Turkish Brigade commander General Tahsin Yazici decorated by US General Walker
|Size||14,936 (over duration of the conflict)|
|Part of||US 25th Infantry Division|
|Decorations||Distinguished Unit Citation (United States)
Presidential Unit Citation (Korea)
|Brigadier General Tahsin Yazıcı (1950-November 16, 1951)
Assistant : Celâl Dora
Chief of Operations: Faik Türün
Namık Arguç (-August 20, 1952)
Assistant: Nuri Pamir (June 5, 1952 †.)
Sırrı Acar (July 6, 1953)
The Turkish Brigade (code name North Star, Turkish: Şimal Yıldızı or Kutup Yıldızı) was a Turkish Army Infantry Brigade that served under United Nations command during the Korean War between 1950 to 1953. Attached to the U.S. 25th Infantry Division the Turkish Brigade fought in several actions, and was awarded Unit Citations from Korea and the United States after fighting in the Kunuri Battle. The Turkish Brigade made a name for itself for its fighting ability, stubborn defense, commitment to mission, and bravery. They were respected by friend and foe alike.
On 29 June 1950 the government of the Republic of Turkey replied to the United Nations Resolution 83 requesting military aid to South Korea, following the attack initiated by North Korea on 25 June. The cable stated: "Turkey is ready to meet his responsibilities." On 25 July 1950 the Turkish government decided to send a brigade of 5,000 troops comprising three infantry battalions, an artillery battalion and auxiliary units, to fight under UN Command against North Korea and subsequently the People's Republic of China. Turkey was the second country to answer the UN call, after the United States.
Three different Turkish Brigades served in the Korean War, each replacing the previous one each year. The core of the 1st Turkish Brigade was the 241st Infantry Regiment based at Ayaş which was supplemented with volunteers to raise it to brigade level. Brigadier General Tahsin Yazıcı, a veteran of World War I, who had volunteered to be demoted to lead this force, commanded the 1st Brigade.
The advance party of the Turkish Brigade arrived in Pusan on 12 October 1950. The main body arrived five days later, October 17 from the eastern Mediterranean port of Iskenderun, Turkey, and the brigade went into bivouac near Taegu where it underwent training and received U.S. equipment. The brigade was attached to the U.S. 25th Infantry Division.
The bulk of the enlisted men were from small towns and villages in the mountains of eastern Turkey. For these volunteer officers and volunteer enlisted men who were just completing their compulsory two year service, it was not only the first time that they had left their native country—it was the first time they had been out of the villages of their birth. It was, at least for the enlisted men, the first time that they had encountered non-Muslims. Vast cultural and religious differences existed between the Turks and the Americans.
The U.S. Army command was unaware of the difficulties in coordination, logistics and, above all, basic communication in a common language that would complicate orders and troop movements, especially in the crucial early months of their joint exercises. Unfamiliar food, clothing requirements and transportation would come to create more problems than the American high command had counted on.
The dietary requirements of the Turks forbade pork products, and the American rations contained pork products forbidden to all Muslims. A Japanese cook was hired to provide rations that met the Turkish requirements. Bread and coffee presented other problems. The Turks favored a heavy, substantial bread containing non-bleached flour along with thick, strong, heavily sweetened coffee. Most of the enlisted men had fierce looks, flowing mustaches and carried a sidearm sword that, to Americans and the other U.N. troops, appeared to be a long knife, all of which attracted much media attention.
Few American liaison officers were attached to the Turkish companies, thereby adding to the problems the Turks faced in their initial combat operations. Misinterpretation of orders resulted from the lack of communication between Allies. The problem, at first overlooked and judged to be only minor, became exacerbated in the heat of battle.
