ROK Drop

Avatar of GI KoreaBy on December 30th, 2008 at 4:02 pm

DMZ Flashpoints: The Blue House Raid


In 1966 North Korea began a campaign to infiltrate increasing amount of communist agents into South Korea along with well trained special operations troops to launch attacks against US and South Korean military forces along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates North and Korean War.  The goal of North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung was to infiltrate enough agents within South Korea to cause an insurgency against the ROK government while simultaneously sapping the US and ROK military’s morale and initiative with the ambushes launched on the DMZ plus simultaneously testing US resolve in Korea due to America’s heavy involvement in Vietnam.  This period of increased conflict became known by those who fought in this shadow war as the 2nd Korean War.

Aftermath of American Jeep ambushed by a North Korean patrol.

The list of military provocations during this period against the Republic of Korea government by their rivals in North Korea is a long and extensive one.  However, one provocation is clearly the most audacious and remarkable by the fact the communist agents nearly accomplished their mission, and that is the Blue House Raid.

Purpose of the Raid

On January 17, 1968, North Korean commandos infiltrated into North Korea with the express purpose of assassinating South Korean president Park Chung-hee.  Not only were they to kill Park Chung-hee but they were to chop his head off and toss it into the streets of Seoul.  The belief Kim Il-sung had was that by launching a decapitation strike against the ROK regime it would cause chaos within the nation that his communist agents in place throughout the country could then take advantage of by launching a guerrilla campaign against the government in the hope of causing a final regime collapse.

South Korean President Park Chung-hee

The undercover guerrillas would target transportation nodes, TV stations, post offices, police, and military bases in order to cause chaos throughout the country.  The conventional North Korean army could then use the guise of an internal uprising against the South Korean regime to legitimize his invasion of South Korea to reunite the peninsula under his rule.  However, first Kim had to successfully assassinate Park which would be no easy task.

To do this a thirty-one man assassination team was specially selected from the infamous North Korean 124 Army Unit responsible for most of the infiltration and ambushes launched along the DMZ.  These specially selected soldiers trained for two years solely for this operation.  Before beginning their mission the team spent their final 15 days conducting mock raids against a full model of the Blue House set up near the North Korean city of Wonsan where their training base was located.  Once their superiors were satisfied with their level of proficiency they were immediately sent to execute their mission.

The assassination team was divided into six different teams each commanded by a Captain in order to more easily infiltrate into South Korea.  Each team member wore dark overalls, sneakers, a cap, and carried 66 pounds of equipment to include a sub-machine gun, a pistol, grenades, and daggers.


The commando team decided to infiltrate through the 2nd Infantry Division sector near the city of Yeoncheon because it was believed that by infiltrating through the US sector of the DMZ and then successfully assassinating Park Chung-hee that the Korean military would blame the US for the assassination causing tension between the two allies for North Korea’s communist agents to exploit.  Each of the North Korean teams were able to successfully breach the DMZ fence and landmines without being detected.

Here is what the only commando to survive the attack had to say about the initial infiltration operation:

At 04:00 on January 18, 1968, 31 commandoes crossed the border. (The border fence they cut is preserved to this day). They wore South Korean uniforms and were trained in Seoul accents – “This is the basis of guerilla fighting!” They removed mines as they went. They halted before a South Korean observation post: Women were going in: “They were not very alert!” Covered in white sheets, the assassins crossed the frozen Imjin River.  [Kim Shin-jo]

After successfully crossing the DMZ the six different teams regrouped and began their expected four day march south towards Seoul.  For the first two days the commando team was able to successfully march south undetected.  Their infiltration mission had gone so well that they even camped out one night just a few kilometers from the major US military installation in the western corridor, Camp Howze.

Using all the reports I could find about the infiltration here is roughly the course the North Korean commandos used to infiltrate the DMZ, cross the Imjim River, and enter into Seoul nearly undetected:

However, the luck of the North Korean commandos would change on the late afternoon of January 19th.  The commando team came upon four South Korean woodcutters working in the mountains on the commando team’s approach to Seoul.  This was a moment where the North Koreans made a terrible mistake.

Fatal Mistake

The North Korean commandos had been long taught that the oppressed masses in South Korea were just waiting to be liberated from their puppet government back by the Yankee Imperialists.  So instead of killing the woodcutters the commandos decided to conduct an indoctrination sessions with them and teach them the wonders of Juche and the on coming communist conquest that would unit the country to free the oppressed South Korean masses that they figured the woodcutters were part of.  It never occurred to them that the South Korean masses were not oppressed and in fact loyal to the ROK government.

