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文章原始标题:How was the Chinese able to perform so well in Korean War.


Even with the Soviet airforce denying UN air superiority and the general neglect in US military,How was the Chinese able to perform so well against UN force made up mostly of Western Allies?


Some thoughts that come to mind:
Numbers of course. The Chinese attacked US/UN forces with tremendous strength of numbers. According to the Chinese, at peak strength they had about 1.5 million men in Korea. Peak strength for the US was 330,000. In 4 years of combat 35,000 Americans died in Korea. In the less than two years of combat that China was involved they, according to the Chinese government, sustained over 180,000 deaths, with speculation that the number could be much higher.
Other than material and logistical inferiority, the Chinese army fought very well and were generally well led. Chinese soldiers were largely very motivated and able to withstand much privation, and were excellent at infiltration and close infantry combat.
Allied overconfidence. The US (MacArthur in particular) ignored clear indications that the Chinese were going to intervene. This hubris resulted in US/SK/Allied forces being caught off balance when the Chinese attacked. Much of the second half of the Korean War was the Allies recovering from being knocked off balance.
Logistics. Despite what I said about Chinese logistics problems (and they definitely had them), the Korean War was fought right next to China, whereas outside of SK, the US and most of its allies were fighting at the end of a several thousand mile long logistics chain. The US had and used very effectively it's massive firepower advantage, but in no reality could the US put millions of US troops in Korea the way the Chinese could walk them in.
Political motivation. Related to the point above, China viewed the Korean War as directly related to its interests, perhaps even an existential threat. The US and Allied reasons for being there were much more tenuous. Even if the US could have put a million soldiers in Korea as I wrote above, there's no way in hell the American public would have supported it. The US Administration was under constant domestic political pressure to keep US involvement in the Korean War limited, and that's what they did. This was a war that in the US largely nobody wanted. There's a reason it to this day it is referred to as "The Forgotten War."
In Mortal Combat: Korea, by Tolland is a great overview of the war. On Desperate Ground, by Sides is an excellent and riveting history of the US fighting China at the Chosin Reservoir.


Emperor-Commodus -> MaterialCarrot
How would you rank The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam? I read it a long time ago and was thinking about re-reading. IIRC he puts much of the blame on MacArthur for having a terrible intelligence corps and ignoring political realities in favor of constantly being on the offensive.


MaterialCarrot -> Emperor-Commodus
Have not read it, but I know it's well regarded. Yes, what I have read on balance lays a lot of blame on MacArthur for being caught so flat footed.
Since you've read a general history book about Korea, I'd recommend On Desperate Ground. It's just about the Chosin Reservoir battles, but really puts you in the minds and bodies of the guys fighting it, as well as putting the battle in a greater strategic context. Fascinating stuff.


pokefisk -> MaterialCarrot
I've seen many people mention the first book, but I'll read both. Just wonder which one should I start first?
Should I get wider picture first?


MaterialCarrot -> pokefisk
Personally, I would start broad with the general overview, then read about Chosin Reservoir after that.


pokefisk -> MaterialCarrot
Thank you, I have no knowledge of this war, and close to zero background for anything related. Just spent last years reading ww2,then little about soviet-Afghanistan conflict(s), then it was turn for reading up about French troops and Dien Bien Phu.


librarianhuddz -> MaterialCarrot
That book made me coooooold. Just reading it I could feel my hands starting to freeze.


MaterialCarrot -> librarianhuddz
Agree 100%. I grew up in the Midwest and am familiar with cold winters, but some of those chapters made me practically miserable just to read.


Commodify -> MaterialCarrot
According to the Chinese, at peak strength they had about 1.5 million men in Korea. Peak strength for the US was 330,000. In 4 years of combat 35,000 Americans died in Korea. In the less than two years of combat that China was involved they, according to the Chinese government, sustained over 180,000 deaths, with speculation that the number could be much higher.
Good post but on this part you can't forget the South Koreans, who constituted the majority of both UN personnel and casualties. When they are thrown in, both force numbers and casualties between the Chinese and UN are far more even. More, it explains a lot of PVA success because the majority of the front was being covered by troops that were no more heavily armed than themselves.


Thtguy1289_NY -> Commodify
If you include South Koreans, then you need to include North Koreans as well. And we see an even greater casualty disparity, rather than an equalization


Thtguy1289_NY -> Commodify
Well, it's not like the ROK faired great in the beginning either. They lost 70k+ men before the UN even got there!!


