The Korean War started on 25 June 1950 and ended on 27 July 1953, after the signing of an armistice agreeing that the country would remain divided.
At the end of the Second World War, Korea – which had formerly been occupied by the Japanese – was divided along the 38th parallel. This was an internal border between North and South Korea based on a circle of latitude.
North Korea, supported by the Soviet Union, invaded the south on the 25 June 1950, which was supported by the United States.
The three-year war was exceptionally bloody and led to the deaths of 3 million people and tens of thousands of casualties. Listen to oral histories from those who fought in the Korean War and discover their unique stories of the conflict in: Voices of the Korean War.
Discover more about the history of the conflict below, often referred to as the 'Forgotten War'.
The Korean People's Army is established
North Korea soon fell under the influence of the Soviet Union, whilst the south relied on the support of the Americans. The Korean People's Army (KPA) was established in North Korea in February 1948, from Korean communist guerrillas who had previously served with the Chinese People's Liberation Army, but were 'advised' by Soviet personnel. By mid-1950 the KPA was made up of ten infantry divisions plus other units totalling some 223,000 men.
Invasion of South Korea
On 25 June 1950 the KPA invaded South Korea and rapidly advanced southwards, trapping South Korean and American troops in a small perimeter around the port of Pusan. The United Nations was quick to respond and immediately encouraged its members to support South Korea. Many countries sent in troops to support the south, including the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa.
Landings at Inchon
The United Nations commander General MacArthur ordered an amphibious landing at Inchon, a port halfway up the Korean Peninsula. His forces were able to drive the KPA back northwards and up to the Yalu River, the border between China and North Korea.
Entry of China
China entered the war at this point and, again, pushed United Nations forces back into the south. During the first half of 1951 fighting stalled and armistice negotiations began in July. However, the negotiations achieved little initial success and the opposing armies continued to face each other in trenches little more than a mile apart for the next two years.
Finally, on 27 July 1953, an armistice was signed agreeing that Korea would remain a divided country.
The armistice was signed by officials from the United States, the People's Republic of China, North Korea and South Korea. This agreed to bring the fighting of the Korean War to an end. The armistice agreement was signed at Panmunjom between North and South Korea.
Korean War collections
IWM boasts a vast collection of objects, oral histories and photographs from the Korean War:
© IWM MH 32885A
Photographs: The Korean War 1950 - 1953
This photograph shows a refugee collection station at Changgo-Ri, just below the 38th Parallel. Korean refugees are found near the front line and evacuated by the 3rd US Infantry Division Civil Affairs Personnel and given typhus shots by a South Korean (ROK) nurse.
Discover more photographs of the Korean War.
HMS Belfast in the Korean War
HMS Belfast spent more than 400 days on patrol during the Korean War, steaming over 80,000 miles. In winter, sea conditions reminded her crew of those she had faced in the Arctic – sub-zero temperatures, ice floes, stormy seas and snow.
Find out more about HMS Belfast in Korea in: Korean War and HMS Belfast: The hottest point of the Cold War.