To add some context the masses in South Korea were oppressed by the Park Chung-hee regime, but they were no where near as oppressed as the people in North Korea.  Remember many of the Koreans during this time frame had lived through the Japanese colonization of the peninsula and knew what oppression was, Park Chung-hee was nothing compared to what they saw before.  Additionally Park’s economic policies had brought unprecedented economic growth to South Korea and thus causing the average ROK citizen to be quite happy to put up with some oppression if it meant the continued economic growth of the country.  The fact that the commandos were indoctrinated with communist propaganda led to them making a mistake that would ultimately doom their entire operation.

The woodcutters unimpressed with the communist propaganda immediately went and notified the South Korean police once the commandos left.  The police notified the South Korean military and a massive counter-guerrilla operation was launched to catch the commandos.  However, the South Korean authorities did not know what the mission of the group was and thus could not focus their operations into one area.  The commandos were so skilled they were able to easily avoid the perimeter checkpoints by moving in two to three man teams before meeting up again on the outskirts of Seoul.

In Seoul security was much tighter and the commandos took off their civilian overalls which exposed the ROK Army uniforms they wore underneath them.  The ROK Army uniforms were perfect replicas and even had the correct unit designation of the 26th ROK Infantry Division sewn on them.  They were a mile from the Blue House and decided the best way to penetrate the city’s security would be to do something no one expected, march right through the city straight to the Blue House.

Final Shootout

The North Koreans posed as a South Korean platoon returning from patrol on the city’s outskirts.  They marched right through the city right by a number of military checkpoints before arriving 800 meters from the Blue House around 10:30 AM on the morning of January 21, 1968.  It is here where the commandos encountered a final police checkpoint  that stopped the marching soldiers to question them.  The North Koreans fumbled their answers to the questions and the commander of the Chongno police station Choe Kyu-sik.  Here is how the Chosun Ilbo newspaper described the events that happened next:

But a jeep carrying Jongno Police Station chief Choi Kyu-sik was coming up the road. Choi shouted at the North Korean commandos, “Identify yourselves! What’s inside your coats?” He was taking out a gun to stop them when two city buses came up close and stopped. Mistaking the buses for vehicles that carried police or military reinforcements, the North Korean commandos shot Choi in the chest, tossed hand grenades into the buses, and scattered in every direction.  [Chosun Ilbo]

From there chaos broke out as the North Koreans entered into a massive fire fight against the South Korean security forces.  A platoon of South Korean infantry had been tasked to reinforce the Blue House’s security and they immediately maneuvered to engage the North Korean infiltrators.  It was during this exchange of gun fire that a school bus got caught up in the crossfire killing the women and children aboard.  The ROK security forces were only able to get the North Koreans to abandon their mission to kill Park Chung-hee when ROK Army tanks began to rumble down the road towards the North Koreans.  With no effective way to fight the tanks, the commandos decided to abandon the mission and fight their way back to North Korea.

Picture of North Korean commando shortly after his capture.

The operation to track down and kill the North Korean infiltrators would end up being even bloodier then the initial fire fight.  Both US and ROK military units were mobilized to patrol the South Korean country side to find the infiltrators.  More often then not the infiltrators when located would go down in a blaze of gun fire that would claim the lives of even more people.  A few of the operatives committed suicide to avoid being captured.  Overall, the operation to track down the commandos lasted for nine days where 29 of the infiltrators were killed, one unaccounted for, and only one captured.

Captured North Korean commando Kim Shin-jo

Aftermath of the Blue House Raid

The casualties the South Koreans received was steep with 68 South Koreans killed and 66 more wounded.  Most of these casualties came during the operation to hunt down the commandos.  Of these casualties most were military and policemen, but two dozen of them were South Korean civilians.  American forces experienced three soldiers killed and three more wounded in the operation to track down the North Korean operatives.  This article from the New York Times suggests that these US soldiers were not killed by the commandos themselves but by other North Korean operatives on the DMZ while the search was going on:

It was later learned that the one unaccounted for commando had in fact successfully made his way back to North Korea and would later become an Army general.  The lone captured commando was a young man by the name of Kim Shin-jo who was on just his second covert mission into South Korea.  Much of the details of the Blue House Raid have come from the testimony of Kim Shin-jo.  Kim’s statement upon capture that, “I came down to cut Park Chung Hee’s throat!” became a well known footnote of the aborted raid.

