Stanley Sandler, ed. The Korean War: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995. xxxiv + 416 pp. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8240-4445-9.
Reviewed by Robert B. Bruce (Kansas State University )
Published on H-War (June, 1996)
The Korean War: An Encyclopedia is a one-volume reference work composed of 141 essays by sixty-three authors on numerous subjects pertaining to the Korean War. Every essay is followed by a brief bibliography of approximately five entries that direct the reader to more detailed sources of information on the topic. An extensive bibliography is also provided in the back of the book. Although it is fairly comprehensive, it is weakened by a lack of annotation and by journal article citations lacking page numbers. The encyclopedia contains a chronology that provides important dates for the Korean War and also chronicles events occurring on the Korean peninsula prior to and immediately after the conclusion of hostilities. The maps provided in the encyclopedia are reprinted from the official U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force histories of the Korean War. The photographs included in the work are good, and individuals familiar with the photographic record of the war will be pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of these pictures have not previously appeared in other secondary works on the subject. A major drawback in the encyclopedia's use of illustrations is that no attempt is made to place the photographs next to an appropriate entry--for example, a picture of Douglas MacArthur next to the entry for MacArthur; instead, the photos are all grouped together in the center of the book.
The contributors to The Korean War: An Encyclopedia run the gamut from some of the most respected experts in the field of Korean War studies to veritable unknowns. The former category includes such distinguished historians as (with their most prestigious publication following: Albert E. Cowdrey (U.S. Army in the Korean War: The Medics' War), Anthony Farrar-Hockley (The Edge of the Sword), Richard P. Hallion (The Naval Air War in Korea), Walter Hermes (U.S. Army in the Korean War: Truce Tent and Fighting Front), and James F. Schnabel (U.S. Army in the Korean War: Policy and Direction, The First Year_). The essays contributed to the encyclopedia by these renowned historians are related to the subject of their major work on the Korean War and are superior and extremely well written. Unfortunately, their essays comprise but a small fraction of the work as a whole.
The category of unknown contributors is headed by Elizabeth Schafer, who wrote twenty-six of the essays (approximately one-fifth of those contained in the encyclopedia), by far the largest number written by anyone. No credentials are given for Schafer in the list of contributors contained in the back of the encyclopedia (that is, she is not listed as having any university or military affiliation). I searched the bibliography contained in The Korean War: An Encyclopedia as well as Keith McFarland's excellent The Korean War: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Macmillan, 1986) and found no listings for her. One must question why the editor, Stanley Sandler, allowed an unknown author with no academic or military affiliation listed in her credits to "carry the ball" so many times. In all fairness to Schafer, several of her essays are good, but a large number are poor, and the reader is left to question her expertise on subjects as diverse as Kimpo Airfield, the Ethiopian Battalion, and napalm, to name just a few of the subjects she treats.
Several of the essays in The Korean War: An Encyclopedia are superb and deserve a special mention. David T. Zabecki's excellent essay, "Artillery in the Korean War" (pp. 36-40), is extremely informative and ranks as one of the finest in the book. Zabecki is a noted authority on artillery, whom subscribers to H-War may recognize as the author of the recently published Steel Wind: Colonel Georg Bruchmuller and the Birth of Modern Artillery (New York: Praeger, 1994). Zabecki's essay displays his superior grasp of artillery tactics, and he provides a thorough discussion of U.S. Army artillery doctrine and the changes it underwent during the Korean War. Zabecki also provides a brief discussion on Chinese artillery tactics and a useful chart comparing the capabilities of the various artillery pieces used by United Nations (UN) and Communist forces in the Korean War. The only criticism I would offer of Zabecki's otherwise superior article is his failure to distinguish between Chinese artillery tactics in the "mobile phase" of the Korean War (1950-51) and their later tactics during the static trench warfare of 1952-53. In particular, Zabecki's assertion that: "They [the Chinese] believed that massed artillery could capture and hold ground by itself" (p. 39) simply does not apply to the artillery-impoverished People's Liberation Army (PLA) divisions that fought the UN forces from November 1950 through June 1951. During this phase PLA assaults were supported almost exclusively by mortar and heavy machine gun fire, and relied more on Chinese manpower than on artillery firepower to seize their objectives. (See S.L.A. Marshall, "The CCF [Chinese Communist Forces] in the Attack" in William B. Hopkins, One Bugle, No Drums [New York: Avon Books, 1988].)
Joseph Bermudez's essay also deserves special mention. "Korean People's Army" (pp. 81-189) is one of the most authoritative discussions of the North Korean People's Army (NKPA) during the Korean War that can be found, second only to the intense examination of the NKPA found in Charles R. Shrader's Communist Logistics in the Korean War (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995). This should come as no surprise, for Bermudez is a leading authority on the NKPA and the author of North Korean Special Forces (Surrey, UK: Jane's Publishing Co., 1988). In addition to providing a superlative narrative outlining the history of the NKPA in the Korean War, Bermudez provides a large chart giving a brief history and chronology of operations for every NKPA division that fought in Korea and includes such items of information as honorary titles (for example, the NKPA 3rd Infantry Division was awarded the title "Seoul Guards Division" for its role in the capture of Seoul in June 1950). The only omission from Bermudez's excellent essay is a failure to discuss the military leadership of the NKPA. Nevertheless, this is a fine essay with a wealth of information packed into it.