There have been differing views over the performance of the Turkish brigade by various historians, journalists, and officers. The American historian Clay Blair wrote that war correspondents were misled into thinking that the Turks were "tough" fighters by their "flowing mustaches, swarthy complexions, and fierce demeanors", while in fact Blair declared them "ill trained, ill led, and green to combat." Blair gave a quote from 27th Infantry Regiment Commanding Officer Mike Michaelis: ''The Turks were commanded by an aged brigadier who had been a division commander at Gallipoli in 1916 fighting the British! He was highly respected, high up in the Turkish military establishment, and took a bust to brigadier to command the brigade. The average Turk soldier in the brigade came from the steppe country of Turkey, near Russia, had probably had only three or four years of school, was uprooted, moved to western Turkey, given a uniform, [a] rifle, and a little smattering of training, stuck on a ship, sailed ten thousand miles, then dumped off on a peninsula – ‘Korea, where’s that?’ – and told the enemy was up there someplace, go get him! The Turk soldier scratches his head and says, ‘What’s he done to me?" According to Blair, catastrophic results ensued on the battle field due to American officer John B. Coulter's mistaken faith in the Turks fighting prowess since Coulter was as deceived as the war correspondents regarding fighting abilities of the Turks, whom Blair called "poorly led green troops".
United Nations Forces Commander in Chief, General Douglas MacArthur, described Turkish Brigade's contribution to the war: "The military situation in Korea is being followed with concern by the whole American public. But in these concerned days, the heroism shown by the Turks has given hope to the American nation. It has inculcated them with courage. The American public fully appreciates the value of the services rendered by the Turkish Brigade and knows that because of them the Eighth American Army could withdraw without disarray. The American public understands that the United Nations Forces in Korea were saved from encirclement and from falling in to the hands of the communists by the heroism shown by the Turks." 
The Turkish brigade, between November 1950 and July 1953, fought in the following battles:
- Battle of Kunuri (November–December 1950)
- Kumyangjang-Ni (January 1951)
- 22–23 April 1951; the Chorwon-Seoul diversion; the Taegyewonni defense; the Barhar-Kumhwa attacks; and
- 28–29 May 1953; the Vegas battle during Battle of the Hook.
On 26 November 1950, a column of retreating ROK (South Korean) soldiers of the ROK 6th and 7th Divisions from Tokchon was attacked by a battalion of Turks who were the first to arrive at Wawon, after the Turks mistook the Koreans for Chinese. 125 Koreans were taken prisoner and many of them were slaughtered by the Turks. On the other hand, the Turks can hardly be blamed for that accident. Because of false intelligence, the Turks were expecting to encounter with Chinese somewhere on the road. The event was wrongly reported in American and European media as a Turkish victory over the Chinese and even after news leaked out about the truth to the Americans, no efforts were made by the media to fix the story. The next day on 27 November, east of Wawon, leading Turkish party was ambushed by Chinese and suffered a major defeat, with heavy casualties suffered by the Turks. Survivors of the leading Turkish party appeared in the zone of the American 38th Infantry north and northwest of the Wawon road the next day. The Turks lost most of their equipment, vehicles, and artillery and sustained casualties of up to 1,000 dead or wounded after fighting with the Chinese forces with superior numbers around the Kaechon and Kunu-ri area, and the Tokchon-Kunu-ri road. Although the Turkish Brigade was cut off when they were encircled by Chinese regiments, they were still be able to breach the Chinese trap and rejoin the US 2nd Infantry Division. Delay of Chinese troops advance after meeting with heavy Turkish resistance, helped United Nations forces to withdraw without suffering many casualties and reassemble later in December. After Battle of Wawon, Turks were sent to assist the South Korean ROK II Corps. Later in December, General Tahsin Yazici and fifteen Turkish officers and men of his command were decorated by General Walton Walker with Silver Star and Bronze Star medals for their bravery against Chinese during Battle of Wawon.
