Friday, 5 November 2010

When the Turks saved Uncle Sam

There has been some silliness from those who should know better in seeking parallels from history to the nascent Anglo-French military alliance; the Crimean War is an utterly absurd comparison, and even comparing WWI and WWII is pushing reasonable limits. The more recent UN effort in the Balkans also misses the mark - sorry, lads, this really wasn't a war. No, I think the most recent example of a true war in which international forces came under various combinations of national command is the Korean War, in which the nations of the UN faced China. 

In November 1950 the Chinese army was smashing the US 8th army, which was in full retreat back to the coast.  Facing the Chinese 38 Corps as a rearguard holding a critical road junction was the tiny Turkish Brigade, just three infantry battalions with a few borrowed tanks. The stubborn resistance of the Turks allowed an entire US division to escape. Finally, facing two entire Chinese divisions, the tiny Turkish brigade was effectively destroyed; out of ammunition, they fought savagely with fists, rocks, trenching tools and the bayonet, taking a terrible toll of Chinese. But they saved the day. The Battle of Wawon stands still as an example of the potential of a mixed force on the battlefield. Brig. Tahsin Yazici, the Turkish commander, had fought at Gallipoli and displayed the same tenacity in Korea. When ordered to withdraw by his American superior, he replied "Withdraw? Why withdraw? We are killing lots of them". If given the choice of who you'd like protecting your flank, the Turks must surely be high on the list. 

The UN force left dead from a galaxy of nations on the battlefield; US, UK, Turkey, France, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Greece, Colombia, Thailand, Philippines, South Africa, Netherlands and Belgium. Even the tiny Luxembourg contingent of 44 men lost 2 KIA. Command structures were an international mix, but it worked; soldiers are soldiers the world over. 

The Korean war is often forgotten these days, but as you wear your poppy spare a thought for the brave young men of this country, many of them national servicemen, who fought and died on that ice-blasted peninsula sixty years ago. 


Anonymous said...

"If given the choice of who you'd like protecting your flank, the Turks must surely be high on the list. "

Maybe this is why Cameron wants them in the EU?

Edward Spalton said...

Remember the old song

"The sons of the Prophet are hardy and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear

But the braves of all was a man by the name
Of Abdul, the Bul Bul Emir.
If they wanted a man to encourage the van
Or to cry "attaboy" from the rear,
They would raise a great shout and always send out
For Abdul the Bul Bul Emir"
(from an imperfect memory of long ago)
I had an uncle by marriage who had been in the old Indian Army during the Great War who had a great respect for the TUrkish soldier from fighting in what he called "Messpot" (Mesopotamia) but we now call Iraq.

Demetrius said...

Good one and glad to see it. I was very grateful to be a few months too late for Korea. It was not a good place to be.

Nick Drew said...

Yes the Turks, very fine soldiers, it was said that in captivity they would maintain perfect discipline, whoever was the senior among the prisoners would take command, and when he was removed by their Chinese captors the next in line would step up, until there were no NCOs left: then the private soldier with the longest service would step up, nothing would break their cohesion

I would add another conflict to your Korean example: the first Gulf War (1991), for which the much-under-rated Bush Snr put together a genuine coalition

which fought under NATO doctrine - yes, even the small but vigorous French brigade on the left flank

this heterogeneous force mounted a tremendously successful set-piece assault against a very large and very well-entrenched and numerous enemy that had 10 years solid battle experience against the Iranians

some genuinely innovative tactical plays were tried - successfully - and the Russians, to name but one, were utterly gobsmacked and not a little unnerved

(they had assumed the said NATO doctrines were unworkable on a large scale)

not only did it liberate Kuwait: by stunning the Russians it probably ensured they would stay firmly in their box during their decade of utter turmoil, instead of essaying a foreign adventure which is so often a failing state's way of creating a diversion from domestic woes

Nick Drew said...

PS if memory serves, the great Abdul was slain by Ivan Skavinsky Skavar (who himself died in the attempt ...)

Robert said...

Excellent blog and some wonderful comments.


The Fact Compiler said...

Actually, I think we last fought alongside Johnny Frenchie in the triumph that was Suez.

Nick Drew said...

FactComplier - nope, it was Gulf War 1 (1991), see my comment above