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Digital Archive International History Declassified


Chae Byong Duk

Chae Byong Duk commanded the South Korean armies following the end of World War II.



b. 1915 - d. 1950

Chae Byong Duk was trained by the Japanese military and eventually rose to command the South Korean armies following the end of World War II. He was killed in action shortly after the North Korean invasion began in 1950.

Major, Japanese Army, 1945-1948; Captain, Korean Constabulary, 1946-1948; Second Army Commander, South Korea, 1948-1950; Army Commander, South Korea, 1950

By August 15, 1945, Chae Byong Duk rose to the rank of major in the Japanese Army. In 1948, at the age of 34, Chae Byong Duk became the second commander of Sygman Rhee’s army. His luck ran out in June 1950 when his much vaunted army collapsed when Kim Il Sung’s troops invaded South Korea. Chae was held responsible for the defeat and fired from his position and he was shortly thereafter killed in action. He was only 36 years when he was killed.

Chae was born in 1915 in Pyongyang, where he attended primary and secondary schools. In 1932, Chae was accepted by the Japanese Military Academy. In April 1933, Chae Byong Duk moved to Japan and enrolled at the Academy.

Chae studied heavy artillery. In March 1935, Chae completed the first two years of curriculum and did a six-month field stint at the Sasebo Artillery Regiment. He returned to the Academy and graduated on June 29, 1937 in the 49th graduating class.

Korea’s liberation on August 15, 1945 meant that the Koreans in the Japanese Imperial Army were out of job. Koreans in the Japanese military were considered to be pro-Japanese traitors.

The US military embraced anyone, regardless of their past records, who professed to be anti-communist. The US military not only hired former servants of Hirohito, but they also empowered them and used them as instruments of terror and control in South Korea.

On November 13, 1945, the US Military Government in Korea was established. By February next year, the “Bamboo Plan” was put in action, whereby the Korean Constabulary was organized. Chae Byong Duk was one of the first to join this army.

The 1st Regiment of the Constabulary was formed at Taerung on January 15, 1946, and subsequently new regiments were formed in all of the provinces of South Korea. Captain Chae commanded Company A of the 1st Regiment. He was promoted to a major on February 8 of the same year and commanded the 1st Battalion. On the following day, Colonel Kim Suk Won of the Japanese Army was commissioned a colonel of the Constabulary.

After Gen. Song Ho Sung was relieved from the army commander’s job on suspicion of being a leftist, Chae Byong Duk was picked to lead the army on August 16, 1948. He commanded the 4th Regiment at the time.

Chae Byong Duk commanded Rhee’s army when the Korean War broke out and he was accountable for some of the causes of the defeat of Rhee’s army. Chae Byong Duk told the assembly that his army would defend Seoul and, in fact, that he was mounting a counter-attack that would take him all the way to Pyongyang. His poorly planned and executed “counter-attack” at Yijung-bu turned into a rout and Syngman Rhee fled Seoul.

On July 23, Chae received a letter from Sin Sung Mo, Rhee’s defense minister. It read:

“Sir, you have lost Seoul and suffered major defeats. I hold you responsible for these setbacks. The enemy troops are moving from the Junnam region to the Gyngnam region. Unless they are stopped, the whole front will collapse. You are to organize forces in your area and stop the enemy. I order you to lead the troops personally. You shall charge in front of your men.”

Chae positioned his battalions at Jinju and for some reason he asked to accompany the 3rd Battalion of the US 29th Regiment to Hadong. He told the reluctant American commander that he would be useful as a guide and an interpreter for the Americans.

At about 09:30, approximately 150 armed men appeared 500 meters in front of the 3rd Battalion position. It was not clear if they were South Korean troops or North Koreans, and when they were about 100 meters, Chae Byong Duk shouted at them - “Are you friends or foes?” upon which the enemy forces opened fire with mortars, machine guns, and rifles from nearby hills. A bullet hit Chae on the chin and went through the brain. Chae died instantly; He was only 36 years old.