This is an archive of stellar quality concerning the Turkish Brigade, the special infantry force that joined the United Nations Coalition (led by the United States) during the Korean War (1950-3). The exploits of the Turkish Brigade represented the first major international military operation engaged by Turkey since the end of that nation’s war of independence in 1923. The Brigade fought with great distinction, and its contribution was aptly summed up by A.K. Starbuck: “The Turks acquitted themselves in a brave and noble fashion in some of the worst conditions experienced in the Korean War. Very little else could have been required or expected of them. Their heavy casualties speak of their honor and commitment. Their bravery requires no embellishment. It stands on its own.” Due to the achievements of the Brigade in Korea, Turkey won global respect as a military power and full membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The present archive consists of six parts. First, are four issues of Savaş Dönüşü [Return to War], a seemingly unrecorded magazine produced in 1951 by Turkish Brigade members as they sailed aboard a ship on their way from Turkey to Korea. Second, is Korea ve Harp [Korea and the War], an apparently unrecorded history of the war mimeographed in Korea by Turkish troops in 1954, illustrated with eight maps. Third, is the final issue of the apparently unrecorded magazine, North Star, printed aboard a ship by Brigade members sailing back home to Turkey. Fourth, is an original mimeographed list of a party of Turkish soldiers who were slated to sail home from Korea after serving their tour. Fifth, is an unusually large and elaborate photomontage made as a memento for a Turkish Brigade soldier shortly before he deployed for Korea. And last, but certainly not least, is a collection of 115 original photographs taken by Turkish soldiers, both in Korea and during related travels, featuring valuable documentary content.
The Contents of the Archive in Focus:
Refik SOYKUT, Nazmi OZOGLU and Dr. K. CUMBUSEL, Editors.
Savaş Dönüşü [Return to War], 4 Issues, Nos. 3, 8, 15 and 20.
[Red Sea / Indian Ocean / Pacific Ocean:] Aboard the ship USNS General C. C. Ballou (T-AP-157): September 30, October 5, October 13, and October 18, 1951.
Each 4° Broadside, printed on both sides, mimeographed text with illustrated title.
Present here are four issues of Savaş Dönüşü [Return to War] (being nos. 3, 8, 15 and 20), a broadside magazine mimeographed by members of the Turkish Brigade aboard the ship, USS General C.C. Ballou, travelling en route from Turkey to Korea, in September and October 1951. Under a cartographic title (depicting the outlines of both Turkey and Korea), each issue features news stories from home and reports on the war action in Korea (all acquired from the ship’s radio), as well as short articles, poems, humorous vignettes and inspiring quotations. The work is meant to lift the spirits of soldiers who understood that they were headed into a ferocious conflict. It follows a tradition of soldiers publishing their own periodicals during long sea voyages, which became popular during the World War I era, although all such works tend to be extremely rare today.
The present issues of Savaş Dönüşü were made by members of the second combat rotation of the Turkish Brigade, which was slated to replace the units that had arrived in Korea in October 1950. The troops in transit were apprised of how their predecessors had fought heroically in several brutal altercations, notably the Battle of Wawon (November 1950), the Battle of Kumyangjang-Ni (January 1951) and the Chorwon-Seoul Diversion (April 1951), so there was no ambiguity concerning what awaited them.
The USS General C.C. Ballou (AP-157) was a General G.O. Squier-class transport ship that had been seconded for transporting members of the Turkish Brigade from Turkey to Korea. Indeed, most of the Brigade members were transported aboard American vessels, as the Turkish Navy lacked such mass long-distance capabilities. The present issues of the magazine were made aboard ship after it had cleared the Suez Canal, but before its final approach towards Korea.
Savaş Dönüşü is seemingly unrecorded – we cannot trace even a reference to the periodical, let alone the locations of any other surviving issues. This is perhaps not all that surprising, as the issues would have been produced in only a very small print run and would have had a low survival rate due to their ephemeral nature.
4 NCÜ TÜRK TUGAYI. II NCI ŞUBESI. [4th TURKISH BRIGADE. 2nd DIVISION].
Korea ve Harp. 1 Haziran 1954. [Korea and the War. June 1, 1954].
[South Korea:] 4 ncü Türk Tugayi. II nci Şubesi [4th Turkish Brigade. 2nd Division], June 1, 1954.