Today Kim is far less aggressive and in fact became a Protestant pastor in 1997.  Kim received a Presidential pardon for the raid and was released from jail when a forensic investigation determined he never fired a bullet from his weapon.  Besides being a pastor Kim is also a hard line anti-Communist:

“What has really changed while the South has been pouring out so much money on the North?” he said. “North Koreans are only becoming hungrier and hungrier while the unilateral support from the South is extending the North Korean government’s life.”
Kim said he wants to live “as long as possible” so he can serve as living evidence of North Korea’s spy program against the South. Otherwise, “North Korea will just say they are not responsible for the Jan. 21 incident once I’m gone, like many other incidents North Korea has caused,” he said.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

The Blue House Raid is quite possibly the most unbelievable provocation between North and South Korea ever since the division of the peninsula.  The plan was so bold that it seemed certain to fail, yet these commandos came only 800 yards from completing their mission despite fully alerted authorities looking for them. The Blue House Raid may have been foiled but the ability of the commandos to so easily infiltrate the DMZ and allude detection demonstrated lacking weaknesses in the security plan and training of both the US and Korean troops.

As bad as these weaknesses were, not all the aftermath of the Blue House Raid was bad.  The commandos’ mission was foiled by loyal citizens reporting their movements and one alert policemen who paid with his life for uncovering the commandos.  This proved to Park that more then just the military was loyal to his rule, but that South Korean citizens were as well.  This incident clearly showed that a true South Korean identity separate from the North Koreans had been formed during Park’s rule in the 1960′s.

However, before US and ROK military leaders could even cotemplate the negatives and the positives of the Blue House Raid, another crisis would break out two days later; the capture of the USS Pueblo.

Further Reading:

Andrei Lankov in the Korea Times
TIME Magazine


New York Times, February 18, 1968

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  • mati
    9:37 am on December 30th, 2008 1

    great post, GI.

    just for completeness/out of interest: what about SK spy programs? read somewhere that beginning in the 90s it became possible to discuss this topic even in the south s

    media (f ex movie 'Silmido').

    any documents that you could recommend?

  • Avatar of GI KoreaGI Korea
    12:45 pm on December 30th, 2008 2

    I haven't done any in depth research on South Korea's spy activities in North Korea, but from what I have read their clandestine activities within North Korea were quite significant but not as bold as what North Korea has done in the past.

    This New York Times article is pretty good read about past South Korean spy activities.

  • gerry
    1:42 pm on December 30th, 2008 3

    The Pueblo incident is most in my memory. I believe the crew and Commander Bucher got the short end of the stick, as well as President Johnsons failure to adaquately respond to the hijacking of the ship. No real response was made and the crew were left to rot.

    To this day the ship is a tourist attraction in North Korea and should have been bombed out of the water years ago.

  • Rob
    2:25 pm on December 30th, 2008 4

    GI, check your links. They're not working correctly…

  • Remembering the USS Pueblo
    7:53 pm on December 30th, 2008 5

    [...] The ship was under specific orders to not create an international incident and to stay out of North Korean territorial waters. However, an international incident had already occurred that didn’t involve the USS Pueblo when 31 North Korean commandos infiltrated across the Korean Demilitarized Zone to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung-hee. The commandos were intercepted just outside the grounds of the Korean presidents home and all but one of the commandos was killed in a furious gun battle with South Korean soldiers January 21, 1968 in what became known as The Blue House Raid. [...]

  • Avatar of GI KoreaGI Korea
    12:58 am on December 31st, 2008 6

    Rob the links are all working on my computer. Give them a try again.

  • Richard
    1:53 am on December 31st, 2008 7

    And just like in Mumbai, a few well trained and motivated men can cause a lot of havoc.

    I saw PArk Chung Hee a few times riding thru Seoul. The police and military along the route did not have clips in their M1 Carbines or 45's.

    And behind him was a truck full of black berets.

  • Bruce
    7:47 am on December 31st, 2008 8

    I was 1st stationed in Korea in 1960 and as a PFC, and was a Truck Driver, driving one of those old GMC 2 1/2 ton M211's. I was stationed at Camp Casey, and one morning was told to report to the 7th MPs operations building for my load. Well, that was the beginning of a day I would remember well the rest of my life.

