UDT Operations in Korea: Inchon

(reprinted from the Archives of the UDT/SEAL Museum's Fire in the Hole! publication - 1995)


In June of 1950 the North Korean Peoples Army crossed the 38th parallel attacking South Korea. Underwater Demolition Team personnel were utilized almost immediately in this war that some called a "police action."

UDT operations included beach reconnaissance and demolitions. Team members also went behind enemy lines to destroy bridges and railroad tunnels. These early commando operations gave strategic planners some idea of the many UDT capabilities and probably influenced the later establishment of the first SEAL Teams.

These Korean War veterans would have a profound effect on the Teams. They became UDTRA instructors for many of us as well as the combat-tested leaders who went to Vietnam.

The material was originally compiled by Russ Eoff with assistance from Bill Tobin and John Kelly. A UDT3 bias may be observed since that was where the information and experience was obtained. The events they write about came from memory, a log and letters written home at the time.

Author's Note: Looking back...to 1950 seems so long ago; yet only yesterday in memory. The period covered in 1950 was an action-packed, dangerous, boring, tedious, exciting time. Not expanded upon was the back and forth schedule between heaven (Japan) and hell (Korea). Maybe we should do a Japan paper some day...

25 June 1950 - North Korean forces cross the 38th parallel separating the two Koreas. All hell was breaking loose! Harry Truman was on the radio two or three times a day talking about the Korean problem; and what he (we) were going to do about it. Going on alert, UDTs 1 and 3 secured the strand, standing wartime watches looking for what, we didn't know.

A UDT 3 10-man detachment was in Japan training at Chigasaki Beach - a real plush assignment until the powers that be wondered what they could do with a bunch of Frogmen to help the Korean cause. By early July they decided UDT could become commandos and interdict rail traffic supporting the enemy. They destroyed tunnels or bridges, or whatever presented itself. Early on, BM3 Warren Foley became the first Navy casualty of the war when wounded while attempting to blow up a tunnel. In late July the detachment was joined and absorbed by Team 1, which had been rushed out from Coronado.

To round out the Korean commitment, Team 3 went aboard the USNS General William Weigel, departing San Diego the afternoon of August 16 for what turned out to be a non-stop 20-knot shot to Kobe, Japan, arriving August 28, 1950.

The stage was now set for General Douglas MacArthur's "masterpiece of amphibious warfare," an invasion of the unlikely port of Inchon with her 30-foot tides. Now for this new kind of war (police action), UDT's mission was quickly changed to cope with the strange set of circumstances that was Inchon - setting buoys to mark boat channels where the mud flats appeared at low tide, and associated tasks. So this was Inchon. Surely this invasion would be a turning point for wars to follow WWII. Different!

As part of the First Marine Division, Reinforced, we worked hard at Inchon, receiving the Presidential Unit Citation for "extraordinary heroism against enemy aggressor forces in Korea from 15 September to 11 October 1950" and the Korean Presidential Unit Citation "for the invasion, evacuation, and reinvasion of Inchon."

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