Small 4°:  mimeographed index in blue, 53 pp. mimeographed text in blue, including 1 blue mimeographed folding map and 7 full-page maps, original paper wrappers with mimeographed blue illustrated cover, stapled (Very Good, slightly age-toned, small marginal tears, pagination partially in manuscript).
This is an apparently unrecorded stand-alone publication made by a division of the Turkish Brigade in the late spring of 1954, around ten months after the end of hostilities, being a short history of the Turks’ dramatic adventures during the war. It is historically significant in that it is a rare first-hand account of seminal events of the Korean War, contemporarily written and published in the theatre by its protagonists. The work is beautifully mimeographed in blue ink and is illustrated with eight custom-made maps of military action.
Korea ve Harpis divided into various sections, each packed with curious information and statistics. First, is a discourse on Korean history, religion, geography, as well as an explanation of the Korean alphabet. Next, is a history of the Korean War, including details on the protagonists and specific battles (including the numbers of soldiers that fought in each engagement, along with casualty statistics).
The first of the eight attractive maps depicts the historical peninsula, divided into the traditional Three Kingdoms of Korea. The following seven maps depict the course of major military land operations in Korea, from November 25, 1950 to July 1951, in which the Turkish Brigade played a central role. For instance, the battles of Wawon and Kumyangjang-Ni and the Chorwon-Seoul Diversion are specifically detailed.
Following the maps, are meticulous lists of the Turkish Brigade soldiers then serving in theatre, including their names and registration numbers. Solemnly, this is followed by another list detailing the Turkish fallen soldiers, inducing their names, battalions, ranks, the names of their fathers and their places of birth. Finally, is a list of the locations of the fallen soldier’s graves in the cemetery in Pusan, including their names, dates of death, and their grave numbers within the appropriate sections of the graveyard.
The listing of the fallen soldiers was not only important as a tribute to their sacrifice, but it also had a crucial practical purpose. Regarding the fallen soldiers whose bodies were yet unaccounted for, the United Nations Command was then preparing for Operation Glory, the programme to exchange soldiers’ remains with North Korea, a process which lasted from July until November 1954.
We have not been able to trace even a reference to Korea ve Harp, let alone the locations of any other examples.
North Star. Veda Sayısı. Kore Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri Gazetesi. Souvenir Edition. [Korea Turkish Armed Forces Newspaper. Farewell Edition]. USNS GNS. R.M. Blatchford (T-AP 153), Voyage 33, Number 9.
[Eastern Mediterranean Sea:] Aboard the ship USNS GNS. R.M. Blatchford (T-AP 153), July 11 – August 4, 1954.
4°: 4 pp. mimeographed text with 2 illustrations within text, original cover with mimeographed illustrated title, stapled (Very Good, soft vertical fold, slightly stained, minor marginal tears).
This magazine was mimeographed by members of the Turkish Brigade aboard the ship USS General R. M. Blatchford, en route from South Korea to Turkey. Specifically, it was printed as the vessel was sailing somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, having cleared the Suez Canal, on the final stretch towards Turkey. It was issued in early August 1954, just over a year after hostilities in the Korean War had ceased, and so the party that created this magazine included troops from the last Brigade rotation to have seen active combat. The magazine is named ‘North Star’ (Turkish: Şimal Yıldızı or Kutup Yıldızı) after the code name of the Turkish Brigade.
In line with similar soldiers’ periodicals published aboard ship during long voyages, North Star features amusing and morale-boosting short stories, poems, patriotic quotations and humorous vignettes, as well as reports concerning the journey itself.
The Turks were travelling aboard the American navy vessel, the USS General R. M. Blatchford (AP-153), a General G.O. Squier-class transport ship that had been launched in 1944, during World War II.
According to the headers of the magazine, this trip marked the 33rd voyage of the ship, and this issue was the 9th, and supposedly final, issue of North Star.
We have not been able to trace even a reference to any of the issues of the magazine, let alone the locations of any other examples.
Birinci kafile ile yurda gidecek Asb. Isim cetveli.[Soldiers who will Return Home with the First Group / Name Table].
[South Korea, circa 1951 – 1954].
