas B-26 was not the B-26 Marauder of World War II fame. The Air Force changed the Douglas B-26 designation to A-26 in 1965. The Air Force credited the Invader with shooting down a couple of communist aircraft during the Korean Conflict. The Air Force credited Invaders with destroying 7 aircraft, 168 bridges, 406 locomotives, 3,700 railway trucks, and 38,500 vehicles.[v] The Invader also served in Indo-China with the French and U.S. air forces. The CIA used B-26s in the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
There was an F-51[vi] Mustang in ROK Air Force markings. Some F-51s were given to the fledgling ROK Air Force during the Korean War. U.S. Air Force F-51s scored their first Korean War kills on June 29, 1950. In an air combat between the F-51s and a flight of Soviet made Yak fighters the American pilots shot down the 4 Yaks without loss. Lt. Orrin Fox shot down 2 of these Yaks. The Australian and South African Air Forces also flew Mustangs in Korea. Lt. J. G. Harrison scored the last air victory for the F-51s in Korea. He shot down a Yak of June 20, 1951. In Korea the F-51s primarily served as a ground attack aircraft. Mustang pilot Major Louis Sebille was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for crashing his F-51 into two half-tracks.[vii] He was the first USAF medal of honor recipient.[viii]
There was a F9F Cougar on display. The F9F arrived too late for the Korean Conflict. The F9F had a similar airframe to the F7F Panther but with swept back wings. The U.S. Navy used the Panther during the Korean Conflict.
The air combat over Korea was primarily jet vs jet action. Almost all the Korean War aces were F-86 or MiG-15 pilots. An exception was U.S. Navy pilot Lieutenant Guy B. Bordelon who shot down 5 enemy aircraft, at night. He was the only night fighter ace of the war. He flew the F4U-5N Corsair.[ix] The museum had an F4U Corsair on display. While Corsairs scored some air victories as with other piston engine aircraft during the Korean Conflict it was primarily used for ground attack.
The museum had a Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaw helicopter. It had ROK markings. The H-19 was a transport helicopter that could carry up to 10 people. They arrived in Korea in March 1951 and were used extensively for transport and rescue.[x]
The museum had a collection of armor and artillery. This included Soviet built tanks and artillery pieces. Many of the tanks were post Korean Conflict vintage. The collection included a T-34. The T-34 entered combat in 1941. It was a major advance in tank deign. Many German anti-tank weapons were ineffective against it. It was the best allied medium tank of World War II. The North Korean army spearheaded its invasion of South Korea with T-34 tanks. The Republic of Korea army didn’t have tanks at the time. The U.S. Army sent Task Force Smith to slow the North Korean advance. The American anti-tank weapons that were ineffective against German Panthers and Tigers also proved ineffective against the T-34s. The T-34 was more than a match for the World War II vintage M-4 Sherman tanks the U.S. Army used in Korea. The American T-26 Pershing, a heavy tank, was more than a match for the T-34.
British Centurion tanks served in the Korean conflict. The most famous battles were the Battle of the Imjin River, 1951, and the battle of The Hook, 1953. The museum had a British Centurion on display. There were some fierce tank battles in Korea when the both sides were making rapid advances. When the war evolved into a stalemate United Nations forces used tanks mostly as mobile artillery.
Inside the museum had Kim Il Sung’s car. Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, was the leader of North Korea during the Korean Conflict and was the leader until his death in 1994. United Nations forces captured his car during the rapid United Nations advance into North Korea.
The museum also had some reminders of North Korea’s current provocations. In the 1980s and 90s the infiltration tunnels were a major cause for concern for Korean and American forces. The first tunnel discoveries were tunnels a soldier could crawl through. The most recent tunnels the Korean and American forces had found were large enough for heavy vehicles to drive through. The museum had mock ups of these tunnels. The tunnel mockups were just some empty spaces on the grounds that a casual visitor could easily miss or shrug at.
While I was in Korea from August 1985-August 1986 there were two speedboat incidents. In both cases South Korean patrol boats caught speed boats in South Korean waters. When the patrol boats challenged the speed boats in both cases the speed boats opened fire and made a run for it. In both incidents the speed boats didn’t get far. In one incident the patrol boat fire blew the speed boat out of the water. In the other incident the patrol boat shot up the speed boat, killing the speed boat’s crew. The Korean and American forces took the shot-up speed boat to Panmunjom to protest North Korean aggression. The shot-up speed boat was on display at the museum in 1991.
[i] Arsenal of Democracy, by Tom Gervasi, © 1977 by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman.
[ii] Joe Baugher, B-29 in Korean War, http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_bombers/b29_12.html, last accessed 9/24/2017.
[iii] Air War Over Korea, by Larry Davis, © 1982 by Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc.
[iv] Fighter Aces, by Christopher Shores, © 1975 by The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited.
[v] Air War Over Korea, by Larry Davis, © 1982 by Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc.
[vi] When the United States Air Force became a separate service it changed the designation of its fighter aircraft from “P” for pursuit to “F” for fighter. The Air Force changed the designation of the P-51 to F-51.
[vii] Fighting Mustang: The Chronicle of the P-51 by William N. Hess, © 1970.
[viii] Four USAF members, all pilots, were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Korean Conflict, all of them were posthumous.
[ix] Fighter Aces by Christopher Shores, © The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited 1975, P. 143.
[x] Air War Over Korea, by Larry Davis, © 1982 by Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc.
The current The Korean War Memorial Museum is much larger and has more elaborate displays. Admission is free. It contains a small exhibit about the ROKS CHEONAN. On March 26, 2010 a North Korean midget submarine sank THE CHEONAN near South Korea’s Baengnyeong Island. The attack killed 46 of the CHEONAN’S crew.