Korea had been divided into the pro-Soviet North and the pro-American South after the Japanese defeat in 1945. According to a post-war agreement, the United States and the Soviet Union oversaw the division of Korea into the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). Under the plan, the two military occupation zones were later to be reunified into an independent country. Because of the Cold War, however, that objective proved impossible to achieve. In fact, tensions between North and South Korea continued to grow as the Cold War intensified.
On 25 June 1950, the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel, the line that marked the border between the two rivals, and invaded South Korea. The United States quickly sought, and received, the approval of the UN for international military intervention. Led by the United States, Canada and most Western nations thought that North Korea was acting under Communist Chinese or Soviet direction. They could not stand idly by while South Korea fell; indeed, if they did nothing, western Europe might be next region to experience Soviet expansionism. Indeed, to the Americans and their allies, the Korean War demonstrated the need for "containment." For this reason, Canada, along with the majority of other Western states, participated in the UN force in Korea.
The Korean conflict did not come at an auspicious time for the Canadian military. It had been drastically reduced in size immediately after the end of the Second World War, and the Canadian government had not yet taken steps to increase the strength of the three armed forces to meet the nation's commitments to the newly formed North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Initially, the Canadian contingent was to be an infantry brigade group made up of one battalion each from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the Royal Canadian Regiment, and the Royal 22e Regiment. Artillery, tank, signals, and other support units were also included. But the country could not denude itself of its only standing army units, so each regiment raised new battalions. These new contingents were designated as 2nd battalions, and the original MSF battalions became 1st battalions of their respective regiments.
Canada's involvement in the Korean War began in July 1950 with the assignment of three destroyers and an air transport squadron to the Pacific. They were transferred to UN command on 12 July. On 7 August, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent informed the nation that Canada would also provide ground troops through the creation of the Canadian Army Special Force. This force was soon redesignated as the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group (25 CIBG). Recruitment of this volunteer force began almost immediately, and an advance party of support personnel sailed for Korea in late October. By this time, the In'chon landings had produced such positive results for the UN forces in Korea that Canada decided to limit its contingent to a single battalion. The battalion chosen, 2 PPCLI, departed for Korea on 25 November.
The Canadian government thus thought that 25 CIBG, which was training in Fort Lewis, Washington, would now be free to proceed to Europe as Canada's NATO contingent. To bring 25 CIBG back to full strength, a new battalion, 3 PPCLI, was recruited immediately. The new battalion was brought to fully trained status in a record time and was ready for deployment by April 1951. Well before this point, however, China had intervened militarily on behalf of its North Korean ally. The UN forces were facing much more difficult circumstances, and the government decided that 25 CIBG, less 3PPCLI, would proceed to Korea after all. The brigade group arrived in Korea at about the same time as its "advance party", 2PPCLI, was engaged with such distinction at Kap'yong.
By early 1951, 3 RCR and 3 R22eR were also being raised as future rotational units to Korea. Although the government clearly gave priority to the Korean conflict, the brigades for Korea and Germany were raised almost simultaneously. The raising of the personnel for the NATO brigade group, however, was done very differently. Rather than creating additional battalions of the RCR, PPCLI, and R22eR, a call was made to the militia. Three new "composite" battalions were to be raised: 1st Canadian Rifle Battalion, 1st Canadian Highland Battalion, and 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion. Selected regiments of the militia were designated to raise companies and each of the several companies in the battalion would be badged to one of these militia regiments. New support units, such as artillery, were formed in a similar manner. The Loyal Edmonton Regiment, as an example, contributed a company for the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion (and, in fact, raised one subsequently for the 2nd Canadian Infantry Battalion). By these two methods, raising additional battalions of the three regular army regiments and by raising composite battalions from the militia, the Canadian army expanded from one to five brigade groups in a space of little more than a year! (1)
- 1. For more complete details on the buildup of the army and the various rotations, please see Canada, Department of National Defence, "Canadian Participation in the Korean War, Part I: 25 Jun 50-31 Mar 52," report no. 62, 21 May 1953 and "Canadian Participation in the Korean War, Part II: 1 Apr 52-31 Jul 53," report no. 72, 7 Jan 1955.