The Korean War saw a total of 22 countries participate in the defense of the Republic of Korea against communist aggression from North Korea. These countries that answered the United Nations call to evict the communist aggressors from South Korea came from a wide variety of countries that sent varying amount of troops. One of the largest troop contributors to the war effort would come from the nation of Turkey. Turkey deployed an entire infantry brigade with supporting artillery and engineer assets to South Korea. The brigade arrived in Korea on October 17, 1950 with a force of nearly 5,000 men. Ultimately, 14,936 Turkish soldiers would rotate through the brigade through the course of the war making Turkey the fourth largest contributor of troops to the defense of South Korea.
Turkish soldiers in Taegu
The fact that a nation like Turkey would deploy such a large force for a country it had no historical ties and little contact with would seem strange on the surface, but when you recognize the geo-politics of the Korean War era, the deployment of this Turkish Brigade was vital to the survival of an independent Turkish state. During World War II Turkey had maintained a strict neutrality despite heavy lobbying by the allied powers for Turkey to enter the war against Nazi Germany. The Turks had rightfully feared that if they joined the allied powers, Russian soldiers would have entered Turkey and never leave. The Turks feared the Russians more than Nazis and their fear proved correct when the Iron Curtain fell over Eastern Europe with the end of World War II.
The Cold War was beginning and the Turks knew that the only way to resist at a minimum Soviet hegemony or worse Soviet occupation would be to ally with the United States against Soviet expansion. In 1949 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed to counter Soviet expansionism and Turkey was left out. When the Korean War broke out in 1950 the Turkish government felt they had to set an example to the western world and fight against communist expansion in Korea in order to join NATO and ensure that the west would come to fight in Turkey one day if needed against Soviet expansion there. Soldiers of the 1st Turkish Brigade were fighting just as much for their own country as they were for the survival of the Republic of Korea.
Deployment to Korea
The Turkish brigade arrived in Korea one month after the successful Incheon Landing Operation that had decisively defeated the North Korean army in South Korea. Most of the 5,000 Turkish soldiers were draftees that were completing their mandatory military service of two years. The vast majority of these conscripts had never left the immediate area of their remote farming villages much less travel to the other side of the world to fight a war. Plus very few soldiers could speak English and additionally found themselves immersed in a non-Muslim environment for the first time. Initially American commanders had a hard time trying to accommodate the Muslim diet of the Turkish soldiers, but were eventually able to accommodate them. To say that the Turkish soldiers must have felt isolated and out of their element in Korea would be an understatement.
General Tahsin Yazici (left) talks to General Douglas MacArthur seated in his Jeep.
The person in charge of leading these fish out of water soldiers was the old, but battle tested commander, General Tahsin Yazici. General Yazici had served in the Turkish military for so long that he was a unit commander during the Battle of Gallipoli in 1916 that defeated the British and French’s attempts to conquer Turkey in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. The Turkish military had not fought a battle of that magnitude in the 44 years since then and needed someone of Yazici stature to command this vitally important mission. General Yazici had voluntarily took a reduction in rank to command this unit similar to the French General Ralph Monclar because he recognized the overall importance this deployment would have for the overall future of his own country.
After debarking at the port of Pusan the brigade was moved to the United Nations staging area in the southern city of Taegu. The 1st Turkish Brigade made quite a splash with the media when they arrived in Taegu due to their large mustaches and rugged looking appearances that was further emphasized by the large sword like knives that the Turks carried on their hips. By appearances alone, the Turks looked like soldiers you did not want to mess with. However, when they arrived at the staging area the soldiers must have had little idea that they would just over one month later being fighting for their lives in some of the most desperate combat of the entire Korean War.
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