Earlier in the morning we had visited the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum (note that the link is to my 2014 visit review) in Pyongyang, an amazing museum by any measure, with its focus on the history of what foreigners refer to as the Korean War. On completing our tour of the museum, we jumped on our bus and headed north, on a ‘field trip’, to visit one of the sites mentioned by our guides in the museum. Our destination was the Konji-Ri Revolutionary Site which was the headquarters of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) for much of the duration of the Korean War.
Sadly, like at the War Museum in Pyongyang, photography was prohibited in the main parts of this site.
As stated in Article 46 of the statute governing the Korean Workers’ Party, ‘The Korean People’s Army is the revolutionary armed forces of the Korean Workers’ Party in the glorious tradition of the anti-Japanese struggle” The reference to the anti-Japanese struggle clearly links the KPA back to Kim Il-sung’s anti-Japanese guerrilla army, the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army which was established on 25 April 1932. This guerrilla army, along with the Korean Volunteer Army (originating in China) and Korean Units of the Soviet Army formed the nucleus of the KPA.
The KPA (which actually incorporates all sections of the armed forces including the air force and the navy) was established on the 8th of February 1948 and by the outbreak of the Korean War, in June 1950, was composed of ten infantry divisions plus other units totalling some 223,000 men and it had its headquarters in Pyongyang. Additional divisions and units were added after the outbreak of the war.
The KPA has played a key role in North Korea since the state was created, particularly so during the leadership of Kim Jong- il (1994-2011) who adopted an Army First/Songun policy on coming to power. Under this policy the army was placed first in the affairs of state and in the allocation of resources, given its fundamental role of maintaining the independence of the country and ensuring that the people did not become colonial slaves of imperialism. In reality, such a policy existed since 1960 in all but name.
While the KPA had early successes in the Korean War and quickly took control of a significant portion of the South, including Seoul, things quickly turned against the North when the United Nations responded with a United States lead coalition counter-offensive. This action drove the KPA back across the 38th Parallel (the border set by the United States and Soviet Union when Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula was brought to an end, at the end of WWII) and up to the Yalu River, the border between China and North Korea. This approach to the Chinese border brought China into the war and things ramped up.
With the North shunted back across the border the US Air Force started an indiscriminate blanket bombing campaign right across the country, aimed at razing the entire country to debris. US Air Force General Curtis LeMay subsequently wrote in ‘Strategic Air Warfare’ – ‘We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another… Over a period of three years or so, we killed off, what, 20 percent of the population?
It is not surprising that the capital, Pyongyang, was a priority target for US air attacks. To protect the military leadership from annihilation, in January 1951 the headquarters of the KPA was moved to a safer location, Konji-Ri, in the hills between the city and what is today the city of Pyongsong.
On arrival at Konji-Ri, our local site guide was quick to follow-on/ repeat the message we had earlier received in the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum of how Kim Il-Sung, as Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, had secured victory in the Fatherland Liberation War (the Korean War) due to his distinguished military wisdom, outstanding strategy and tactics, trust in his people and his loving care for soldier and civilian alike.
We were told how the three-year war, started by the US imperialists, was a fierce fight between the fledgling two year old North Korea and the United States with all its supposed technological advantages and over one hundred years history of, and experience in, military aggression, supported by troops of 15 satellite countries as well as the puppet South Korean army and Japanese militarists. A real David v Goliath story, if ever there was one.
Our guide, with the assistance of a large map at the entrance to the site, showed us how extensive the war-time site was and explained how quickly it had been constructed by heroic soldiers and citizens, to protect the army leadership including, of course, Kim Il-sung.
Very few of the buildings depicted on the map exist today, though this was not due to enemy action which despite all its ‘superiority’ never, we were told, pinpointed the site though it did, by chance, hit it a few times during indiscriminate blanket bombing across the country.
Moving on towards the main part of what is now classified as a Revolutionary Site (one of eight sites across the country connected to the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle, the Victorious Fatherland Liberation (Korean) War or the socialist revolution to have been awarded this prestigious accolade) we passed a few remaining (or reconstructed?) buildings.
The centre piece of the site, on approach, looked like a large, glass fronted, airport hanger, hidden in the forest foliage. See my main picture above.
On entry to the ‘hanger’, a recent addition to preserve what was inside, we found ourselves in what presented as a night-time scene, complete with painted stars on the ceiling, containing a number of buildings which our guide explained were original buildings used by the KPA officers and the leadership, including Kim Il-sung, during the war. To my eyes what we were looking at was later 20th or early 21st century re-creations, on a larger scale than the splendid re-creations of various war scenes, we had earlier viewed in the War Museum in Pyongyang. Whichever the case, the experience was somewhat surreal and certainly unexpected.
Photography from entry into the ‘hanger’ was strictly prohibited. That said, I have managed to locate a picture which will hopefully give my Reader a feel for what we saw.
While being regaled with stories of great courage and heroism we were shown through a number of buildings (some underground, some above ground) within the site with, unsurprisingly, a focus on the rooms used by Kim Il-sung….. his office, his bedroom, his dining room, his meeting room and so on.
Notwithstanding that Kim Il-sung, we were told, managed to visit over 1,000 fighting units including 600 active battle sites, during the war he also spent a substantial amount of time here, where he chaired and guided over 200 meetings of the party, the army and the state between January 1951 and the 27th of July 1953, when the time had ‘come for the U.S, which boasted of being the “strongest” in the world to kneel before the Koreans and sign the document of surrender’ (KCNA.co.jp (En) 24/7/2013 – ‘Kim Il Sung’s Leadership for Victory in War’).
Having completed our perusal of several buildings we finished our tour with a walk though a small outdoor glade where various bunkers, burnt trees, and a bomb casing from American aerial attacks were pointed out to us. I did find it a little odd that trees burnt nearly sixty years ago (and since unprotected from the elements) would still be here and looking as if they were burned a year or two ago… but this is North Korea where supernatural events are not uncommon!
As I indicated earlier, we were told that this site remained undetected by the US and its allies for the duration of the war. Accordingly, we were told that the bomb casing (from an unexploded bomb) that we were shown was a fluke hit by the US which landed very close to where Kim Il-sung was holding a meeting at the time of impact. Another source I have seen indicated that the site was known to the US (via informers such as Pak Hon-yong and Ri Sung-hop) and the bomb which landed here in the summer of 1952 was courageously carried out of the site by soldiers so as to protect Kim Il-sung and the remainder of the army leadership. I cannot ascertain if the casing here today is from the same bomb, brought back in for display purposes.
Suitably enlightened on the KPA and its command during the Korean War it was time to move on, to lunch in nearby Pyongsong and thence the Kim Jong Suk Higher Middle School
My next North Korea – Pyongsong 2018 review HERE
Return to the beginning of my North Korea (2018) – Pyongsong reviews – HERE