4°: 3 pp. mimeographed, stapled, with final entry contemporarily added in manuscript (Very Good, toned, slight marginal chipping).
This is an archivally important original mimeographed list, printed in South Korea, detailing a party of Turkish Brigade soldiers who were scheduled to imminently return to Turkey. The printed list features 151 soldiers, while a final name (no. 152) has been contemporarily added at the end in manuscript. The name of each soldier is accompanied by their serial number, unit, rank, and tag number.
Most of the Turkish Brigade troops were meant to be rotated out of the Korean theatre after serving a one-year tour of duty. While the undated list describes the party in question as being of the “First Group”, it is not clear as to what this means, although this list is thought to date from sometime between the autumn of 1951 and the spring of 1954. Further research will undoubtedly succeed in determining the party’s exact date of departure.
“Yurtta sulh, cihanda sulh.” [Peace at Home, Peace in the World].
[Probably Turkey, circa 1950 – 1952].
Photomontage, of retouched black and white photographs, with added full original hand-colour (Good, long repaired tears, but with no significant loss), cm / inches.
This is an unusually large and highly decorative original photomontage made for an anonymous Turkish Brigade soldier, depicting his portrait, a map of the Korean War theatre, and the figure of a lady, adorned with a Turkish flag and carrying a torch, personifying ‘peace’, following a common motif in both contemporary Turkish and international iconography. The title of the work is taken from the banner which appear on the wreath behind the lady, which reads: “Yurtta sulh, cihanda sulh” [Peace at Home, Peace in the World], being a phrase coined in 1931 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the late founding President of Turkey, which subsequently became the motto for the nation’s foreign policy. In the foreground is the figure of ‘Everyman’, or in this case ‘Every Soldier’ whose destiny is controlled by his fate, here symbolically represented by the map.
While a matter of educated speculation, the present photomontage was likely made in Turkey at the behest of a Turkish Brigade soldier who was about to depart for Korea and was likely given as a memento to a loved one. The soldier was almost certainly part of the annual Brigade deployments, from the autumn of 1950 to the autumn of 1952, that expected to see combat duty. While the creation of such photographic mementos had been a common custom amongst soldiers from across Europe since World War I, the present composition is far larger and much more elaborate than general. We can assume that the anonymous Turkish soldier was well-off, as this piece would have been very expensive, not to mention technically difficult, to produce.
The photomontage is a unique survivor, and we have not been able to trace the existence of a remotely comparable piece.
[Collection of 115 Original Turkish Brigade Photographs].
Variously taken in Seoul; Pusan; along the war front in Korea; Tokyo; and aboard ship sailing between Korea and Turkey, 1953 & 1954.
115 original black and white photographs, variously ranging between 9 x 7 cm (2.7 x 3.8 inches) and 17.8 x 12.7 cm (7 x 5 inches), almost all originally dated and annotated in manuscript on verso in Turkish, save for 2 photos which feature typed pastedown labels in English on verso (Very Good, some tiny folds in corners), all loose-leaf, but housed within a contemporary U.S. Army Records Jacket (slightly worn, small marginal tears).
This a large and fascinating collection of original photographs taken in 1953 and 1954 by members of the Turkish Brigade, mainly in Korea (variously in Seoul, Pusan, and along the battle front), but also while ‘on leave’ in Tokyo, Japan, as well as during the homeward sea voyage between Korea and Turkey.
Many of the photographs are portraits depicting a Turkish soldier in various surroundings, with different backgrounds, amidst various weather conditions, and sometimes in the company of others.
Importantly, there are many photographs featuring valuable documentary content. These include various scenes from the war front in Korea; photographs of mosques, both of a make-shift nature in field encampments, as well as a grand edifice in Tokyo; scenes involving both Turkish and American soldiers; candid scenes of life on base; poignant scenes at the Turkish military cemetery in Pusan, including a funeral service; as well as pictures taken during the return voyage home.
Almost all the photos feature, on the verso, detailed annotations in manuscript giving the date and context of the scene, while 2 photos are labelled, on the verso, with pastedown captions in English.
The Turkish Brigade: Honour and Sacrifice in Korea
The story of the Turkish Brigade is undeniably one of the most fascinating and surprising aspects of the Korean War, and while well-known within Turkey and by enthusiasts of the history of the conflict worldwide, it has today largely escaped the consciousness of the Western public.
