On 18 September 1996, a submarine stranded on the east coast of South Korea, 15 kilometres south of the city of Gangneung. When the South Korean army came to take a look, the submarine was abandoned. Where had the crew gone? And what had happened in the first place? It soon became known that it was a North Korean submarine. Was this espionage by the neighbours to the north and the beginning of a new war? South Korea was in an uproar.
If you visit the city of Gangneung in the east of South Korea, you should definitely visit the Tongil Park or the Unification Park in Jeongdonjin. This is where you will find the infamous North Korean submarine. In this article, I explain what exactly happened and why South Korea was counting on a new Korean War…
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A manhunt begins: 11 people killed
Although South Korea also has border posts along the coast, it was ultimately an unsuspecting passer-by who noticed something strange in the water. He called the police and the army was sent in. On arrival, it turned out that a red and a poisonous green submarine had stranded, but the submarine was empty. The army feared the worst and thought it was a North Korean invasion attempt. A manhunt was launched…
Soon they discovered something terrible in the hills near Gangneung. Eleven North Korean crew members had been shot dead, but it was unclear who had done it. Did they commit suicide or did they kill each other? And what was the end of the search? Later it turned out that one North Korean had indeed shot the rest and then himself. But that was not the end of the manhunt…
Why the population was terrified…?
The South Korean army had no idea if all the crew members had died. But in the days that followed, they eliminated 11 more North Koreans. And luckily they were able to arrest one of them and ask for an explanation. He explained that the submarine had had engine trouble. There were 26 of them in total and they all tried to return to North Korea by land. Whether this story was really true was never made clear, but there was a high degree of truth in it. The South Korean army decided to continue the search of the Gangneung area and urged the terrified population to stay indoors. After 49 days, the last crew members were eliminated. At that time, diplomatic relations between the two countries had never been so bad.
A new Korean war…?
It is still not entirely clear what the aim of the North Koreans was. Was it one of the umpteenth infiltration attempts or was it indeed just engine trouble? By the way, North Korea demanded that the South should return the submarine within two weeks. South Korea refused and demanded an apology or an explanation from the North, but this did not materialise either.
Just after the conflict, a South Korean consul was murdered in Vladivostok. Although South Korea could not prove it, it suspected that North Korean agents were behind the murder. And in 1999, the navies of both countries clashed. Fortunately it did not last long, but it was the first time since the Korean War (1950-1953) that fighting broke out.
And what is the story of the American naval vessel?
Eventually, South Korea decided to exhibit the submarine in the Tongil Park or Unification Park near Jeongdongjin. A visit to this park costs 3,000 won and besides the North Korean submarine, you will also find an American naval ship from 1945 here. And now you are naturally curious about the story of this American naval vessel? Actually, there is not much to tell. During the end of the Second World War and the Vietnam War, this naval vessel was used by the Americans. They decided to donate it to South Korea in 1972.
The unification park costs 3000 won. Besides the North Korean submarine, you will also find an American naval ship from 1945. This ship was used during the end of the Second World War and the Vietnam War. Eventually, it was donated to South Korea in 1972. And in Tongil Park, you can visit this ship in rest…
Visiting the North Korean submarine and Tongil Park in Jeongdongjin, South Korea?
How to get there? Tongil Park is located 20 kilometres southeast of the city of Gangneung. From the train station in Gangneung, a bus leaves for Jeongdongjin every hour. Bus 111, 112 or 113 takes 25 minutes and a ticket costs 1300 won.
Besides the North Korean submarine and the American naval ship, there is a park with military planes and tanks. But if you have been to the war museum in Seoul, this is not a must in my opinion. Unless there is still time left, but you can also combine Tongil Park with the town of Jeongdongjin, which is 5 kilometres to the south. Here you will find the famous Sun Cruise hotel, a building in the shape of a cruise ship.
Opening hours: Tongil Park is open from March to October from 9 am to 5.30 pm and from November to February from 9 am to 4.30 pm. Admission to the park costs 3000 won.
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