    A MP buck sgt got in the cab, and told me to follow the MP Jeep in the parking lot. I was told we had a load to pick up at Ascom Depot. As we pulled out of Cp Casey, headed south, I saw another MP Jeep pull in behind me. I noticed that one of the MPs in each Jeep had one of those 45 cal M3 grease guns. Back in those days, slicky boys were known to jump up into the back of the trucks at intersections, throw out some of the cargo, and take off. I figured must of been a important load we were going to pick up. Well as we got south of Uijongbu, we started see large sand bagged bunkers at the intersections with machine guns, and troops every where. When we got into Seoul, most of the major intersections also had tanks at them. I was getting real scared, and asked the Sgt if they were North or South Koreans. I was only 18 then. :) This is when I was told that the General of the South Korean Army had over thrown the Government. I asked him if he and the US were on friendly terms. He told me to not worry, but to follow the MP Jeep, and to NOT stop. That's when I really starting to worry.

    We went through Seoul, and on to Ascom with out any problem other than swerving around a lot of vehicles that were stopped. We picked up several large boxes that were loaded while I was told to stay in the truck. We went back through Seoul, with one of the MPs riding in the back with the cargo, with out any problems. Getting through the intersections was much smother on the return trip.

    When we got back to Cp Casey, the Sgt directed me to the 7th Div. Hq, and I backed up to a door and several guys off loaded the boxes, and the MP Sgt told me I was released. I asked him what was in the boxes? He said it was classified stuff, and he did not know.

    After this, I researched and followed Gen Park Chung Hee as he took over as President, and up through when he was assassinated. In my opinion, if anyone else would of been leading the country during the trying times of the 60s and early 70s, North Korea would of came south for sure. During the late 50s, NK had built its military up faster, and was slightly ahead of the south in many areas. Park Chung Hee was a very strong leader, and through his actions to build up the Military, and defenses of the country, he moved the south ahead of the north. I am sure that Kim Il Sung knew that if Park was killed, it would be the ideal time to make his move.

    General Park was the right man for the job at the time.

  • a listener
    9:06 am on December 31st, 2008 9

    #4. It would be an excellent move by Washington to use a precision guided missile to sink the pueblo if push comwes to shove in the denuclearation issue. Alert the people of Pyongyang about the demolition and then sink it at a precise time. The Core elite will then realize that the U.S. is far more capable than their invncible army and doubt will shadow over KJI's propaganda.

  • a listener
    9:08 am on December 31st, 2008 10

    It cannot be seen as a decleration of war since it is U.S. property to begin with.

  • Maruyama Masao
    10:03 am on December 31st, 2008 11

    "It cannot be seen as a decleration of war since it is U.S. property to begin with."

    First, WAS U.S. property. Second, the USS Pueblo is located on DPRK territory, so any strike on some vessel that was once U.S. property on DPRK soil would most assuredly be an act of war.

  • gerry
    10:17 am on December 31st, 2008 12


    So who cares what North Korea thinks, they pirated the ship in international waters to begin with. Blow the damn thing up and lets see them try to start something. I think they know better.

  • Peter Kauffner
    7:31 pm on December 31st, 2008 13

    Judging from the timing, both the Blue House attack and the Pueblo incident where probably timed to correspond with the Tet offensive in Vietnam. The Vietcong attack on the U.S. embassy in Saigon was on Jan. 31, only two weeks after the Blue House incident. It seems a poorly thought out strategy that could only take media attention away from Vietnam, which is where the communists presumably wanted it focused. Did the North Koreans make trouble during either the Easter Offensive (April 1972) or the October War (October 1973)?

  • Maruyama Masao
    10:50 pm on December 31st, 2008 14

    "So who cares what North Korea thinks, they pirated the ship in international waters to begin with. Blow the damn thing up and lets see them try to start something. I think they know better."

    Yeah Gerry, let's make the US look like not only an aggressor state but a petty aggressor state to boot. Marx once said "history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce". Who would've thought little old Gerry would've proved him right.

  • Avatar of GI KoreaGI Korea
    1:11 am on January 1st, 2009 15

    Peter, no one knows for sure if Kim Il-sung intentionally planned the raid at the same time as the Tet Offensive but I tend to think he probably did. Kim was probably betting that if war did break out on the peninsula after the assassination of Park that the US would be to tied down in Vietnam to send the needed reinforcements to Korea.

    When the raid failed I think that is also when Kim made the decision to seize the Pueblo in order to give himself a bargaining chip to prevent any repercussions against his regime.

