Operation Big Switch
Operation Big Switch was the repatriation of all remaining prisoners of the Korean War. Ceasefire talks had been going on between Communist and UN forces since 1951, with one of the main stumbling blocks being the Communist insistence that all prisoners be returned home, with the UN insisting that prisoners who wished to remain where they were be allowed to do so. After talks dragged on for two years, the Chinese and North Koreans relented on this point, and the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953.
Operation Big Switch began in August 1953 and lasted until December. 75,823 Communist prisoners (70,183 North Koreans and 5,640 Chinese) and 12,773 UN prisoners (7,862 South Koreans, 3,597 Americans, and 946 British) were returned. Over 22,600 Communist soldiers—the majority of whom were former Republic of China soldiers who fought against the Communists in the Chinese Civil War and were impressed into foreign service in the People's Volunteer Army following their defeat—declined repatriation.
The Communists repatriated 12,773 UNC POWs (7,862 South Koreans, 3,597 Americans, 945 British, 229 Turks, 40 Filipinos, 30 Canadians, 22 Colombians, 21 Australians, 12 Frenchmen, 8 South Africans, 2 Greeks, 2 Dutch, and 1 prisoner each from Belgium, New Zealand, and Japan). Much to the surprise of the UN forces, 23 Americans and one Briton, along with 333 Korean UN soldiers, also declined repatriation.
Prisoners who declined repatriation were given ninety days to change their minds. 137 Chinese soldiers did so, and were returned to China. Two Americans and eight South Koreans also did so, and were returned to the UNC. That left 325 Koreans, 21 Americans and 1 Briton who voluntarily decided to stay with the Communists, and over 22,000 Communist soldiers who decided to remain in the Western sphere of influence.
Operation Little Switch
Operation Little Switch was an exchange of sick and wounded prisoners during the Korean War in April and May 1953. The U.N. released 6,670 Chinese and North Korean prisoners, and the Communist forces returned 684 U.N. coalition prisoners (including 149 Americans).
- Operations Big and Little Switch
- Logistics of Big Switch
- 1953 Time magazine article
- BBC article on repatriated British soldiers in Little Switch
- Article from an Australian officer involved in the Big Switch exchange
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