KATCOM Sheds New Light on Wartime Control of Troops

    June 25, 2008 09:50

    A picture of two KATCOM soldiers who were assigned to the Commonwealth Forces during the Korean War.
    Little is known about the squad called the Korean Augmentation Troops to Commonwealth Division, or KATCOM, Korean soldiers who were assigned to forces from the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand during the Korean War. They were named to distinguish them from the Korean Augmentation Troops to the United States Army (KATUSA). Until now, KATUSA has received much of the spotlight, but virtually nothing was known about KATCOM.

    Former culture minister Kim Sung-jin, who served as an officer in the British troops during the Korean War, speaks highly of the role played by KATCOM. “KATCOM played a key role in fighting off the massive influx of Chinese soldiers thanks to its successful operations with the Commonwealth Division,” he says.

    The Korean Army unofficially dispatched soldiers to the Commonwealth Forces from 1952, who made KATCOM official in March 1953. There were as many as 1,000 soldiers in squad, with four liaison officers including Kim dispatched to supervise them. Although KATCOM soldiers wore British uniform and ate British food, their salaries were paid by the Korean Army. KATCOM was dissolved when the Commonwealth Forces left a year after the armistice was signed in July 1953.

    Now more testimonies and evidence are emerging that Korean soldiers were assigned to foreign troops other than the Commonwealth Forces. Thus when the Belgian government erected a monument on the outskirts of Brussels in 1966 in memory of soldiers who died during the Korean War, the government engraved, along with the Belgian war dead, the names, dates of death, and military ranks of nine Korean soldiers apparently assigned to Belgian troops. The Dutch government awarded posthumous decorations to 20 Korean soldiers who died while serving in the Dutch troops. The Australian government also decorated Korean soldiers in their forces. Some records show that a company of 100 Korean soldiers were assigned to French troops and fought with them.

    This has given rise to an argument that wartime operational control of Korean troops was not in fact ceded to the U.S., which is to return it to Korea by 2012, but to the UN forces. Nam Jung-ok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Military History Compilation, says when president Syngman Rhee in July 1950 relinquished wartime operational control, it was to the commander of the UN Forces, not to the U.S. Forces, but some people “distorted the historical facts.” He added the fact that Korean soldiers were dispatched to UN Forces “shows that although Korea was not a UN member state at that time, the Korean Army virtually played the role of a member of the UN troops.”

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