  • Mark
    2:15 am on June 30th, 2009 16

    I was in the 1/179th Arty at Camp Hartell just South of Munsani when the Blue House Raid happened. We really didn't know what was going on but we drew live ammo and began to sweep the hills around Charlie Block. One of our line Batteries pinned three infiltrators in a paddy and killed them. When one of the troops went down to check them and flipped one over he had a frag clutched and it went off. The troopers name was Conterez and he lost an eye. Another troop, he had been in the 1st Cav in the Nam, was in the thick of it and got the Bronze Star. I remember sitting with him before the ceremony and dumbly asking what the Nam was like? He said, it's just like this but about 100 degrees warmer"!

  • China Trip (or, “How to Spend Your Christmas On a Subtropical Island”) – Evan Bleker
    9:21 pm on December 22nd, 2009 17

    [...] and shipped them off to the island with the goal of assasinating Kim Il-Sung in response to the Blue House Raid. It is thought that the team was made up of criminals who would have supposedly won their freedom [...]

  • John
    8:59 am on February 9th, 2010 18

    I reat that the one UNCOUNTED operative apparently got back to N Korea and welcomed back as a hero. He was made a general eventually.

  • Barry
    2:13 pm on February 15th, 2010 19

    I was 2LT assigned to the 2nd Bn 38th Infantry when both incidents occurred. Your write-up is extremely accurate although I recall hearing that they actually told the woodcutters of their plan to cut off the head of Park Chung-hee. Plus I saw the infiltrator they captured and the South Koreans had beat the holy crap out of him.

  • Ken Leighty
    2:46 pm on January 7th, 2011 20

    I was on SCOSI along the Imjin when, at 02:00 hours, a small convoy of troops and the brigade G2 entered our area. We were told that about 30 NK's had been seen in the mountains near Pobwon-ni and were believed to be heading toward N Korea. We were to post 3 men per foxhole, 1 watching the Imjin and the other 2 watching our rears. That was probably the one time when 'EVERYBODY' stayed awake all night.

    A day and a half later, all hell broke loose in Seoul.

  • Ein Strauß voll Buntes II: Nordkorea-Lesefutter für kalte Herbst- und Wintertage « Nordkorea-Info
    7:09 am on November 20th, 2011 21

    [...] evangelischer Pfarrer. (Zur Geschichte des Angriffs auf den Präsidentenpalast und Kim gibts bei ROK-Drop einen interessanten Hintergrundartikel.) „North Korea’s Clumsy [...]

  • JIm Horton
    7:04 pm on December 24th, 2011 22

    I was with A Co. of the 122nd Signal Bn out of Camp Howze when all that happened. We were awakened by our section leader to go get a radio truck ready to go to the 2nd Div. entrance on MSR 1 towards Seoul and set up a radio communication system for all the U.S. & ROK units searching for the infiltrators. We looked out our hooch window and the whole sky was lit up as bright as day and thought, wow, this is something big. When we headed out, we never saw so many soldiers and vehicles along the sides of the road. Thought sure we were gonna see some action that night, but it stayed pretyy quiet.

  • China Trip (or, "How to Spend Your Christmas On a Subtropical Island")
    8:54 pm on January 2nd, 2013 23

    [...] and shipped them off to the island with the goal of assassinating Kim Il-Sung in response to the Blue House Raid. It is thought that the team was made up of criminals who would have supposedly won their freedom [...]

  • Isidro Pastrno
    2:12 pm on April 8th, 2013 24

    I deployed with the 82FIS to Suwon AFB. My job was a LOX plant operator providing Lox to our fighter planes. we stayed in a squad tent for 179 days from Jan68- to Jul68. we hEARD about al the infiltration around us and a ROK Army air defense unit was based close to our lox plant at the end of the runway. One major incident was an KAF F86 crasked on takeoff right in front of us one morning hile waiting to cross the flightline. als rumors od infiltrators being captured and taken for helicopter ride.

  • Our Own Backyard…Part 2 | Piemanseoul's Blog
    6:17 am on July 15th, 2013 25

    [...] An elite group of commandos were sent by the North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung to (literally)  get the head of the then Korean President (but in reality, dictator) Park Chung Hee. The mission was not successful in its final objective, but they did get to about 400 metres of the ‘Blue House’ and their main target. A more detailed account is here… [...]

  • Claude Horvath
    6:19 pm on July 28th, 2013 26

    at the beginning of, the following can be found:

    “On January 17, 1968, North Korean commandos infiltrated into North Korea”

  • The Ill-fated Mission of the USS Pueblo
    1:22 am on May 28th, 2014 27

    […] into trouble.  Fourth, the intelligence community failed to notify the Pueblo of North Korea’s Blue House Raid, led by Special Forces Lieutenant Kim Shin-Jo less than 48 hours before the Pueblo’s capture.  […]


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