Cover image for Blood on the hills : the Canadian Army in the Korean War
Blood on the hills : the Canadian Army in the Korean War
Bercuson, David Jay.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Toronto ; Buffalo : University of Toronto Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 269 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DS919.2 .B47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Korean War represented a series of firsts for Canadian soldiers - their first military action under UN auspices, their first under U.S. corps and army command, their first in Asia as ground troops, and their first in which people at home initially ignored their efforts, and then forgot about them. David Bercuson evokes the tastes and smells, the frustrations, the unfamiliar terrain, the international complexities, and the heroism that made the Korean War an unforgettable experience for those who fought there.

Caught by surprise with only a phantom army, the Canadian government in the summer of 1950 was forced by its major allies to promise a ground combat contribution to the UN effort to push back the Communist invasion of South Korea from the north. The Canadian Army Special Force, as the Korean contingent was first called, was hurriedly raised, trained, and sent to Korea, ill-prepared for a mountain war against a determined, well-armed enemy. Canadian soldiers fought bravely, often against impossible odds, to carry out their mission, but they were hindered by several factors - cautious UN Command strategy, poor British and Canadian defence doctrine, uneven leadership, and inadequate equipment and training. They did their duty, and more, in stopping Communist aggression in its tracks, but the Canadian army chose not to remember the lessons of Korea, even though that conflict, as a limited war, set the pattern for virtually all those that followed.

Blood on the Hills is the first full, non-official history of the Canadian army's operations in the Korean War. The book covers the period from the start of that war to the cease-fire in July 1953 and describes and analyses the mobilization of the Canadian contingent, its training, manning, and equipment, and its efforts in combat. David Bercuson focuses on the many consequences of the army's unreadiness for combat in Korea and on the army's lack of success in learning lessons from its experience in an active theatre of war.

Author Notes

Noted historian Bercuson has uncovered much new information on the Bismarck, including a close examination of the wreck itself, discovered on the ocean floor only in 1989.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Bercuson is a leading Canadian military historian. Based on wide research into the primary sources and many interviews, his well-written history of the Canadian army in Korea is now the basic book on its subject. In July 1950, the Canadian government had no intention of sending its tiny army to fight in Asia, but American pressure forced it to reconsider, and Ottawa decided to raise a brigade off the street. The recruiting process was a shambles, but the brigade eventually made its way to Korea. Although it and its successor battalions performed reasonably well in action, Bercuson is unsparing in his criticisms. The British commanders of the First Commonwealth Division in which the Canadians served were inadequate. The Canadian junior officers were ill-trained, equipment was almost always below standard, and both the army and its men were ill-prepared for the war they faced. What is significant, however, is that Korea taught the army its lesson, and hard training replaced the slapdash methods of 1950-53. Canadian forces in NATO service were very good, and the Korean experience played its part in ensuring this was so. A model military history by a skilled practitioner. All levels. J. L. Granatstein; Canadian War Museum