Korean Reading

The Korean War often comes with a tagline The Forgotten War, but this doesn’t seem quite right to me. The Korean War is remembered, although the details are certainly hazy. ANZAC Day here in Australia acknowledges the conflict, but I don’t recall Kapyong or Maryang San called out separately in speeches unlike the major battles of the world wars. My own understanding was (is!) equally hazy. But I knew enough to think it probably had some rewarding gaming potential. So, in addition to picking up Bolt Action Korea, I have been doing some reading.

Like most Bolt Action books, BAK has a lot of history in it. I made some observations on the gaming part here (which not surprisingly is most of the content). The history chapter is a good introduction to the conflict. It is a tough gig presenting a summary of such of varied and complex war, and authors Steven Urquhart Smith and Jon Russell have written an accessible overview that goes to some effort to place the war is a larger historical context. Those with a bit more history probably skip this section anyway and head straight to the gaming content. I normally do. But those that do this chapter are rewarded with a history that starts in the mid-7th century, an amount of context not found in most overviews.

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Anyone interested in more detail will quickly reach for other books. The Men-at-Arms series from Osprey is a common first (or at least early) choice among wargamers starting a new conflict. For those who have already read BAK (or other introductions), there may be little new in The Korean War 1950-53. It comes with the usual colour plates, which were the main reason I picked this one up. I also enjoyed the snippets on Ethiopia, Turkey, Thailand and some of the other smaller nations who made up the UN forces.

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My copy is print on demand, which makes sense for a publisher with such a large catalogue. The Korean War was first published in 1986, and so may otherwise be hard to get hold of. However, while the text is crisp, some of the pictures are not (yet) the same quality as the full off-set print runs. Side by side here is the same illustration, on the left in Bolt Action Korea, the left the print on demand Men-at-Arms. Not awful, and better than not having access at all, but a drop in quality can be seen.

Scorched Earth, Black Snow (2011) is written by a western journalist who lived in Korea. By focusing on just the initial period of the war, and just the Commonwealth Brigade the author has the opportunity to go into detail that more general narratives cannot. One of the strengths of this book is that includes information (where available) on the Chinese, ROK, and KPA, and acknowledges the terrible civilian toll (North and South).

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More focused again is The Last Call of the Bugle (1999), the story of 3RAR the first Australian battalion deployed. This is one of the source books referenced in Scorched Earth, Black Snow, and brings the action closer again, down from brigade and battalion to company level.

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Published by the Australian Army History Unit, the Australian Army Campaigns Series is a terrific line of studies. This is the only one in the series that covers Korea (so far), but is a concise and informative description of the engagement. If you are interested in a theater or war that includes Australian troops I recommend you check out this series.

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A shout-out to the Goldfields Library in central Victoria. It turns out they have an ace collection of Korean War books, larger than the Melbourne or State libraries. It is wonderful to have resources like this publicly available, especially in regional areas.

What about you? Are there any titles on the Korean War that you have found useful or interesting?

D.