1996 Gangneung submarine infiltration incident

Coordinates: 37°43′07″N 129°00′16″E / 37.718680°N 129.004508°E / 37.718680; 129.004508
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Infiltration of Gangneung

The Sang-O-class submarine stranded on the South Korean coast
Date17 September 1996 – 5 November 1996
Result South Korean victory
 South Korea  North Korea
43,000 personnel 1 Sang-O-class submarine
26 personnel
Casualties and losses

12 killed

  • 8 killed in action
  • 4 in accidents
27 wounded

24 killed

  • 11 executed by own men
  • 13 killed in action
1 captured (Lee Kwong-soo)
1 missing
1 submarine captured[1]
4 South Korean civilians killed[1]

The 1996 Gangneung submarine infiltration incident began on 18 September 1996, near the South Korean city of Gangneung when North Koreans abandoned their grounded submarine, and hid within the city resulting in 49 day long manhunt for the belligerents.[2]

The incident was one of the more serious instances of North Korean espionage involving the Reconnaissance Bureau (reconnaissance team and 22nd Squadron of the Maritime Department of the Reconnaissance Bureau).[3] The raid was launched by North Korean armed spies to assassinate the President of South Korea, Kim Young-sam, during his visit to Chuncheon, on 5 October 1996.[citation needed]

Months after the start of the incident North Korea issued a rare apology for the events and ensuing loss of life.[4]


On 15 September 1996, a North Korean Sang-O-class submarine landed a three-person special operations reconnaissance team on the east coast of South Korea near Jeongdongjin, 20 kilometres (12 mi) south-east of Gangneung, Gangwon-do. Their mission was to spy on the naval installations in the area and then return. However, the larger mission was the assassination of South Korean President Kim Young-sam.[5] The "reconnaissance team" alongside the submarine was to help drop off the "assassination" team, survey government facilities, and return.[2] The "assassination team" was to assassinate president Kim Young-sam at Chuncheon, a nearby city.[citation needed] President Kim was planning to visit Chuncheon to open a national sports event to be held on 7 October.[citation needed]

The submarine made a failed attempt to collect the team on the 16th and returned the following day. On the 17th it ran aground in the attempt, and all efforts to free her were unsuccessful.[2]

The crew then decided to destroy the sensitive equipment in the submarine by starting a fire inside.[2] They then split up in several groups unnoticed until one group was soon spotted by a local taxi driver around 1:00 a.m. who became suspicious by their clothing and behavior and alerted the authorities, who quickly mobilized.[2][6]


A 49-day-long manhunt ensued, from September 18 to November 5, resulting in the capture or death of all of the commandos except one,[2] who is believed to have made it back to North Korea.[citation needed]

Four civilians and 12 South Korean soldiers (eight KIA and four in accidents) died; 27 soldiers were wounded. Of the 25 North Korean infiltrators, one was captured, 11 were killed by the other members for failure in responsibility of running aground of the submarine, and 13 were killed in firefights with the South Korean Army.

The infiltrators possessed among their arsenal M16A1 rifles (with accompanying 5.56mm NATO ammunition) and imitation South Korean-style military uniforms.[7][8] Nestlé Crunch chocolate bars were also recovered.[9] Some of the dead spies' corpses were displayed to the media;[10] some were wearing South Korean-style military uniforms as disguises.

Though the last infiltrator has never been found, officials announced the end of the manhunt on November 5, believing the commando to have either escaped across the border or died.[11]

Timeline of belligerent casualties[edit]

  • 18 September, 16:40 – 1 captured by local policemen
  • 18 September, 17:00 – 11 bodies of executed submarine crew members were found
  • 19 September, 10:00 – 3 killed by the South Korean army commandos
  • 19 September, 14:00 – 3 killed by the South Korean army special forces
  • 19 September, 16:00 – 1 killed by the South Korean army
  • 21 September, 20:00 – 1 killed by the South Korean army
  • 22 September, 06:00 – 1 killed by the South Korean army
  • 28 September, 06:30 – 1 killed by the South Korean army
  • 30 September, 16:00 – 1 killed by South Korean special forces
  • 5 November, 10:00 – 2 killed by South Korean special forces

Evidence of activity inside South Korea[edit]

Amidst the manhunt, at least two of the North Korean infiltrators spent a night playing video games at a nearby ski resort (Yongpyong Resort) according to their diaries and rolls of film left behind.[11] The resort is located about 18 miles away from where their submarine ran aground. Film rolls showed pictures taken of a variety of South Korean military installations around.[11] The diary further tells of how the pair lived for two weeks in a shelter they dug in the side of a mountain before making the push north to the border.[11] In all they claim to have travelled some 80 total miles during the manhunt.[12] On their way north they stabbed to death three civilian hikers they encountered and in a separate encounter strangled a South Korean Army private who set out to collect firewood.[11] The bodies of the hikers were discovered soon after. The private was believed to be a deserter until one of the North Koreans was found wearing his uniform.[11]


