HC Deb 28 July 1952 vol 504 cc1097-104
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (Mr. Nigel Birch)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement on the military situation in Korea.

There has been no significant change in the military situation or the strength of the opposing land forces in Korea since the visit of my noble Friend and the Minister of State, and there is not much to add to the statements made on their return.

There are still no signs that the enemy is making any preparations for an offensive, but, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister informed the House in his statement on 28th May, they remain capable of launching a major offensive from their strongly-prepared defensive line without much advance warning. Meanwhile the Communists are continuing to improve their deeply entrenched position across the peninsula and, of course, our own troops are constantly increasing the strength of their positions.

During the last month the United Nations forces have made a number of raids and probing attacks. Some of these raids on enemy positions have resulted in sharp fighting and casualties on both sides. The Communists have also initiated a number of attacks against our outpost positions. They made use of their increased armament of guns to fire over 40,000 artillery rounds and almost 60,000 mortar bombs against the United Nations forces during the first half of July.

Over the past few weeks the Commonwealth Division have sent out a number of raiding parties of platoon or company strength, but they have not been engaged in any heavier action.

Today is the anniversary of the formation of the Commonwealth Division. I was very proud to read General Van Fleet's commendation of their "high courage, unwavering determination and all encompassing combat excellence." I think the House would wish to join with me in paying tribute to the fine record of the Division. We are very proud of them and we are confident that, whatever may happen in Korea, they will acquit themselves most worthily.

The United Nations Commander has continued to make full use of his superiority in air and sea power to limit the capacity of the Communists to undertake an offensive with the forces they have built up during the past 12 months.

The House is already aware of the details of the co-ordinated attack of 23rd June on the power plants serving the airfields, military installations and armaments industry of North Korea. This was followed by a number of subsidiary attacks on these and other power installations. Examination of the photographs taken after the raids suggest that about nine-tenths of the North Korean generating capacity has been put out of action.

On 11th and 12th July a sustained air attack was made against military targets in the Pyongyang area. Pyongyang is a large enemy garrison city, communications centre and arsenal. The targets, which were carefully identified beforehand by air photography, included antiaircraft installations, tank and vehicle repair shops and parks, supply installations and factories engaged in war production. Leaflets were dropped in advance warning the civil population that military targets would be attacked and urging them to move away.

In addition to these heavy raids, the interdiction programme has continued unabated and supply areas and depots in other parts of North Korea have been frequently attacked. The Commonwealth air units in Korea have, of course, played their parts in these operations.

During the last month naval aircraft have participated in the air attacks on military targets in North Korea. By sea naval units have continued to bombard enemy dock areas, rail communications and factory areas. The Royal Navy, in conjunction with other Commonwealth Navies, has continued to play its full part in these operations. In particular our aircraft carrier, H.M.S. "Ocean," has maintained a consistently high standard of naval air operations, flying an average of 80 sorties daily.

I should like to enlarge on the casualty figures which the Prime Minister gave on 28th May. Since the armistice talks began a year ago, the United Nations forces have suffered over 80,000 casualties (including about 48,000 South Koreans) and 16,000 of these have been killed. The Commonwealth casualties during this period total about 2,500, including over 400 killed. During the first three weeks of this month when no major operations were in progress, the United Nations casualties amounted to nearly 4,000. We need to bear in mind in all our discussions on Korea that these casualties on our side are continuing day by day.

The armistice talks are still centering around the question of repatriation of prisoners of war, and the United Nations negotiators are standing firm on the principle that prisoners should not be forcibly repatriated. Every effort is being made to find a solution acceptable to both sides.

On 1st July my right hon. Friend the Minister of State informed the House that the United Nations' Commander, General Clark, had made a request, which was subsequently agreed to by the United States Government, that an officer from the Commonwealth should be appointed as a Deputy Chief of Staff at General Clark's headquarters with duties in connection with operations in Korea.

The request was for an officer drawn from one of the Commonwealth countries providing combatant forces in Korea and it has been agreed with the Governments of those countries that the post should be filled by a senior United Kingdom officer. The officer selected after consultation with the Commonwealth Governments is Major-General S. N. Shoosmith. It should be made clear that General Shoosmith will be appointed by the United Nations Command and will be in all respects an ordinary member of General Clark's staff with responsibility solely to him. By making this officer available Her Majesty's Government accept no more responsibility for the conduct of operations than they bear at present as a member of the United Nations who have entrusted to the United States Government the conduct on their behalf of the Korean operations.

There will continue to be only one channel for consultation about Korea and that is between our representatives in Washington and the United States Government and military authorities there.

It is, of course, necessary for us to be kept informed of the progress of operations and of the many technical military matters which arise in the course of the daily work of Her Majesty's Forces in Korea. All this liaison work will continue to be carried out by the Chiefs of Staff's representative accredited to General Clark's headquarters. All other Governments whose forces are engaged in Korea have liaison sections at headquarters in Tokyo and these arrangements will not be disturbed in any way by the new appointment which is being made to General Clark's staff.

Mr. Shinwell

The Parliamentary Secretary gave the casualty figures for the Commonwealth Division but omitted to give the casualty figures for the British Forces. Perhaps he will be good enough to do so. May I also ask whether the appointment of Major-General Shoosmith makes any difference in the position? According to the hon. Gentleman's statement, Major-General Shoosmith is seconded to General Clark's staff and will thus be under General Clark's orders, and, therefore, there will be no change in the consultative methods. I understood from what the Parliamentary Secretary said that the channel for consultation will continue as at present, namely, through our military representatives at Washington with the United States Government. May we have an assurance that the mistake which occurred recently will not be repeated and that consultations will be more effective?

