Geoje prison camp
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Geojedo Camp was built to hold prisoners shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War.
In February 1951, the UN High Command ordered the removal of all Communist prisoners of war from the Korean peninsula to Geoje island.
The first collective violence against camp guards occurred on 18/19 June 1951, when some North Korean officers protested having to dig latrines and garbage pits. When a South Korean guard detail entered Compound 76 of the camp, the prisoners stoned the guards and the soldiers opened fire, killing three prisoners. More incidents followed including demonstrations within the compounds, work refusals, threats against camp personnel, and some 15 murders among groups of pro and anti-communist Korean prisoners. In July and August 1951, the guards killed eight more prisoners. On one occasion, the guards had to rescue 200 POWs from Compound 78, where hard-core Communists had executed three supposed collaborators in a plan to control the compound.
In late September 1951, General James Van Fleet and his staff visited Geoje-do and concluded that while the physical conditions were adequate, there were too few guards and they were poorly disciplined. POWs had too much free time and independence and surrounding refugee camps allowed the easy flow of information and contraband into the camp. Van Fleet sent a new U.S. Army military police battalion to the island, which brought the 8137th Military Police Group up to three battalions and four escort companies.
In December 1951, a battalion of the U.S. 23rd Infantry Regiment augmented the guard force as did additional South Korean MPs. While the guard force now numbered 9,000 officers and men, it was still 40 percent below the force requested by the camp commander.
By 1952 over 170,000 prisoners of war (about 85% North Korean and the rest from China) were held at the camp, however, U.N. forces lacked sufficient manpower and experience in controlling such large numbers of prisoners.
The UNC delegation at the Panmunjom peace talks adopted the principle of only voluntary repatriation of Communist POWs, while the Chinese and North Korean position was for an all-for-all exchange of prisoners. On 2 February 1952, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs U. Alexis Johnson proposed the screening of the POWs allowing a free choice to each POW whether or not to return to China or North Korea. The POWs who chose not to return would be removed from the POW lists and the Communists would be offered an all-for-all exchange of those who did choose repatriation. On 27 February 1952, this approach was adopted as the U.N. position at the Panmunjom talks. It was assumed by the U.N. that each POW would have freedom of choice, but given the loose control at Geoje camp, there were numerous violent incidents among the unsegregated groups of Communist and anti-Communist POWs.
On 18 February 1952 1-1,500 inmates of Compound 62 attacked a South Korean team trying to rescue non-Communist civilian internees in the compound, a battalion of the U.S. 27th Infantry Regiment then entered the Compound to engage the POWs resulting in one U.S. soldier killed and 22 wounded and 75 POWs killed and 139 wounded. After the incident, Eighth Army commander Lieutenant General James Van Fleet appointed Brigadier-General Francis Dodd as the camp commander. In the meantime, some 280 Communist agents were instructed to be captured in order to gain access to the camp and organise the anti-voluntary repatriation actions.
On 13 March 1952, resisters in Compound 76 stoned a passing work detail. South Korean guards opened fire, killing 12 POWs and wounding 26.
In April 1952 the U.N. started Operation Spreadout to separate repatriates from those who chose not to return. Koreans who refused repatriation were removed from Geoje-do to mainland camps at Pusan, Masan, Yeongcheon, Kwangju, and Nonsan. The Chinese, divided into repatriates and nonrepatriates, would be sent to new camps on opposite sides of Jeju-do.
On 7 May 1952, General Dodd visited Compound 76 to listen to complaints aired by the Communist leaders of the compound. While standing near the compound gate, Dodd and one of his subordinates, Lt. Col. Wilbur Raven, were forcibly seized as the gate was opened to allow a work detail to pass through. LTC Raven grabbed hold of a gatepost long enough for the American guards to rescue him, but Dodd was taken into the center of the camp and held hostage. For the next 78 hours, Dodd was held captive. General Charles F. Colson was rushed to the island to take command, Colson's main concern was to save Dodd's life and he feared that a military operation would produce high casualties on both sides and so he agreed to accept many of the POW's conditions for Dodd's release. Colson signed a statement that the UN forces killed and wounded many POWs and "in the future POWs can expect humane treatment in this camp" and there would be "no more forcible" screening undertaken. This statement delivered a propaganda victory to the Communists.
While the Dodd incident was taking place Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark arrived in South Korea as the new UNC commander on 12 May 1952. Clark swiftly demoted Colson and Dodd, appointing Brigadier General Haydon L. Boatner as the new camp commander, with orders to bring the compounds under control. In late May, BG Boatner ordered the removal of refugees from the vicinity of the camp, followed by dispersal of the hard-core Communist POWs to smaller more tightly controlled camps on Yoncho-do, Pongam-do and at Chogu-ri on Geoje-do.
On 10 June 1952 BG Boatner ordered the 187th Regimental Combat team supported by tanks of the 64th Tank Battalion to take control of Compound 76. More than 31 POWs were killed and 131 were injured, while one U.S. soldier died and thirteen were wounded in the fighting. This action effectively ended the uprising. According to Bruce Cumings in his book, The Korean War, U.S. forces used flamethrowers to retake the camp.
Closure and redevelopment
As part of the negotiations of the Korean Armistice Agreement, Operation Little Switch in April and May 1953 saw the repatriation of 6670 sick and injured Chinese and North Korean POWs. Once the Armistice Agreement was signed on 27 July 1953 Operation Big Switch saw the repatriation of 75,823 Chinese and North Korean POWs from August to December 1953.
Geoje Camp was closed following the signing of the Armistice Agreement. A memorial park was established on part of the old camp in 1997 it incorporates recreation of prisoner barracks and life and a display of period and more modern military hardware.
- www.pow.or.kr - Official web site
- A Guide to the Geoje POW Camp Park
- Geoje Island’s POW Camp
- Koje Island POW Camp, 1953: The photos of Pfc. Donald K. Grovom