Korean War

Here’s How the Korean War Changed The Way We Fight

Lessons learned in the Korean War (1950 – 1953)

With all the animosity between the U.S. and North Korea along with talks of things like total annihilation, the possibility of a second war with North Korea is a thought that not many are comfortable with. Although the war never officially ended,  the Korean Armistice Agreement is what put a stop to the fighting. Current tensions aside, it’s time to look at how the first (and hopefully only) Korean War impacted U.S. military technology and the way we fight.

“If the best minds in the world had set out to find us the worst possible location in the world to fight this damnable war, the unanimous decision would have been Korea.”
– U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson

American troops first arrived in July of 1950 to a hot and humid climate that showed no mercy. Only a few months later did the soldiers and Marines fighting in the Chosin Reservoir experience a cold so bitter that many of the war fighters lost fingers and toes to frostbite. Due to a shortage of inadequate cold weather gear, that first winter in country brought a host of maladies to troops who were woefully unprepared to face the harsh winter.

To ensure that troops were prepared for another winter, the U.S. Army developed the first insulated cold weather boots, which would come to be known as “Mickey Mouse” boots.  The insulated boots proved a success in the coldest and wettest fighting conditions and as a result the boot “virtually eliminated casualties from frostbitten feet.”

Insulated Boot
Extreme Cold Weather Insulated Boot, aka the “Mickey Mouse” boot due to its bulbous size.

Helicopters played a pivotal role in Korea

The Korean War has been credited with being the first war helicopters were used to fly combat missions, however the first recorded use of a helicopter in combat was in May, 1944 during a U.S. Army rescue mission in Burma. Despite this, helicopters played a huge role in the Korean War, becoming the future of battlefield medical evacuations. Because of the poor roads and rugged terrain, the use of helicopters evolved to take on the role of medical evacuations with over 10,000 medevac missions carried out by Marine helicopters alone.

Advancements in military medicine

The conflict in Korea brought about a major advance in military medicine in the form of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit. The goal of MASH was to provide urgent surgical care while being as close to the frontline as possible. Between the MASH unit and helicopters transporting soldiers in need of urgent care, the fatality rate of wounded fighters was an all time low of 2.5 percent, compared to 4.5 percent during World War II.

Another major advancement brought about by the Korean War is the development of plastic bags used for shipping and storing blood. By replacing glass bottles with plastic bags, efficiency and safety was greatly improved, in addition to the logistical benefits of plastic bags taking up half the space of bottles.

Body Armor as a standard in warfare

The first field test of body armor took place during the Korean War in 1951. Demonstrating an acceptable decrease in the casualty rate of troops, body armor has become standard equipment issued among the military. The vests used during the war contained plates that were made of a material called Doron which were layers of fiberglass bonded together under high pressure.

Body armor absorbed most of the fragments from a hand grenade blast, leaving a bruise on LT Frank Bassett, Co G, 180th Infantry Regiment

The innovations that the U.S. military were required to make in order to adapt to the battlefield of Korea has had a tremendous impact on the civilian sector. Helicopters are prominently used to airlift patients to the hospital, insulated boots have gone on to save the feet of many, and body armor is widely used among law enforcement agencies.

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