Operation Ripper, also commonly referred to as the Fourth Battle of Seoul, was a military plan conceived by U.S. Army General Matthew Ridgway. Operation Ripper was preceded by Operation Killer which was a United Nations-led offensive that had pushed the communist forces of China and North Korea north of Han River. This earlier operation to the north lasted 8 days, and effectively came to an end on the 28th of February, 1951. The next operation that followed was named Operation Ripper, and it was solely focused on the recapturing of Seoul as well as other strategically important adjacent towns.
MAKEUP OF THE FORCES
The UN forces in the battle were under the command of U.S. Army General Matthew Ridgway and South Korean General Lee Hong Sun. These forces were mostly constituted by elements from the United States Eighth Army and South Korean 1st and 3rd Infantry Divisions, with additional support from Filipino, British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander personnel. The North Korean Army was under the command of Choe Yong-Jin and Kim Chang Dok, while their Communist Chinese allies were under the leadership of Pheng Dehuai.
DESCRIPTION OF THE OPERATION
The intent of General Matthew Ridgway’s military strategy was to destroy a large portion of the combined Communist Chinese and North Korean forces, which were stationed around Seoul and the nearby towns of Hongch’on and Ch’unch’on. After having repelled much of this army, the next item on the agenda was to then bring in additional United Nations Allied troops to the 38th Parallel at the front of the battle zone. Instead of moving across the Han River to recapture Seoul, the final plan of attack in Operation Ripper was to outflank much of Seoul and areas to the north, including the banks of the Imjin River. This operation was launched on the 6th of March, 1951. At that time, Major General William Hoge, who commanded the IX Corps, was to seize the towns of Hongch’on and Ch’unch’on as the IX Corps were moving about 30 miles to a point of the ‘Idaho Line’. The 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team was to provide assistance to the IX Corps, and act if an opportunity should arise to profitably mount an airborne attack. To the right of the IX Corps were the X Corps. On March the 11th, the IX corps reached the first phase of the Idaho Line, and made continued advancements over the next three days amidst heavy combat.
OUTCOMES OF THE BATTLE
The United States 3rd Infantry Division and the South Korean 1st Infantry Division liberated Seoul on the 14th and 15th of March. This victory marked the last time Seoul would change command between the warring factions since 1950. The United Nations troops were coming into the capital from the east, and this forced the Communist forces to flee as they feared being completely encircled. The Communist troops retreated northwards, all the while employing delay tactics on the rugged and muddy terrain of the combat zone. The town of Hongch’on was taken from the Communist forces on the 15th of March, and Ch’unch’on was taken a week later on the 22nd. As the UN troops arrived, the town of Ch’unch’on was found to be empty, as the Communist forces had already fled. The takeover of Ch’unch’on marked the last and major ground objective for Operation Ripper. 672 U.S. Army-men and 41 Air Force pilots were killed in the operation. Exact numbers for other countries are not available, though Communist losses, in terms of both manpower and equipment, were said to be markedly high. In fact, U.S. Army estimates place Communist lives lost between March 1st and March 15th in excess of 7,000 soldiers.
Historical Significance and Legacy
The retreat by the communist forces presented a victory to the United Nations troops. The troops moved further north at a distance of about 30 miles from the start lines. The United States Eighth Army, on the other hand, had gained ground, and successfully occupied their most important geographical objectives. They had also effectively decimated the Chinese and North Korean supply lines into the South. The only part of the plan that remained highly elusive was the destruction of the Communist Chinese Army and their military equipment. This was due to the fact that the Communist forces had, as they often would, withdrawn much earlier, so as to avoid having to suffer even more extensive damage.