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Digital Archive International History Declassified


Choe Gwang

James E. Hoare

Choe Gwang was a guerrilla war fighter in the 1930s in Manchuria and fought the Korean War as a commander of the 13th Division.


CHOE GWANG (1918-1997). Born in North Hamgyeong Province, Choe joined a Chinese-run anti-Japanese guerrilla unit in Manchuria in the 1930s, and fled to the Soviet Union in about 1940. He then became an officer in the Soviet Red Army, returning to Korea with the Soviet forces as a reconnaissance officer in 1945. He was instrumental in creating the Korean People’s Army, the main component of the armed forces, and became commander of the First Division in 1948. During the Korean War, he was commander of the 13th Division. After the war, he held a variety of posts, including president of Kim Il Sung Military University and commander of the air force, before becoming chief of the general staff in 1963. He was then promoted to full general. During this period, he also advanced in the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) hierarchy, as well as serving as a delegate to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA).

While he was chief of the general staff, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) launched a number of guerrilla attacks on the Republic of Korea (ROK), and ROK commentators regularly linked these directly to Choe. However, in February 1969, Choe was dismissed, together with then Defense Minister Kim Chang-bong and Heo Bong-hak, who was directly responsible for the guerrilla raids, as Kim Il Sung moved to get rid of the former partisan leaders. According to ROK reports, Choe was sent to work in the Ongjin iron ore mine in South Hwanghae Province. Then in May 1977, he reappeared at a mass rally in Haeju as chairman of the South Hwanghae Province People’s Committee. The following year he was reinstated in the KWP, ranking 21st among the 145 members of the Central Committee. In October 1980, he was elected as a candidate member of the party Politburo. In 1981, he became a deputy premier, and the following year concurrently chair of the Fisheries Commission, as well as returning to the SPA. Most remarkable of all was his reappearance as chief of the general staff in February 1988, 20 years after he had previously held that position. His rehabilitation did not stop there, for he became a vice chair of the National Defense Commission and a full member of the Politburo in 1990. In 1992, he was appointed vice marshal and was promoted to full marshal on becoming armed forces minister in October 1995. He died of a heart attack on 21 February 1997.

All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher. (Historical Dictionary of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, by James E. Hoare, published by RLPG Books, appears by permission of the author and publisher).