This Day In History: Korean War's Operation Big Switch

By Ned Kelly, August 5, 2020

9 0

On August 5, 1953, Operation Big Switch began at Panmunjom, Korea, aimed at the repatriation of remaining prisoners from both sides of the Korean War.

The war had begun on June 25, 1950 when the North’s Korean People’s Army attacked, crossing over the 38th parallel into South Korea. As the UN stepped in with a counteroffensive, the South was able to advance to the border of North Korea and China. At this point, China committed its large army, pushing UN troops back to around the 38th parallel, where, from summer 1951, a stalemate was reached that exists to this day.

Ceasefire talks had been ongoing between Communist and UN forces from that time, with one of the main stumbling blocks being the Communist insistence that all prisoners be returned home, with the UN maintaining that prisoners who wished to remain where they were be allowed to do so. After talks dragged on for two years, the Chinese and North Koreans relented on this point, and the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953.

Communist prisoners of war detraining from a 765th Transportation Railway Shop Battalion hospital train that had transported them to Musan, North Korea, August-September 1953. Photo by August “Gus” Firgau.

Operation Big Switch lasted until December 1953 and saw 75,823 Communist prisoners (70,183 North Koreans and 5,640 Chinese) and 12,773 UN prisoners (7,862 South Koreans, 3,597 Americans and 946 British) returned. 

Over 22,600 Communist soldiers, the majority of whom were former Kuomintang soldiers who fought against the Communists in the Chinese Civil War, declined repatriation. Much to the surprise of the UN forces, 21 Americans and one Briton, along with 325 Korean UN soldiers, also declined repatriation, voluntarily deciding to stay with the Communists.

A detailed documentary about the American servicemen who stayed behind in China, They Chose China, can be watched on Youku (no VPN required):


Outside of China? Watch on Youtube here.


For more history stories, click here.

[Cover image by August 'Gus' Firgau]

more news

This Day in History: The 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony

A look back at the first ever Olympics to be hosted in China.

This Day in History: The Founding of Shanghai’s Good 8th Company

The 8th Company of Shanghai Garrison, People's Liberation Army was founded on August 6, 1947, and since 1949 it has been stationed on Nanjing Lu.

A Brief, Hairy History of Women's Rights in China

Hairstyles were closely intertwined with politics over a century of change for women.

This Day in History: China's Otherworldly 'Alien Sky Spiral' of 1981

A giant spiral in the sky, a spiral allegedly seen by 10 million people in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.

This Day in History: The Foreign Founder Member of the CPC

The Dutch socialist who attended the First National Congress of the CPC.

This Day in History: Hong Kong Handover From UK to China

On July 1, 1997, China resumed its control of Hong Kong after 156 years of British rule.

This Day in History: China Develops the Hydrogen Bomb

June 1967 sees China become the world's fourth thermonuclear power.

0 User Comments

In Case You Missed It…

We're on WeChat!

Scan our QR Code at right or follow us at Thats_Shanghai for events, guides, giveaways and much more!

7 Days in Shanghai With thatsmags.com

Weekly updates to your email inbox every Wednesday

Subscribe

Download previous issues

Never miss an issue of That's Shanghai!

Visit the archives

Get the App. Your essential China city companion.