It is unfortunate that the essays in The Korean War: An Encyclopedia on the PLA and the Republic of (South) Korea Army (ROKA) are much less informative than Bermudez's essay. Shockingly, no essay providing a similar overview of the U.S. Army is included, although essays are provided for the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force. This is an inexcusable oversight when one considers the dominant role played by the U.S. Army in the Korean War in comparison to the other branches of service.
Since about one-fifth of the essays in encyclopedia were written by Elizabeth Schafer, it is only fitting that her essays be discussed in detail. One of the more curious is "Cavalry units, U.S. Army," which is a summary of the operations conducted by the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division in Korea. Although Schafer mentions that the 1st Cavalry Division "had been motorized early in World War II" (p. 62), she does not mention that the 1st Cavalry Division in Korea was actually an infantry division. Although the PLA did employ horse cavalry units in the Korean War, Schafer does not discuss the. One thus wonders why an entry for "Cavalry" is included at all in the encyclopedia. Perhaps Schafer's essay should have been part of a series of essays on the U.S. Army divisions that fought in Korea.
By far the worst entry in The Korean War: An Encyclopedia is the horribly constructed and very confusing essay entitled "Chongchon River, Battle of." Schafer provides no overall discussion of the battle; she gives no date and she provides no discussion of the major controversies or personalities involved. Indeed, from Schafer's essay one would be inclined to believe that the entire battle took place in a single evening and that the only issue was the overrunning by the Chinese of the 61st Field Artillery Battalion, an event that Schafer ascribes to the U.S. soldiers' being denied permission to fire on supposedly "friendly" troops who were in actuality Chinese. Schafer neglects to mention the special infiltration teams used by the PLA in the battle, whose sole purpose was to slip past U.S. infantry and destroy the American artillery. Perhaps Schafer's most glaring omission in her portrayal of the Battle of the Chongchon River is her complete failure to discuss the desperate delaying action fought by the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division in the wake of the collapse of the ROK II Corps and the "gauntlet" of fire that the 2nd Division was forced to run when it had been completely encircled by the Chinese. Schafer also makes erroneous statements concerning battlefield actions. For example, she writes: "UN troops attempted to remove artillery before the enemy could capture it, but most equipment was immobilized in the frozen ground" (p. 78). In fact, most of the artillery lost during the battle was either captured or destroyed during the aforementioned "gauntlet," when burning vehicles and enemy fire so blocked the withdrawal route of the UN forces that the pieces were either abandoned or destroyed in place. (See Billy C. Mossman, The U.S. Army in the Korean War: Ebb and Flow [Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 1990].) The lack of a "blow-by-blow" synopsis of the battle, combined with numerous errors, make for a poor essay. The majority of Schafer's other essays in the encyclopedia are also of dubious quality, and thus the work suffers from the editor's excessive reliance on her.
There are also several glaring omissions from The Korean War: An Encyclopedia that further devalue the book. For example, there is no entry for "Infantry," a disturbing omission because Korea was an infantryman's war, with all of the divisions deployed to Korea by the United States being infantry divisions (in addition to the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry, the 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 24th, 25th, 40th, and 45th, and the U.S. Marine Corps 1st). Every division of the PLA committed to Korea was an infantry division, as were those of the ROKA and virtually the entire NKPA as well. Yet no essay on the "queen of battle" is provided, although essays for armor, artillery, cavalry, and engineers are included.
Another omission, related to the lack of coverage for infantry operations, is the absence of an entry regarding small arms employed by both sides in the Korean War. Thus no discussion is provided of the various capabilities of U.S. and Communist weaponry or the tactics and issues surrounding their use. No mention is made of the PLA and the NKPA's extensive use of sub-machine guns (Soviet PPSh-41, Soviet PPS-43, and U.S. Thompsons captured from the Kuomintang in the Chinese Civil War), or of the huge controversy surrounding the U.S. M2 carbine, which acquired a notorious reputation for jamming and malfunctioning in the brutal Korean winters. (See S.L.A. Marshall, Infantry Operations and Weapons Usage in Korea [London: Greenhill Books, 1988].) John Cranston's essay, "Armor in the Korean War," includes some discussion of tank types, but lacks a chart outlining the capabilities of the U.S. M4A3E8, M24, M26, M46, UK "Centurion," or Soviet T34/85 tanks employed by the opposing sides during the war.
Although The Korean War: An Encyclopedia does offer some superior insights into certain aspects of the Korean War, it is a work of uneven quality with the value of the essays fluctuating greatly from author to author. The subtitle of "encyclopedia" is somewhat misleading, as the numerous omissions in the book provide for a less than encyclopedic coverage of the subject. Given its $75.00 price tag, I would recommend the book only to the most dedicated scholars of the Korean War, and even they should be cautioned that a large number of the articles are mediocre, with only a handful (Zabecki, Bermudez, and a few others) being truly worthy of their attention. For the military historian with a casual to modest interest in the Korean War who is looking for a solid reference work on the subject, I would recommend Colonel Harry G. Summers' Korean War Almanac (New York: Facts on File, 1990) as a superior work to The Korean War: An Encyclopedia.
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Robert B. Bruce. Review of Sandler, Stanley, ed., The Korean War: An Encyclopedia.
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