Jemnite -> MaterialCarrot
It's a bit strange to mention the logistical issues and yet cite logistics as an advantage. Supply lines for the PVA were absolutely horrendous with the rail-lines completely destroyed by the time that the PVA crossed the Yalu and the PVA had to resort pack animals and carrying much of their food and equipment with them (on foot). In addition, they were unable to transport supplies except for the dark hours of the morning/night thanks to overwhelming task force air superiority. The PVA couldn't even secure airspace above their own headquarters, which led to the death of Mao's son by airstrike. By the time the PVA launched the Third Phase Offensive, they had effectively outrun their supply lines despite only marching around 600-700 miles south of the Yalu.
There's a tendency to mistake the astounding strategic mobility of the PVA to logistics. However the ability of the PVA to shift large amounts of troops around to the complete surprise and bafflement of the UN task force was not because of logistics, but despite them. The PVA applied extremely rigorous march and discipline, and displayed superior strategic capabilities which allowed them to seize and maintain the advantage of initiative despite being in a markedly inferior logistics position.


MaterialCarrot -> Jemnite
I don't disagree, but to understand my point, take China as it existed in 1950 and the US as it existed in 1950 and then have them fighting in Oregon, rather than Korea. A completely different situation that would afford the US an ENORMOUS advantage.
That's my point. The strategic logistical situation for the Chinese compared to the US with the war being fought on the Chinese border was highly favorable, even though on a operational level the Chinese struggled mightily with logistics.


Jemnite -> MaterialCarrot
I think that analogy sort of falls apart when you consider that China in 1950 couldn't even make it to Japan let alone fight in Oregon. But I get your point. I just don't think it's a decisive factor in PVA performance considering it was the bare minimum for them to even enter the war.


FlashbackHistory -> MaterialCarrot
There are a lot of problems with this take.
The Chinese numerical advantage often gets overstated as part of the "Red Chinese Hordes" mythos. Let's look at some more relevant numbers.
During the war, the Chinese sent 2.4 million troops to Korea (1.9 million, plus another 500,000 sent as replacements), with another 500,000-600,000 militia in rear-area support roles.
During the war years, 1,789,000 million American personnel served in the Far East (mostly in Korea, with some in Japan and the Philippines). But ... the UN Command wasn't just Americans. When it came to foreign troops, there were Brits (55,000), Canadians (25,000), Turks (15,000), Australians (8,500), Filipinos (7,500), Thais (6,000), Dutchmen (5,000), Colombians (5,000), and more! On top of that, you have the massive numbers of South Koreans. Getting numbers for total ROKA and ROKMC enlistments during the war is tricky, plus overall numbers are muddled by the use of policemen and student-soldiers. But to give some idea of the manpower we're talking about consider that by July 1953, South Korea had 554,000 men in its army. At this point point, almost 25,000 of these men were serving in American and British units as KATUSAs and KATCOMs, making up as much as 10-20% of some nominally "American" units. Large numbers of Koreans were also working as porters and in other support roles. And when you look at South Korean military losses (187,000 dead is the official figure), they actually end up being comparable to China's admitted losses (180,000, although the actual number is likely higher).
UN forces and Communist forces had surprisingly comparable troop levels in-theater for much of the war. Communist forces did outnumber UN ones for much of the war, but the overall odds weren't 10:1 or 5:1 and there were plenty of periods where the odds weren't even 3:1 or 2:1. Indeed, by the time the war ended in 1953, the Chinese-North Korean side had about 1.5 million men versus 1 millon South Koreans, Americans, and other UN troops.
I'll just reiterate what I said the last time you tried to argue this.
In virtually all cases, UN forces were much better supplied than the Chinese. American ships alone mover over 30 million tons of cargo into Korea during the war. The entire Chinese logistical effort moved a little over 5.5 million tons. The Communists had to deal with shortages of trucks that forced them to carry a lot of tonnage with coolies and oxcarts to move. On top of that, there was constant interdiction from aircraft and warships that made daylight operations suicidal. The UNC had none of those constraints. If you look at things like the disparity between shells fired, the scale of the Chinese logistical disadvantage is blatantly obvious.
In fact, the UN supply lines for some items were much shorter than the Chinese ones. The US had the huge advantage of being able to use Japan as a staging area and production center. Everything from napalm tanks to boots were made in Japan and shipped the short distance to Korea. Meanwhile, any Soviet-made supplies had to be shipped hundreds and hundreds of miles.
The idea that the US couldn't support large numbers of troops in Asia is also pretty absurd, given that it had already supported a much, much bigger and much more active force in the area just five years earlier...