The Turkish troops in the brigade had never before engaged in combat on foreign soil. They engaged in intense melee combat with the Chinese at the Battle of Wawon on 28 November and the survival of the US Eighth Army is attributed by UN commanders to the Turkish Brigade keeping the Chinese engaged for three days. On 29 November, the Turks were expelled by the Chinese from Sinnim-ni and were forced to retreat in complete disarray to Pyongmyong-ni and Kunu-ri. The Turkish Brigade's commanding General Tahsin Yazıcı said during the battle of Wawon- "Why retreat? We're killing Chinese!". The Chinese defeat of the Turks at Pongmyong-ni resulted in havoc since the retreat of the Turks exposed the right flank of the American 38th infantry, and the disarrayed mass of retreating Turks stopped the 1st Battalion from taking their place at the 38th infantry's flank after Colonel George B. Peploe commanded them to cover the exposed flank. Clay Blair noted that in reality, the Eighth Army was left completely unprotected on its right flank due to the Turkish retreat, describing them as "overrated, poorly led green troops" who "broke and bugged out", despite myths that arose about the Turks killing 200 enemies by bayonet. American commanding officer Paul Freeman said that the Turks had a "look at the situation," "and they had no stomach for it, and they were running in all directions." However, historian Bevin Alexander noted that given the Turkish Brigade was the only UN force present between Wawon and Kunu-ri, the Chinese inability to capture Kunu-ri before the US 2nd Infantry Division meant the Turks had fulfilled their original mission and covered the withdrawal of the US IX Corps successfully. Chinese sources also note that the resistance from the much smaller Turkish force was so unexpectedly stubborn, the 340th regiment had to be called to reinforce the 342nd, which was locked in a stalemate.
The brigade's most costly battle was Kunu-ri, which took place towards the end of 1950. Actually a series of four encounters lasting from 26 November to 6 December 1950; Battle of Wawon on 28 November, Sinnim-ni, 28–29 November, Kunuri Gorge, 29–30 November, and Sunchon Gorge on 30 November 1950. The brigade lost over 15% of its personnel and 70% of equipment at Kunuri, with 218 killed and 455 wounded, and close to 100 taken prisoner.
After the battle of Kumyangjang-Ni, 25–26 January 1951, in which the Turkish Brigade repulsed a Chinese force three times its size, President Harry Truman signed a Distinguished Unit Citation (now the Presidential Unit Citation) on 11 July 1951. The brigade was also awarded the Presidential Unit Citation from the President of Korea.
The Turkish Armed Forces Command (TAFC) was a regimental combat team with three infantry battalions, along with supporting artillery and engineers. The three battalions were commanded by Major Imadettin Kuranel, Major Mithat Ulunu, and Major Lütfü Bilgon. It was the only brigade-sized UN unit attached permanently to a U.S. division throughout the Korean War.
The Turkish Brigade comprised:
- 241st Infantry Regiment, composed of three Infantry Battalions
- Motorized Field Artillery Battalion, composed of three Howitzer Batteries and a Headquarters Battery. Each Howitzer Battery consisted of six 105 mm guns
- Motorized Engineering Company
- Motorized Anti-Aircraft Battery
- Transportation Truck Company
- Motorized Signal Platoon
- Motorized Anti-Tank Platoon
- Medical Company
- Repair and Maintenance Unit
- Military Band
- Replacement Company, composed of various branch and non-commissioned officers, and soldiers, such as Infantry, Artillery, Signal, Engineering, etc.
Overall losses for the Turkish Brigade in Korea was 721 killed in action, 2,111 wounded and 168 missing. A total of 14,936 men served in the brigade between 1950–1953 with about 5,455 soldiers in Korea at any one time. The United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South Korea is the burial place for 462 of those casualties. Two memorials to the Turkish soldiers are at the cemetery.
Service in Korea
The Brigade had a full turnover after a period of one years service. The Brigades that served for the 10 year period were numbered 1 through 10. Of these, the first three saw action. During the service of the 3rd Brigade in 1953, the Korean Armistice was signed. Thereafter, Turkey continued maintaining forces at full Brigade level for another seven years, in accordance with United Nations agreements. Kenan Evren, seventh President of Republic of Turkey, served in the Brigade from 1958–59.
The Turkish Brigade is featured in the Unification Church-funded 1982 film Inchon, which inaccurately depicts the Turkish Brigade as being involved in the Battle of Inchon (in reality the Brigade did not arrive until the month after the battle). Gabriele Ferzetti plays the commander of the Brigade.
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