The Korean War (June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953) was an epic conflict, whereby a United Nations Coalition (spearheaded by the United States) sought to repulse the invasion of the Western-backed republic of South Korea by North Korea, a Communist state that was soon to be joined by China. The showdown was the first large-scale international contest between the West and the Communist world, and it proved that, on many occasions, the Cold War was in fact ‘red hot’. The conflict see-sawed back and forth, at different times it seemed that one side was about to be annihilated, only for it to recover and repulse its opposition, thereafter assuming an offensive posture.
Significantly, the contest revealed that America in the wake of World War II was, contrary to popular assumptions, not invincible, while Chairman Mao’s China proved its mettle on the international stage for the first time. While the UN Coalition technically won the war, by successfully rescuing South Korea from North Korean-Chinese conquest, the conflict is generally seen as stalemate, as the Communist forces held their own against technologically superior armies.
In the wake of World War II, Turkey, in part fearing Stalin’s Soviet Union, but also wishing to continue the Westernizing, modernizing course charted by the nation’s late founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, sought to formally join the Western powers, and hopefully, one day, NATO, its mutual-defence organization. To overcome the misgivings, held by some Western nations, of admitting a largely Muslim, Asian nation into its ranks, Turkey felt a need to prove itself militarily on the international stage. In this respect, the situation in Korea presented a golden, yet costly, opportunity.
On June 25, 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea, overwhelming its defences. This act was held to be against international law, and the United Nations passed Resolution 83, requesting all nations to come to South Korea’s aid. The United States was the first to respond, and it both led and overwhelmingly dominated the resulting UN Coalition. On June 29, Turkey become the second nation to sign up, proclaiming that “Turkey is ready to meet his responsibilities.”
On July 25, 1950, Ankara authorized the formation of the Turkish Armed Forces Command (TAFC), popularly known as the ‘Turkish Brigade’ (Turkish: Türk Tugayı; code named: North Star, Turkish: Şimal Yıldızıor Kutup Yıldızı) for the Korea mission. The Brigade was a regimental combat team consisting of three infantry battalions, along with supporting artillery and engineering corps. The deployment plan called for the Brigade to have approximately 5,000 troops in the Korean theatre at any one time, with almost the entire force being switched out annually, replaced by fresh troops. The Turkish Brigade, connected to the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division, was notably the only brigade-sized force to be attached to an American regiment for the duration of the war.
The first leader of the Turkish Brigade was Brigadier-General Tahsin Yazıcı (1892 – 1971), a highly respected veteran of World War I’s legendary Gallipoli Campaign. Yazıcı’s experience was notable since Turkey’s armed forces had not fought a major international battle since the early 1920s.
The first members of the Turkish Brigade to arrive in Korea disembarked at Pusan (Busan) on October 12, 1950, with the bulk of the force arriving at the same port five days later. From there, the Brigade deployed to Taegu (Daegu) for a brief course of training with the U.S. Army.
Before recounting some of the details of their experiences, it is worth noting that the soldiers of the Turkish Brigade were undeniably brave, motivated, and skilled. However, they also suffered far more than was perhaps necessary, due to two key factors. First, the Turkish troops were deployed to a strange theatre and given unfamiliar American arms and equipment, before being rushed into pitched battle without the proper training. Second, very few Turkish soldiers (including their commanders) spoke even a word of English, and so much was ‘lost in translation’ with their American allies, sometimes resulting in serious (and theoretically avoidable) miscommunications during battle. The Americans, while well-disposed towards their Turkish allies, proved amazingly oblivious to these problems.
A fascinating and very ‘human’ account of the experiences of the Turkish troops in Korea was written by Hasan Basri Danişman, an American-born Turkish Brigade veteran, as the book, Korea 1952: Situation Negative! – An Account of Service with the Turkish Brigade (Istanbul: Denizler Kitabevi, 2002).
