- In January 1968, North Korean commandos slipped throughout the border into South Korea.
- They have been headed to Seoul on a secret and daring mission to kill South Korea’s president.
- A half-century later, Pyongyang is discovering new methods to threaten South Korea’s leaders.
Simply earlier than midnight on January 17, 1968, 31 North Korean particular forces troopers reduce via a wire fence alongside the demilitarized zone and infiltrated South Korea with out detection.
The commandos, a part of a specifically educated power referred to as Unit 124, had one goal: kill South Korean President Park Chung-hee.
Their plan was to covertly make their option to the presidential residence, a 62-acre compound often known as the Blue Home in Seoul’s Jongno district.
As soon as there, they’d bypass the outer checkpoints after which conduct an all-out assault on the principle constructing. Slightly greater than 300 yards from their goal, nonetheless, every thing fell aside.
At a boiling level
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been approaching a boiling level by January 1968. Whereas the US and South Korean militaries have been more and more centered on the Vietnam Battle, North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung appeared dead-set on reminding the world that the Korean Battle had not formally ended.
Violent incidents alongside the DMZ elevated from 42 in 1966 to 360 in 1967 — together with not less than 100 firefights that killed 63 US and South Korean servicemen and wounded 190 extra. (That 12 months, the US army categorised Korea as a hostile hearth zone, making US troops there eligible for fight medals.)
Infiltrations into South Korea, each throughout the DMZ and by sea, by North Korean brokers and commandos have been additionally rising. Their main goal appeared to be organising guerrilla camps in South Korea’s distant highlands.
The infiltrations have been largely unsuccessful. As much as 15,000 South Korean police and army personnel have been concerned in detecting and looking down the infiltration groups.
By fall 1967, South Korean safety forces reported killing 130 infiltrators and capturing 43 extra, taking greater than 130 casualties of their very own within the course of.
Round that point, the commandos of Unit 124 — elite troops who had been handpicked by the North Korean army’s high brass — have been ending their coaching in North Korea.
They have been educated in infiltration, navigation, hand-to-hand fight, and guerrilla warfare. Their preparations have been grueling and harmful.
They have been despatched on runs for dozens of miles whereas carrying as a lot as 60 kilos of substances in freezing temperatures at excessive altitudes. Some candidates misplaced toes or complete toes to frostbite. One member of the unit has mentioned they have been educated to dig into graves and conceal among the many our bodies for concealment and that their coaching was so intense they often shot and stabbed one another.
Within the lead-up to the mission, members of Unit 124 practiced assaulting a full-size mock-up of the Blue Palace.
Every of the 31 commandos carried a submachine gun, a pistol, 320 rounds of ammunition, 14 grenades, and a knife. They wore South Korean army uniforms and carried civilian garments to mix in in the event that they could not keep away from crowds.
They traveled at evening and slept in the course of the day, masking as a lot as 7 miles each hour when on the transfer. Two days into their trek via the mountains, they have been found by 4 brothers who have been out chopping wooden.
Unable to deceive the brothers, the commandos took them captive. That they had orders to kill any witnesses, however digging graves within the frozen floor would have been virtually inconceivable. Finally, nearly all of the unit voted to allow them to go.
The brothers got a lecture on the advantages of Communism, promised that their liberation was at hand, and compelled to pledge to not inform the authorities.
Sadly for the commandos, the brothers instantly informed the authorities and your complete nation was placed on alert. 1000’s of South Korean troopers and police mobilized to find the infiltrators.
Regardless of the alarm and several other extra shut calls, the commandos remained undetected and reached the Segeomjeong–Jahamun checkpoint, simply over 300 yards from the Blue Home, shortly earlier than 10:00 p.m. on January 21.
Carrying their South Korean uniforms, they approached the checkpoint in a double-file line. They have been stopped by three policemen who, conscious that there have been infiltrators within the space, have been suspicious.
The police demanded to know what the lads had beneath their coats, which might have revealed that they have been carrying Soviet-made weapons in contrast to these utilized by the South Koreans or People. The commandos as a substitute opened hearth, beginning an enormous shootout.
South Korean troopers quickly arrived in large numbers together with a tank that the commandos had no weapons to take out. Within the chaos, the commandos attacked a passing bus carrying civilians, believing they have been arriving troopers, killing a number of passengers.
Having taken casualties of their very own and realizing that their mission was hopeless, the commanding officer ordered the commandos to disengage, scatter, and make for North Korea.
Seoul launched an all-out manhunt. By January 29, all however two of the commandos had been killed or had dedicated suicide. The South Koreans managed to seize one commando, Kim Shin-jo, whereas the opposite, Pak Jae Gyong, escaped to North Korea.
Through the raid and ensuing manhunt, 68 South Koreans and three American troopers have been killed.
After cooperating with South Korean authorities, Kim Shin-jo was launched in 1970 and acquired South Korean citizenship, which led North Korean officers to execute his mother and father and siblings. He’s nonetheless alive immediately. Pak Jae Gyong, in the meantime, grew to become a four-star common within the North Korean army.
North Korea by no means acknowledged its involvement within the raid, insisting it was organized by South Koreans, however even North Korea’s communist allies had no illusions about Pyongyang’s function.
South Korea tried to arrange its personal commando squad to kill Kim Il Sung, however the effort backfired and the commandos rose up towards their handlers.
The raid was shortly overshadowed by North Korea’s seizure of the US spy ship USS Pueblo on January 23, 1968. The ship is nonetheless on show in Pyongyang. On the finish of January, American consideration shifted to Vietnam, the place North Vietnamese forces had launched the huge Tet Offensive, which might change American views of the struggle.
North Korea now not sends loss of life squads throughout the DMZ — although it has practiced raids on a reproduction of the Blue Home — nevertheless it continues to menace South Korea’s leaders.
In 2015, Pyongyang warned that it may flip South Korea into “a sea of fireplace” if Seoul didn’t cease activists from sending balloons carrying leaflets into the North.
In December, a North Korean drone flew into a no-fly zone round South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s workplace in Seoul. It was one in all 5 North Korean drones that flew into South Korea, the primary to take action in 5 years.
The drones spent 5 hours over the South earlier than returning dwelling — an incursion that comes amid a file variety of North Korean missile assessments meant to point out off the rising attain of its increasing arsenal.