战争期间,有178.9万美国人在远东服役(大部分在朝鲜,还有一些在日本和菲律宾)。但是... 联合国军不只有美国人。说到外国军队,有英国人(5.5万人)、加拿大人(2.5万人)、土耳其人(1.5万人)、澳大利亚人(8,500人)、菲律宾人(7,500人)、泰国人(6,000人)、荷兰人(5,000人)、哥伦比亚人(5,000人)等等!除此之外,还有大量的韩国人。要获得战争期间韩国军队和韩国海军陆战队的总人数是很困难的,再加上警察和学生兵,总人数就很模糊了。但是为了让我们对我们正在谈论的人数有所了解,我们来看看1953年7月,韩国有55.4万名军人。在这一点上,大约有2.5万人在美国和英国部队服役,作为附编韩军,占一些名义上的“美国”军队的10-20%。大量韩国人也从事搬运工和其他辅助工作。如果你看看韩国的军事损失(官方数字是18.7万人死亡),他们实际上最终与中国承认的损失(18万人,尽管实际数字可能更高)相当。

Wenuven -> MaterialCarrot
Allied overconfidence. The US (MacArthur in particular) ignored clear
indications that the Chinese were going to intervene. This hubris
resulted in US/SK/Allied forces being caught off balance when the
Chinese attacked. Much of the second half of the Korean War was the
Allies recovering from being knocked off balance.
I'd argue that the hubris was thinking he could win the PR war sacrificing American lives for the sake of drawing the US into a full scale war with China a la Thermopylae and Sparta/Persia. Believing that Americans wouldn't swallow losing to their "inferiors".
Remember this is the generation of military leaders that bought into their own divinity and racial / sociocultural divides were still very real.


CanadaJack -> Wenuven
This is also the particular military leader who fought tooth and nail to just nuke them.


PandaBearShenyu -> MaterialCarrot
Numbers of course.
Uh, no. I can't believe this hUMAn WAvE talking point got dug back out of the grave where it belonged.
No the Chinese did not have "tremendous strength of numbers", nor did they ever have 1.5 million troops in Korea in remotely relevant terms. When you have basically no logistics, you need to field a much larger number of troops because most of them will be in transit. See battle of Shanghai where on paper the KMT fielded 3-4 times the number of troops as the IJA but in actual combat the number of actual fighting KMT troops were a fraction of the IJA's deployment where it mattered because most of the KMT troops were in transit.
When you have actual logistics, you need to field much fewer troops on paper to match your adversary in actual combat.
The peak PVA deployment in the area of fighting is at best comparable to UN forces. The Chinese never had the logistics to support a prolonged deployment of troops in combat zones remotely close to the UN due to the latter enjoying complete air superiority.
The PVA employed very sophisticated short attacks that used multiple highly mobile small squads to attack UN positions from multiple directions to seem like large numbers, they also use this to cut off UN positions from each other.


Logistics. Despite what I said about Chinese logistics problems (and they definitely had them), the Korean War was fought right next to China, whereas outside of SK, the US and most of its allies were fighting at the end of a several thousand mile long logistics chain. The US had and used very effectively it's massive firepower advantage, but in no reality could the US put millions of US troops in Korea the way the Chinese could walk them in.
This is complete intellectual dishonesty or hopefully just pure ignorance. UN airplanes bombed everything that moved in Korea, and that is not an exaggeration, every village, road, town, city, in North Korea was bombed and up to 30% of the North Korean civilian population were killed. Of the 7000 trucks the CHinese had, they lost more than half of that in the first month. They had no logistics lines. The vast majority of Chinese casualties came from starvation, freezing, and disease, not combat.
After the first months, the Chinese had no ability to launch any large scale assault or change the tide of the war. Even then holding the 38th parallel for 3 years is nothing short of a miracle. Throwing literal rocks down a mountain slope at American troops was not at all uncommon for the PVA and many units straight up had no ammo and had their bayonets permanently attached.


