Currently, the news is regularly filled with stories about the threat of war on the Korean peninsula, with Pyongyang repeatedly describing the fate that awaits the West….. For the time poor military reader wanting to understand how we got to where we are now, it is relatively easy to find US accounts of the Korean War, but a Commonwealth perspective, is somewhat harder to access. All is not lost however, as Andrew Salmon’s book, Scorched Earth, Black Snow is a detailed and readable account of 1950, that first chaotic year of the Korean War.
It describes how a hurriedly cobbled collection of Commonwealth units transformed into 27 Commonwealth Brigade (27 Bde), broke out of Pusan, and counterattacked into North Korea. They then fought a savage rearguard action following the entry of Chinese Forces into the conflict. It also concisely tells the story of 41st Independent Commando Royal Marines (41 Cdo RM) and its operations supporting US 1st Marine Division (1 MARDIV) in the Chosin Reservoir.
This is an uncomplicated and valuable account which uses a wealth of primary sources (British and Australian officers and soldiers) from 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (1 A&SH), 1st Battalion The Middlesex Regiment (1 MIDDLESEX), 41 Cdo RM and 3rd Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR). Their transformation from garrison postings in Hong Kong and Japan to some of the most brutal fighting and conditions ever witnessed is jarringly set out; as is the chaos of operating with no echelon, and in some cases the frustration of having to rely on US forces that seemed to arrive and depart at will.
The strength of the book is very much its focus on individual and personal experiences and accounts. It provides just enough information to put these actions in context without becoming bogged down in the bigger political picture.
The key actions of all units in 27 Bde as well as 41 Cdo RM are well documented. As well as this, the use of so many previously unheard accounts is very valuable and consititues an appropriate (and timely considering their age) recognition of the veterans involved.
About the author:
Mark Smith is an Army Reserve Sergeant in the New Zealand Intelligence Corps where he is currently employed supporting Information activities. By day he is a Senior Communications and Engagement Adviser in the New Zealand public sector.