Mr. Birch

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this matter was very fully discussed during the recent debate. It is certainly hoped that consultation will be effective in the future. It was also made clear that the new Deputy Chief of Staff is definitely one of General Clark's staff, and, therefore, cannot rightly communicate directly with this country.

Mr. Shinwell

That is precisely the point. The issue which emerged from the recent debate was the need for effective consultation. Apparently the channels for consultation will continue as they were before, and the appointment of Major-General Shoosmith will make no difference whatever. What assurances have we that consultation, which we regard as essential in all the circumstances, will be more effective than was disclosed by the recent incident?

Mr. Birch

I think Major-General Shoosmith's appointment will be of value, particularly to General Clark in getting to know British reactions to anything he may wish to do. I think it has been generally admitted that in the case of the recent Yalu bombings there was a breakdown in the consultations, but it has not been normal—it certainly was not normal when the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Defence—for the consultations to break down, and we see no reason why they should do so in future. We think the present arrangements will be successful, and we hope and pray they will be.

Mr. Wyatt

As General Clark has the right of direct access to his own Government, which he uses, why will not Major-General Shoosmith have the same right of direct access to his own Government? What is the purpose of making the change if the only result of it is that we are in exactly the same position as before? The Prime Minister said that he would make a statement on this matter. Why has he not made the statement instead of getting the Parliamentary Secretary to do it?

Mr. Birch

As General Clark is the Supreme Commander, clearly he must have the right of access to his own Government. Major-General Shoosmith will be a staff officer at General Clark's headquarters, and therefore he is in a quite different position. With regard to the Prime Minister not having made the statement, the hon. Gentleman will have to endure my doing so.

Mr. A. Henderson

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say whether there is any truth in the statement that has been made that a number of prisoner-of-war camps containing United Nations prisoners of war have been moved to sites near military targets?

Mr. Birch

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the prisoner-of-war camps have not been marked according to the Geneva Convention. I do not think that there is any truth in the suggestion that they have been moved near targets. I have not heard that.

Mr. Chetwynd

As the appointment of Major-General Shoosmith is purely a military matter, what is being done to improve and strengthen the political relationships between the countries concerned? What is being done to improve relations with the Press over this matter?

Mr. Birch

The question of consultation was fully discussed during the last debate. We have the closest consultation through our Ambassador and the British Military Mission in Washington, and there is no reason why that should not work perfectly well. As far as the Press is concerned, I do not think there is anything that I can say.

Mr. Ellis Smith

This means that the United States is going to determine policy.

Mr. Patrick Maitland

Would not the appointment of a British liaison officer with the right of reporting back to this Government entail the appointment of similar liaison officers for all the other members of the United Nations with forces fighting in Korea, which would result in a most cumbersome arrangement at General Mark Clark's headquarters?

Mr. Birch

I said in my statement that all the Governments having troops in Korea have liaison sections in Tokyo through which information is passed, but other Governments have not this appointment of a staff officer.

Mr. Shinwell

The hon. Gentleman did not reply to the first supplementary question about British casualties. May I also ask him whether he realises that the statement about these arrangements made an behalf of Her Majesty's Government must be regarded as most unsatisfactory?

Mr. Birch

I am sorry that I did not answer the right hon. Gentleman's first supplementary question. The United Kingdom casualties since the armistice talks began have been about 1,300.

Mr. Beswick

The Parliamentary Secretary said that General Clark would be able to obtain British reactions through General Shoosmith. Can he tell us how General Shoosmith is to be kept informed of what British opinion is?

Mr. Birch

My noble Friend in another place, when discussing this subject, pointed out that during the war in Italy he had a Deputy Chief of Staff who was an American and from whom he often got the most valuable information and reactions.

Mr. Nabarro

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the enemy will have the greatest difficulty in rehabilitating the power houses on the Yalu River, and in considering that factor will he remember that large quantities of electrical generating equipment have in the last few years been sent from this country to countries east of the Iron Curtain? Will he undertake, with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, to scrutinise very carefully all equipment of that kind leaving this country, in order to make quite sure that nothing which is suitable for hydro-electric plant is sent there?

Mr. Birch

I will certainly convey that to my right hon. Friend, but I think questions on that matter should be addressed to him.

Mr. J. Paton

Is it not the case that everything that the hon. Gentleman has said today in his statement makes clear to the House that every possible link between Major-General Shoosmith and Her Majesty's Government has been severed, and is it not the case that he has repeatedly told us that General Shoosmith does not owe allegiance to Her Majesty's Government in his new appointment but to the United Nations and to the general body of countries in the British Commonwealth? How, then, does the appointment of Major-General Shoosmith in any way whatsoever meet the general demand on all sides of this House, expressed in the recent debate, that there should be more direct and more responsible contact between our Government and the American Command in Korea on political decisions?

Mr. Birch

I said in my statement that political contact between the Governments is maintained at Washington through our Ambassador. That must continue to be the case. This, after all, is a United Nations Command, and officers who are appointed must be loyal to the United Nations Command.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the deep disquiet felt in this country about the present position of Korea does not arise only out of the occasional failures in consultation, but is concerned with what appears to be a total lack of influence or control by this country in a situation which is pregnant with fatal and tragic consequences for the whole world, and that if the changes which have now been made do not, as it appears they will not, enable this country to exert a greater influence both upon negotiations and upon the conduct of affairs, that disquiet will so blow up in this country that it will soon amount to a popular demand for the withdrawal of all our troops from that country?

Mr. Birch

If we enter a campaign with allies, we must be loyal to them.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We must get on. There is no Question before the House.