On August 12, 2016, a new Korean War film entitled Incheon Landing: Operation Chromite hits the screen in the United States and Canada, starring Lee Jung-jae, Lee Boem-soo, Jin Se-yeon and Liam Neeson. Directed by Lee Jae-han, the film recreates some of the critical moments of Operation X-Ray, a crucial undercover intelligence operation conducted by the South Korean Navy Special Forces prior to General MacArthur’s successful Incheon Landing of the UN forces on September 15, 1950. With Lee Jung-jae acting as Captain Jang Hak-soo, the film closely follows the footsteps of the South Korean Navy Special Forces as they disguise themselves as a North Korean inspection unit and infiltrate into the North Korean army command center at Incheon in order to acquire intel on the locations of the naval mines. It was because of their mission that the UN forces were able to safely land at Incheon, a landing that overturned the tide of the Korean War and helped push back the North Korean forces up to the Yalu River before the Chinese forces intervened.
The situation was dire when the UN forces from 16 different countries including Canada arrived at Busan on August 1, 1950. The North Korean forces had already taken over Seoul on June 28, 1950, just three days after having crossed the 38th parallel, and within 1-month they had conquered rest of South Korea except for the small region around Busan known as the “Busan Perimeter.” Then-commander of the UN forces General MacArthur knew that confronting the North Korean forces head-on would result in many casualties; therefore, he decided to launch an amphibious landing operation at Incheon and attack them from behind.
But, why Incheon?
There were a couple of advantages to landing at Incheon. First, it was close to Seoul – only 34km away – and recapturing the capital would give a significant psychological blow to the North Korean forces. Second, upon recapturing Seoul, it would be possible to cut off the enemy supply line. However, then-US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US Navy were in opposition to General MacArthur’s strategy. They argued that the waterway into Incheon was too narrow for the 261 ships carrying 70,000 UN troops to enter swiftly. Furthermore, if there were naval mines in place, they knew that they would suffer significant casualties. Second, they were aware that the tidal range at Incheon was among the highest in the world, meaning that they would only have a 2-hour window at high tide to land their forces or otherwise risk getting their ships stranded on the 4km-long foreshore. The success rate – they calculated at 1/5000. However, it was precisely for this low likelihood of success that General MacArthur chose Incheon – the North Korean forces would be least expecting it. Thus, in order to conceal the exact location of the landing from the North Korean forces, General MacArthur ordered for the deliberate dissemination of messages indicating multiple cities as potential sites for landing. He even launched a fake landing at a city called “Changsha” (장사) just north of Busan prior to the Incheon landing, where 772 Korean high school students conducted a diversion attack for a period of three days. Unfortunately, most if not all of these young soldiers lost their lives fighting the North Korean forces.
Another tactic that General MacArthur used to prepare for the Incheon landing was an infiltration mission into the North Korean command center at Incheon, and this is the subject matter of the new film Incheon Landing: Operation Chromite. The objective of the mission was to acquire intel on the locations of naval mines in the Incheon waterway, destroy them, and on the day of the landing, light the Palmido light house as a signal to the UN forces.
The film closely follows the footsteps of the South Korean Navy Special Forces who disguise themselves as a North Korean inspection unit and infiltrate into the North Korean command center at Incheon on August 20, 1950. The film brings out excitement and suspense as Captain Jang Hak-soo and his peers continuously try to deceive and conceal their identity from the suspicious North Korean Commander of Incheon defence forces Rim Gye-jin (acted by Lee Boem-soo). The film is also notable for starring veteran Hollywood actor Liam Neeson as General MacArthur. His re-enactment of General MacArthur is notable for the details – the sunglasses, the cigar, the hat, his habit of putting his hand inside the back pocket, and of course, his charisma. The film is both a historical and action movie, and is a must-see for those wishing to learn more about the Korean War.