Morale is low. South Koreans are distraught that they have lost their capital; their greatest fears have come true. American soldiers simply cannot believe they have been driven back by an enemy they were always told were hopeless. But as they ride in convoys southwards, there aren’t many jokes or smiles as the grim reality sets in. They have just lost the Third Battle of Seoul. Now they are worried about how far south they will retreat.
Amongst the North Korean ranks, there is jubilation. The military leadership has achieved its primary goal, and have utilised the element of surprise to drive the Imperialists out of Seoul. They now believe that their dominance over the Peninsula is secured. If they can drive the Allies out of Seoul, they are confident that they can drive them back even further. Even if the Allies are able to turn the war, holding the huge urban conurbations will give them a key advantage, both at the negotiating table and on the battlefield. Meanwhile, the average soldiers are captivated by Seoul. Much of the city has survived, as what North Korean artillery could hit the city tried to target valuable military and government targets. Soldiers used to meagre rations, even in peacetime, are staggered as they discover supermarkets, department stores; they have never seen such decadent luxury. The looting of every consumer good in the entire city is only prevented by iron discipline and the determination of the North to drive back the Allies as far as they can.
However, the Allies do not retreat far. The morale is low everywhere but the leadership circles; military leaders are aware that they have suffered a strategic loss, but that below the River Han and cities like Incheon and Seoul, the terrain begins to favour the defenders. The West of South Korea is characterised by flat land — it is mostly coastal plains, rolling hills and river basins. Now that the terrain is more open, the allies intend to allow their technological advantage to do their work for them. As they drag DPRK forces South, they weaken their strategic strength. The dense urban battlefield of the cities, combined with the heavy and constant artillery bombardment, had favoured DPRK forces; in the Stalingrad-style bitter urban warfare, their numerical advantage had mattered more than their’ allies technological; but now, across more open terrain, allied leadership is confident that this is about to change. The improved range and accuracy of their weapons begins to tell almost immediately as North Korean tanks first emerge on the plains. They move fast, thanks to the excellent road network in the region, but the columns almost immediately come under attack; Allied air superiority is now unquestionable and, although a few planes are lost to mobile SAM batteries, the holes caused is several armoured columns is a worthy trade. Pilots target the Type 63 and BTR-60 APCs, as leadership believes North Korean infantry is more of a danger than its armour.
The armour is mostly made up of the home-designed and built Pokpung-Ho and Soviet-era T-62s and T-55s tanks. They have been greatly upgraded with new armour, upgraded fire control suites and larger, more powerful engines. Despite these upgrade, its most capable tank remains the T-72. However, South Korea operates its own T-62s and T-72s, which it has used for training purposes; they are familiar with their opponent’s equipment. Across the west of the peninsular, DPRK columns advance on Allied positions. Allied tankmen nervously scan the horizon from their carefully selected positions, waiting for their first sight of the opposition. In every tank, the atmosphere is palpable. The hydraulic whine of the gun turret is often all that can be heard. The servicemen ranged behind and around these positions are equally nervous. Those that smoke devour packs at a time. Those that don’t attack their fingernails. Reports of enemy movement are constantly fed to the troops, but this does nothing to alleviate their tension. But as the first round of the DPRK’s advanced artillery bombardment begins, all tension is gone. The battle begins in earnest.
The huge numbers of K-1 and K-2 tanks, produced in South Korea, prove to be the centre of the battle. They are more numerous than the 140 M1 Abrams stationed in South Korea and more modern than even the most heavily upgraded M48 Patton variants, so it is they who bear the brunt of the fighting. The clash is much like previous encounters between modern armour and Soviet-era equipment, despite the DPRK forces’ significant advantage in terms of artillery support. With time to prepare, tank crews and engineers worked round the clock to create a series of dug-in emplacements from which tanks could operate whilst being protected from North Korean artillery. As soon as the first salvo is fired, Allied aircraft flood the sky. What few DPRK aircraft remain are entirely focussed on ground support; they are quickly downed before they can do much. With almost total air superiority, Allied air forces engage DPRK SAM and artillery positions — without hardened protection, they are easy prey. Once these have been eliminated, the main threat to allied armour is passed and allied assets combine.
They hammer the attacking forces. Without aerial protection, DPRK forces are overexposed. It allows aircraft like A-10 Thunderbolts and Apache helicopters free reign of the skies — they make mincemeat out of the under-protected older Soviet tanks. Those that do make it close to Allied lines, along with huge swathes of North Korean infantry, wash against the dug-in positions of allied forces. A large portion of the 35,000 US troops based in South Korea are present, as are a large bulk of the ROK Army. A large number of Korean reservists are also deployed. This allows more experienced troops to be held in reserve, less DPRK forces overwhelm any area. Despite targeting these reserve divisions as a tactical weak point, North Korean forces fail to break the lines. Their lack of armour begins to tell when, after hours of vicious close combat, the stalemate is broken by South Korean armour emerging from their prepared positions. The first offensive allied action of the war begins, and it is timed to perfection.
North Korean forces are quickly pushed back to the urban conurbations they had captured just days before. Exposed to aerial attack and overexposed to armour, DPRK forces begin retreating. Yet their fanatical loyalty means they shed blood for almost every inch that they lose; rolling up their gains is a costly business. The allies constantly use as much of their long-range weaponry as they can, in an attempt to minimise their losses. Missiles such as the Hyunmoo, ATACMS and the Tomahawk begin to see heavy use.
One pocket of DPRK strength that is not bombarded with missiles, however, are the cities. They are rather bombarded with pamphlets, offering huge rewards for defection, and offering ordinary soldiers phenomenal new lives in the South. For the allies, this is a low-risk gamble. It may soften up North Korean defence of Seoul, which is guaranteed to be bitter once again; it is also designed to bring information across. There is little knowledge about the military make-up of North Korea; the location of installations, its morale, training details. HUMINT provided by defectors could provide a key edge in the fight as allied forces prepare to take the war back to the North.
This is the second in a three part series. The first part can be read here.