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Coordinates: 37°45′N 126°11′E / 37.75°N 126.183°E / 37.75; 126.183 (Han River)

Operation Thunderbolt
Part of the Korean War
DateJanuary 25 – February 20, 1951
LocationHan River, South Korea
Result United Nations victory

 United Nations

  •  United Kingdom
  •  United States
  •  South Korea
  •  Turkey
 North Korea
Commanders and leaders
United States Matthew B. Ridgway
United States Frank W. Milburn
United States John B. Coulter
United States Bryant E. Moore
China Peng Dehuai
China Liang Xingchu[1]
China Zeng Zesheng[2]
North Korea Lee Kwon Mu[3]
Units involved

United States Eighth Army

China 38th Corps[nb 1]
China 50th Corps
North Korea I Corps
94,147[4] Unknown
Casualties and losses
US: ~3,500[5][nb 2]
Total: Unknown
Chinese estimation: 10,000[6]

Operation Thunderbolt, also known in China as the Defensive Battle of the Han River Southern Bank (Chinese: 汉江南岸防御战; pinyin: Hàn Jiāng Nán Àn Fáng Yù Zhàn), was a US offensive during the Korean War. It represented the first offensive under the new commanding officer of the 8th US Army, General Matthew Ridgway. It started less than three weeks after the Chinese Third Phase Campaign had forced UN forces south of Seoul.


Thunderbolt was preceded by Operation Wolfhound, a reconnaissance in force by the 27th Infantry Regiment 'Wolfhounds' that began on 15 January 1951.[7] At this time the Chinese forces in the central sector were still in possession of Wonju and a full assault could not be made until this sector was under US control. Thunderbolt itself began on the 25 January, when troops of I and IX Corps advanced from the western sector of the front northwards towards Seoul.[7]

This attack was heavily supported by artillery and air support, in accordance with Ridgway's policy of attrition[7] by superior firepower against a numerically superior foe. By 9 February, the offensive had reached the Han river with the rest of the Chinese defenders retreating to the north of Han River by the end of February.[7]

Impact and aftermath

X Corps, once again part of the 8th Army, held the central sector[8] and moved forward as Operation Roundup on 5 February. Responding to the UN advances, Chinese forces under Peng Dehuai then counter-attacked as the Fourth Phase Campaign, achieving initial successes at the Battle of Hoengsong.[7]

Chinese forces were later held off at the Battle of Chipyong-ni and the Third Battle of Wonju. The concentration of firepower and reliance on close air support in the face of large numbers of light infantry employed here[7] would later become an influence on US doctrine during Vietnam.

Thunderbolt was followed almost immediately by the second UN counter-offensive, Operation Killer.

See also


  1. In Chinese military nomenclature, the term "Army" (军) means Corps, while the term "Army Group" (集团军) means Army.
  2. This is the total casualty number of the US Army from January 25 to February 20, 1951, minus the number from the US X Corps. See Ecker 2005, p. 83.
  1. Chinese Military Science Academy 2000, p. 371.
  2. Chinese Military Science Academy 2000, p. 372.
  3. Chinese Military Science Academy 2000, p. 373.
  4. Appleman 1990, p. 149.
  5. Ecker 2005, p. 83.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Chinese Military Science Academy 2000, p. 232.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Malkasian, Carter (2001). The Korean War. Osprey. pp. 38–40. ISBN 1-84176-282-2. 
  8. Edwards, Paul M. (2006). The Korean War. Greenwood. p. 26. ISBN 0-313-33248-7. 


  • Appleman, Roy (1990). "Ridgway Duels for Korea". College Station, TX: Texas A and M University Military History Series. ISBN 0-89096-432-7. 
  • Chae, Han Kook; Chung, Suk Kyun; Yang, Yong Cho (2001). "The Korean War". In Yang, Hee Wan; Lim, Won Hyok; Sims, Thomas Lee et al.. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-7795-3. 
  • (Chinese) Chinese Military Science Academy (2000). "History of War to Resist America and Aid Korea (抗美援朝战争史)". Beijing: Chinese Military Science Academy Publishing House. ISBN 7-80137-390-1. 
  • Ecker, Richard E. (2005). "Korean Battle Chronology: Unit-by-Unit United States Casualty Figures and Medal of Honor Citations". Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1980-6. 
  • Millett, Allan R. (2010). "The War for Korea, 1950–1951: They Came From the North". Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1709-8. 
  • Mossman, Billy C. (1990). "Ebb and Flow: November 1950 – July 1951, United States Army in the Korean War". Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army. Retrieved 2009-12-25. 
  • Spurr, Russell (1988). "Enter the Dragon: China's Undeclared War Against the U.S. in Korea 1950–51". New York, NY: Newmarket Press. ISBN 1-55704-008-7. 
  • Zhang, Shu Guang (1995). "Mao's Military Romanticism: China and the Korean War, 1950–1953". Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-7006-0723-4. 

Further reading

  • Bowers, William T. (2008). "The Line: Combat in Korea, January – February 1951". Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2508-4. 

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