South Korean officials from both the governing party and opposition party, as well as major newspapers criticized the military for failing to detect the submarine.[13]

  •  South Korea: President Kim Young-sam considered the incident to be a significant provocation and announced that any further actions could lead to war.[2]
  •  North Korea: On December 29 an apology was issued by North Korea for the incident and the loss of life.[2]
  •  UN: On October 15 the UN Security Council officially rebuked North Korea for its actions.[14] China joined in after careful scrutiny of the wording.[14] The statement was the first time the UNSC addressed the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean war in 1953.[14]


The Sang-O class submarine on display (2012)

The Sang-O class submarine was salvaged and remains on display at Tongil (Unification) Park near Gangneung.

North Korea was at first reluctant to take responsibility, claiming that the submarine had suffered an engine failure and had drifted aground.[citation needed] By 29 December, however, the North issued an official statement expressing "deep regret" over the submarine incident.[1] In reciprocity, the South Korean government returned the cremated remains of the soldiers to the North via Panmunjom the very next day, the first event of its kind between the neighboring countries.[15][2]

Some analysts suspected that the motivation behind the assassination of Choe Deok-geun, South Korean consul for the Russian Far East, was North Korean retaliation for the loss of their men.[16][17][18]

Lee Kwong-soo, the only captured North Korean, remained in South Korea and reportedly became an instructor for the ROK Navy.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "North Korea apologizes for submarine intrusion". CNN. 29 December 1996. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Dies Jr, H. P. (2004). North Korean Special Operations Forces: 1996 Kangnung Submarine Infiltration. Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, 30(4), 29–34.
  3. ^ "In 1996, a Dead North Korean Spy Submarine (Armed with Commandos) Nearly Started a War". Center for the National Interest. 13 March 2017.
  4. ^ Smith, Donald C. (1989). "The rhetoric of the weekly compilation of presidential documents". Government Publications Review. 16 (3): 213–217. doi:10.1016/0277-9390(89)90054-x. ISSN 0277-9390.
  5. ^ Lee, Jung-hoon (1996-10-17), "생포간첩 이광수 "침투 목적은 대통령 암살"/Live captured Lee Kwang-soo, "mission was to assassinate the President"", Sisa Journal, retrieved 2022-05-11
  6. ^ Ahn, J. H. (2017-04-05). "The night the North Koreans came ashore: the Gangneung incident, 21 years on | NK News". NK News - North Korea News. Retrieved 2023-01-08.
  7. ^ "A Weapon Displayed From North Korea Special Forces and their Submarine". MBC News. 25 September 1996. Archived from the original on 1 January 2016.
  8. ^ "Equipment of North Korean Special Forces and Espionage". Yu Yong-won's Military World, Chosun Ilbo. 16 April 2013. Archived from the original on 30 November 2022.
  9. ^ "SOUTH KOREA: SUBMARINE INVESTIGATION". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-20. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  10. ^ "SOUTH KOREA: GUN BATTLES FOLLOW NORTH KOREAN INFILTRATION ATTEMPT". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-20. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "South Korean Manhunt Missed a Video Parlor". The New York Times. 8 November 1996. Archived from the original on 25 September 2023.
  12. ^ "In 1996, a Dead North Korean Spy Submarine (Armed with Commandos) Nearly Started a War". 13 March 2017.
  13. ^ a b By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF 1996, North Korea Infiltrators Still Elude Search: Anger over both the incursion and the South Korean Army's conduct, New York, N.Y.
  14. ^ a b c By The New, Y. T. (1996, Oct 16). China Joins Criticism Of North Korea Sub. New York Times
  15. ^ Roblin, Sebastien (2017-03-13). "In 1996, a Dead North Korean Spy Submarine (Armed with Commandos) Nearly Started a War". The National Interest. Retrieved 2023-01-09.
  16. ^ "North Korea denies murdering diplomat", CNN, 1996-10-04, retrieved 2007-06-01
  17. ^ Jeong, Hoe-sang (1996-10-17), "최덕근 영사, 러시아 마피아가 살해했다?/Consul Choe Deok-geun, killed by the Russian Mafia?", Sisa Journal, retrieved 2007-06-01
  18. ^ Bertil, Lintner (2002). Blood Brothers: Crime, Business, and Politics in Asia. Allen and Unwin. pp. 213–214. ISBN 1-86508-419-0.


External links[edit]

37°43′07″N 129°00′16″E / 37.718680°N 129.004508°E / 37.718680; 129.004508