The Turkish Korean War Legacy
The Turkish Brigade was not spared the ravages of the failed Kunu-ri battle between the 2nd Infantry Division and the five Chinese divisions. The Turks suffered heavy casualties in the fight with 218 soldiers killed, 94 missing in action, and 455 wounded to go along with losing 70% of the Brigade’s equipment. These are staggering losses for a brigade of 5,000 soldiers. Nearly 20% of the brigade’s men had been either killed, wounded, or captured on their very first mission.
The US government was very concerned about what the Turkish public’s reaction would be to the steep casualties if they ever learned the details of what happened at Kunu-ri. Due to incompetence at the Corps and Division level the inexperienced Turkish Brigade was thrown into battle with few interpreters or concept of operations against a vastly numerically superior Chinese enemy. Additionally the Turks had been left on the eastern flank of the battle all by themselves and not one American commander had even bothered to check on why they hadn’t withdrawn when the initial order was put out. A case could have strongly been made that the brigade was used as human cannon fodder because the Corps commander John Coulter could have sent the British Commonwealth Brigade also in reserve to aid the 2nd Infantry, but he did not. Was it because British lives were not as expendable as the dark skinned Turks?
In David Halberstam’s book, The Coldest Winter he makes the case that General Coulter sent the Turkish Brigade because not only had he not accurately comprehended the size of enemy he was facing, but was impressed by the Turks uniforms and swords. He figured anyone with such uniforms and swords must be tough, so he sent them to assist the 2nd Infantry even though they had little training since being in country and no combat experience. Some of the units of the Turkish Brigade were indeed tough and fought heroically, but as Colonel Freeman and others reported, they saw Turks running from the Chinese as well.
General Yazici being awarded a Silver Star by the Eighth Army Commander Walton Walker.
After the disaster at Kunu-ri the US military along with the US government did everything possible to inflate the heroics of the Turks at Kunu-ri in order to off set any possible public backlash in Turkey. They awarded medals to General Yazici and the Turkish soldiers as well as issuing public proclamations to the media about how the Turks had saved the entire Eighth Army by holding off the Chinese on the eastern flank. This was all rubbish of course because if the Turks had held off the Chinese on the eastern flank then the ambush along the Kunu-ri-Suchon road would have never been established. Really every unit in the 2nd Infantry Division that fought those desperate days of November 25-30 were all equally heroic in fighting the Chinese.
However, if someone wanted to single out one unit for recognition it should be Colonel Paul Freeman’s 23rd Infantry Regiment that stayed in constant contact with the Chinese and held them off long enough for the entire 2nd Infantry Division to try and retreat south towards Kunu-ri. Not only had the 23rd Infantry held off the Chinese effectively, but they were able to escape the Chinese ambush with the majority of their equipment and minimal casualties compared to the other units in the division.
General Walker issues medals to Turkish soldiers after the Battle of Kunu-ri.
This tactic of turning a military catastrophe into something of legendary proportions has been used before in history (think Custer’s Last Stand) and would be used later on in the Korean War by the British after the loss of the Gloucestershire Battalion during the Battle of the Imjim. This is why media accounts after the battle such as this TIME magazine article speak so glowingly of the Turkish Brigade. To this day if you read Turkish veteran sites, the accomplishments of the Turkish Brigade are still greatly inflated, but even the truth of what happened to the Turkish Brigade at Kunu-ri should be enough to take pride in.
Like the rest of the 2nd Infantry Division some of the company size elements of the Turkish Brigade fought heroically while others did not. This is to be expected with a unit that had no combat experience and found itself squaring off with over a division’s worth of well trained and combat experienced Chinese troops. One of the people that did not run was General Yazici, the old warrior who fought in the Battle of Gallipoli and was now leading men in a country far from home that would have a lasting impact on the future of not only Korea, but Turkey as well. Not only were the Turks far from home, but the US military leadership had wrecklessly thrown the unit into a murderous battle with little prior training, minimal understanding of the concept of operations, and almost no liason support.
This old warrior and the men who did fight, battled the Chinese heroically and became legendary by survivors of “The Gauntlet” for their bayonet charges up the steep hillsides against the Chinese troops. Such actions need no inflation and General Yazici and his men are truly Heroes of the Korean War.
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