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Conflicts Revisited
A Secret Revealed At Last

By Bertil Lintner

Green Berets in Korea: The Story of 41 Independent Commando Royal Marines, by Fred Hayhurst. Vanguard Press, England. 8.99 ($14)

This is the true story of a group of "independent commandos" from Britain's Royal Marines who operated under United States command behind enemy lines in North Korea in the 1950s. It has not been told until now.

Apart from revealing some hidden history, Fred Hayhurst's Green Berets in Korea gives the flavour of the post-World War II relationship between the American and British military forces in Asia, which makes it especially relevant today when U.S. and British soldiers are again fighting together.

The British commandos flew to Hong Kong in civilian aircraft--rarely used to transport military units in 1950. In Hong Kong they donned their uniforms and continued via Japan to South Korea. They had their own commanders, but Americans as chief officers. In small units they managed to infiltrate North Korea, where they acted as spotters for naval gunfire and were assigned to cut railways and other supply lines in the north.

Twenty-six British commandos and many more Americans were captured by the North Koreans, and were not released until after an armistice between the two sides had been signed in July 1953.

Herbert Brown, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer now living in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, spent two-and-a-half years in prison camps in North Korea and verifies the accuracy of Hayhurst's account of the ordeals of the captives.

Most of the prisoners were placed in three camps near the Chinese border, run by the Chinese, not the North Koreans. But the North Koreans ran a fourth camp near Pyongyang, nicknamed "Pak's Palace" after a major in the North Korean army. Pak was known for his sadistic streak, and the name of his camp was a sardonic attempt at humour in extremely dire circumstances.

Hayhurst is himself a former Royal Marine. Hence, the book is full of military jargon, acronyms and abbreviations. It is written by a soldier for other soldiers, but it is nevertheless enlightening to a wider readership interested in the origin and nature of U.S.-British military cooperation in Asia.

This review first appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, April 10, 2003

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