The Chinese had no relevant logistics capability. Being closer to China doesn't mean you can use some kind of magic anime power to will supplies across hundreds of miles of a country with no functioning bridges, roads, rail that are being patrolled by the biggest deployment of U.S. air power ever 24/7. Chinese troops famously only ever moved at night when American planes couldn't see them. This is not make believe land where you point to a map with your crayon and go "this close, have supply, this far, no supply."
The intellectual dishonesty part comes from the wilful ignorance of how logistics works, we could ship a birthday cake into Germany during world war II and supply our troops better than Nazi troops in their own homeland. Distance is not a factor when you:
* Have the supplies
* Have the production
* Can transport all this shit to the field of operation.
The only disadvantage would be the opening of the war if you needed the first shipments to arrive, but after that, your apparently disadvantage from distance is functionally non-existent. Oh and we also outproduced the Chinese at that point to a factor of 300 to 1, more than the disparity with the Japanese by multiples.

* 拥有补给,
* 拥有生产力,
* 拥有可以把这些玩意运到战场上去的能力。

UN on the other hand had no threat whatsoever to their logistics lines and were presented with none of the issues. The Chinese had an understanding that they basically had 20 minutes to fight before the UN troops basically erected a wall of flame around their positions.
Your argument seems to imply that the Chinese performed well because they were "politically motivated" and "had tremendous numbers", had no logistics when you wanted to talk down about them and suddenly had logistics when you needed them to seem like a credible threat that the UN overcame.
The real reason is:
Yes, the PLA troops are extremely motivated, and PLA doctrine to this day is to be hyper disciplined and to be extremely aggressive, much more so than their enemies in combat.
The PLA just came off of fighting multiple wars with ample experience in guerrilla fighting against the Japanese, and field battles including water crossing against the KMT. Their elite troops were comparable to alpines troops in terms of their ability to fighting in difficult terrain and harsh weather.
insane levels of discipline and political purity since those that weren't died during the long march, and as you said, the Chinese gauged correctly that allowing the U.S. to occupy all of Korea was an existential threat and they just finished their last century of humiliation from foreign invaders.
Having big numbers and being politically motivated don't win you wars alone, sorry to say but that wasn't the case since World War I when everyone found out the hard way. The Chinese were just excellent, albeit severely under and sometimes un-equipped and supplied warfighters.


MightyVanguard -> MaterialCarrot
Adding into the logistical issues, the Chinese sent into Korea weren't as mechanized as the allied troops, and had access to the north Koreans who knew mountain paths that could be traversed on foot, but not easily with vehicles. With these advantages, they could march men on these paths past the allies.


The single most important factor was terrain. Korea at the time was mostly forested. The PVA's victory in Korea was neither the first nor the most impressive victory of light infantry against a more heavily armed force in the forests. The Japanese and Finns had done even better as far as loss ratio was concerned ten years earlier. The terrain restricted the mobility of the round-bound Americans. It forced tanks to travel in column, and the PVA could destroy the columns by disabling the front and rear tanks. Forests further reduced aerial reconnaissance potential, safeguarded the PVA from airstrikes, and reduced visibility in general. That allowed the PVA to creep up on UN forces and attack at short distances, where artillery bombardment would lead to friendly fire.
Next, the UN's firepower advantage only applied to limited segments of the front. The majority of UN troops were South Korean, and they were no more heavily armed than the Chinese.
Third, the Americans suffered from maladaptive SOP. While the Marines (those of whom who had actually seen combat in the Pacific, that is) had experience with "short attacks" through fighting the Japanese, the army was used to big conventional battles in Europe. More, the marines had only defended against Japanese attacks in the confines of an island, with overwhelming naval fire support available at any time. They rarely had to consider the threat of a flanking attack, an envelopment, or a deep penetration into their rear areas. They further always were numerically superior to the Japanese, while in Korea the Chinese usually had numerical superiority. The end result was an American army that had no idea how to counter an enemy whose basic operational method was to leverage vegetation, dead space, night, and bad weather to attack at short distances. It preferred to create strongpoints along roads - what one would do if resisting a German offensive - instead of contesting the surrounding forests and mountains. It wasn't until late in the war that Ridgeway was able to create a geographically sound defensive line.
In Korean war histories much noise has been made about MacArthur's "stupidity" in pushing beyond the Pyongyang chokepoint and the brilliance of Chinese tactics, but the reality is that the UN could have won the war despite both those things. Chinese SOP was not impossible to counter, the US army of 1950 simply had all the wrong ideas of how to fight an unconventional enemy.