The Turkish Brigade’s finest hour occurred early in the conflict. In late November 1950, the U.S. Eighth Army, accompanied by the Turkish Brigade, was fighting the Chinese People’s Army in brutal combat in what is today western North Korea. At the Battle of Wawon (Turkish: Kunuri Muharebeleri), fought on November 27–29, 1950, near modern Kaechon, the American forces took flight, after the Chinese had surprised them at the strategic road junction at Kunu-ri, decimating their right flank. The Chinese, in hot pursuit, seemed set to finish-off their quarry. However, the Turkish Brigade took a stand, but found itself surrounded by vastly superior Chinese forces. The Turks fought with such bravery and ferocity that they tied-up tens of thousands of Chinese troops, while the Americans made a safe retreat. Amazingly, the Brigade managed to fight its way out of the Chinese trap; however, this came at a heavy price, as it lost 15% of its personnel (218 killed, 455 wounded, and almost 100 taken prisoner) and 70% of its equipment. Curiously, the Chinese had no idea that they were fighting Turkish soldiers until an ethnic Uighur (a Turkic people) Chinese soldier heard a Turkish fighter utter the familiar word ‘düşman’ (enemy).
Critically, while the Battle of Wawon was technically a Chinese victory, the valiant Turkish resistance allowed the U.S. Eighth Army to survive to fight another day, with great consequence to the UN Coalition’s overall war effort. In December 1950, the United States awarded Brigadier Yazıcı and fifteen of his fellow officers both the Silver Star and Bronze Star medals for bravery, and additionally conferred high group honours upon the Brigade as a whole.
The UN Coalition’s Commander-in-Chief, General Douglas MacArthur, aptly summed up the Turkish Brigade’s role at Wawon:
“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 into the hands of the communists by the heroism shown by the Turks.”
The Turkish Brigade continued to distinguish itself in the field. At the Battle of Kumyangjang-Ni (January 25-26, 1951), the Turks fought off a Chinese force three times its size, although it subsequently suffered great casualties upon repeated North Korean attacks. It seems that language problems, in part, led to inadequate coordination between the American and Turkish forces, causing the battle to be far bloodier that it would perhaps have otherwise been. The Brigade’s heroism was nevertheless recognized by President Harry Truman, who awarded the Turkish force the exalted group commendation, the Distinguished Unit Citation (today, the Presidential Unit Citation).
Subsequently, the Turkish Brigade fought hard during the Chorwon-Seoul Diversion and related actions (April 22-23, 1951) and during the Vegas Action at the Battle of the Hook (May 28-29, 1953).
Importantly, midway through the Korean War, the valour and skill of the Turkish Brigade convinced even the most reluctant Western nations, that Turkey would be a valuable permanent military ally. Turkey duly joined NATO, on February 18, 1952, and to the present day maintains the second largest army in the alliance, next only to the United States.
By the end of the conflict, in July 1953, the Turkish Brigade had circulated a total of 14,936 troops through Korea, of which a maximum number of 5,455 was present in the theatre at any one time. The casualty rate was very high, as a total of 721 Turkish soldiers were killed in action, while 2,111 were wounded and 168 were declared missing.
The majority, being 462, of the Turkish Brigade’s fallen soldiers were laid to rest at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Pusan, South Korea, which is home to two memorials specifically dedicated to the Brigade.
As the threat of a North Korean invasion endured even after the July 1953 cease-fire (in fact, no peace treaty between the UN Coalition and North Korea was ever signed), the Turkish Brigade remained in South Korea at full strength (but with the full contingent being replaced annually) for seven years after the war. As such, the Turkish Brigade was not disbanded until 1960.
The exploits of the Turkish Brigade had major contemporary consequences, in addition to an enduring legacy. Importantly, Turkey was henceforth taken seriously by the World as a military power. Within Turkey, several prominent military, political and business leaders cut their teeth during the Korean War, granting them the gravitas to advance rapidly through the ranks in their respective professions in the years following their return home.
The Turkish Brigade was also memorialised in countless books, theatrical works and films, the including Şimal Yıldızı (1954) and recently, Ayla: The Daughter of War (2017).
References: N/A: All archive items seemingly unrecorded. Cf. Hasan Basri Danişman, Korea 1952: Situation Negative! – An Account of Service with the Turkish Brigade (Istanbul: Denizler Kitabevi, 2002); A.K. Starbuck, “Korean War: 1st Turkish Brigade’s Baptism of Fire”, Military History (December 1997), online: http://www.historynet.com/korean-war-1st-turkish-brigades-baptism-of-fire.htm