MaterialCarrot -> Commodify
Good post, I would just add on the terrain aspect is that Korea was (and of course still is) extremely mountainous. So as well as being heavily forested, the mountainous terrain further restricted and inhibited US forces that were built around firepower, mechanization, and mobility. The terrain gave a leg up to light infantry.


YooesaeWatchdog1 -> Commodify
Another thing to note is that the US consisted of 40%+ global GDP at that point while China was one of the poorest countries in the world on par with Congo today. this sort of upset would be like Afghanistan fighting the US to a standstill.


civver3 -> Commodify
the US army of 1950 simply had all the wrong ideas of how to fight an unconventional enemy
Foreshadowing the Vietnam War, to simplify it excessively. Makes me think generations often have to relearn how to fight wars.


I've written answers here and here that get into this issue. The gist:
The Chinese achieved strategic surprise in the winter of 1950 and were able to launch two major offensives on largely unaware UN forces in northern Korea. The Chinese did some smart things to achieve these surprises, like mass camouflage and deception efforts. They also benefited from the willful ignorance of MacArthur and intel chief Charles Willoughby regarding the Chinese buildup on the Yalu. The Chinese also benefited from two limitations to UN air reconnaissance: Washington's ban on flights north of the Yalu and the pause on RB-29 flights caused by the appearance of Soviet-piloted MiG-15s in November 1950.


The Chinese were sprinters, not marathon runners. They could achieve spectacular short-term successes ... but they often couldn't follow up those successes. During the mobile phase of the war in 1950-1951, Chinese logistics took months to stockpile the supplies that would be exhausted in a week-long offensive. With better sustainment, the Chinese might well have wiped out UN forces in November-December 1950 or April 1951.
At the tactical level, the Chinese were generally good about playing to their strengths and their enemies' weaknesses. They often fought at night and used the cover of terrain and darkness to reduce the efficacy of UN heavy weapons and airpower. They combined frontal attacks with flanking pincers to pin and annihilate entire enemy units.

中国人是短跑运动员,而不是马拉松运动员。他们可以在短期内取得惊人的成功... 但往往不能延续这些成功。在1950年至1951年的战争机动阶段,中国的后勤花了几个月的时间储备物资,而这些物资在一周的进攻中耗尽。如果有更好的后勤保障,中国很可能在1950年11月至12月或1951年4月消灭联合国部队。

Since there are so many experts here, what if the US had captured Pyongyang and then established defensive lines across Korea. This would have lead to North Korea basically being a rump state right? Unlikely that China could have dialoged them from there.


Trick_Ad3016 -> panick21
This is basically what every Korea expert since the Korean War says that the US and ROK should have done. PVA would not have been able to overrun this defense line, and PRC might not even have intervened. And a rump NK would absolutely have fallen after the Cold War, and we would be living in a world with a reunified and peaceful Korea.
Instead we have a Korea where its northern half and nuclear-armed on top of that.
I guess hindsight is 20/20.


I think even more crucial was the fact that in the initial push south the North captured tremendous amounts of US arms and other supplies. We had to basically start from scratch, while the North could use our own arms against us.


China had millions of veterans who had been fighting since 1937 - both against the Japanese and in the civil war - and were able to achieve strategic surprise and highly favorable ratios in its attack of 1950. After that point, China consistently had more troops, but the Allies had better supplies and logistics, and it was generally a stalemate.


PLA tactics, US arrogance, Surprise and Terrain
UN forces were already isolated from each other due to the terrain of North Korea and as units were already detached from each other and had very little ability to support if one unit came under attack this played into Chinese tactics perfectly as their modus operandi was to infiltrate and isolate individual units and defeat them in detail while simultaneously destroying rear command.
Add to the cluster the UN forces were basically in victory formation and did not keep it secret on how each unit was deployed and where so PLA forces new exactly where to attack. So you have these isolated units on cold rocky hills and mountains already hoping to be home for Christmas suddenly surrounded with rear command areas also under heavy attack. Then the PLA would set up ambush points a long lines of retreat and thus you get maximum casualties.
Suffice to say the US came away taking the wrong lessons from the conflict. The US took away that as long as there was no surprise and tight coordination between units could be maintained firepower would still win the day. Also to be disproved in Vietnam