Battle of Hoàng Sa was a sea battle between the People's Republic of China and the former South Vietnam from January 17 to January 19, 1974 at the Paracel Islands. After France withdrew from Indochina, South Vietnam controlled the islands. After the battle, China controlled and administered the islands.
Historical background Edit
The dispute over the Paracel Islands traces back to the colonial era, as the history of the islands has shown. The Paracel Islands comprises two main clusters. According South Vietnamese claim of the islands, they were called Hoàng Sa and the two clusters were dubbed Nguyệt-Thềm (Crescent cluster) and Bắc đảo or An Vĩnh/Tuyên Đức (Amphitrite cluster). There existed a meteorolgical station, built by France, which was then part of institute of meteorology of Đà Nẵng and was protected by the South Vietnamese army. However, just like the French who laid the claim over the entire islands groups, the actual control of South Vietnamese was only the western half, as the French had. The eastern half of the Paracel islands were controlled by Chinese, first by the Republic of China and then the People's Republic of China. Near the end of the Vietnam War, the South Vietnamese military presence on the islands was reduced to a small local army protecting the Nguyệt-Thềm islands, while during the same period, the military presence of the Republic of China was also rapidly and steadily decreased due to the communist victory in the Chinese Civil War.
On September 22 1958, the Nhân Dân newspaper in Vietnam showed a letter sent by the President of the North Vietnam, Phạm Văn Đồng, to Vice Minister of foreign affairs of People's Republic of China, in which Vietnam recognized the claim of China's sovereignty on the islands on September 4 of 1958. Template:Ref
From 1964 to 1970, the People's Republic of China and South Vietnam had several skirmishes in the region of Hoàng Sa, without incurring any casualties. Template:Ref However, all of these were fishery disputes over the adjacent waters. During this period, South Vietnam also established a small air field at Paracel Islands.
In 1970, the United States and Japan signed the Okinawa Reversion Treaty which reverted sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands (also known as Sento Shosho or Senkaku Retto in Japan) to Japan, which was met by protests from the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan). In the same year Elmo Zumwalt, at a news conference in Guam, announced that Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands were not a priority in US military strategy in the Vietnam War. South Vietnam regarded these exchanges between United States and China, as a threat to South Vietnam's claim over the islands. Template:Ref
In 1971, the People's Republic of China and South Vietnam there were several military confrontations in the region of Paracel Islands. Template:Ref Again, nearly all of them were about the fishery rights in the actual line of control that split the eastern half controlled by China and the western half controlled by the South Vietnam.
In 1974 South Vietnam decided to build a larger air base on Paracel Islands which could support C-7 Caribou for better protection of Nguyệt Thềm. When the South Vietnamese soldiers discovered the presence of additional milita of the Army of the People's Republic of China on the Chinese controlled eastern half, it was decided that the entire Paracel islands must be taken, and the battle begun when South Vietnamese attempted to invade the eastern half controlled by the Chinese.
Order of battle Edit
The Republic of Vietnam side had 4 vessels: two High-endurance Cutters (WHEC) designated RVNS Trần Bình Trọng (HQ-5) Template:Ref and RVNS Lý Thường Kiệt (HQ-16) Template:Ref, a Destroyer Escort (DER) designated RVNS Trần Khánh Dư (HQ-4) Template:Ref, the RVNS Nhut Tao (HQ-10)Template:Ref, one company of South Vietnamese naval commandos, one under-water demolition team, and one platoon of local militia stationed on Hoàng Sa.
The People's Liberation Army Navy originally had 4 vessels for most of the part of the battle: two Type 010 class minesweepers designated No. 389 and 396, two Kronshtadt class submarine chaser numbered 271, & 274. Near end of the battle when the South Vietnamese force was in retreat, two more Hainan class submarine chasers numbered 282, and 281 joined the chase. In addition, two trawlers numbered 402 and 407, and although the trawelers themselves were not armed, the naval militia onboard were armed with light weapons. In addition, four companies of PLAN naval militia on the were on the Chinese controlled eastern half of the Paracel islands.
The South Vietnamese enjoyed 8:1 ratio in displacement and superior firepower, and more advanced infantry weaponry.
The battle Edit
The battle started as usual, as in the past fishery disputes in the diputed waters when on 16 January, 1974, a naval cutter from the South Vietnam, Lý Thường Kiệt (HQ-16), when surveying the Hoàng Sa island for the construction of a new air base discovered the Chinese fishery trawler No. 402 and No. 407 of the People's Republic of China near Cam Tuyền island, and found that the Chinese fishermen (later proved to be naval militia) were in the process of setting PRC flags on Quang Hòa, Duy Mộng and Vĩnh Lạc islands. Although the actual control of the islands were in Chinese hands, the flag rising was something new and with the additional Chinese personnels present, the South Vietnamese worried the situation would get worse.
Prelude of the battle Edit
After urgently communicating with Đà Nẵng, HQ-16 used light signal to demand that the Chinese ships leave Vietnamese territorial waters. The ships of People's Republic of China did not leave and also used light signal to require Vietnamese ships to leave Chinese territorial waters. The Chinese actions only strengthened the South Vietnamese resolve to take over the entire Paracel Islands by dislodging the Chinese from the eastern half of the island they controlled.
On 17 January, 1974, gunship Trần Khánh Dư (HQ-4) arrived in Hoàng Sa with two groups of armies to destroy the Chinese flag on Cam Tuyền island. When the groups had finished destroying the flag and about to leave, two gunships No. 274 and No. 271 of People Republic of China arrived.
On 18 January, 1974, Rear Admiral Lam Nguon Tanh urgently flew from Saigon to Đà Nẵng to command the battle. He ordered restoring Cam Tuyền, Quang Hòa, Duy Mộng and Vĩnh Lạc islands to Republic of Vietnam's control. Two more vessels were sent, Trần Bình Trọng (HQ-5) and Nhật Tảo (HQ-10). At the time, HQ-10 had one engine failed, running on the only one left.
Actual battle Edit
On 19 January, 1974, HQ-5 arrived with two army groups on the south of Quang Hòa island while Army of People's Republic of China arrived on the north of the islands. After a short combat, 3 Vietnamese soldiers were killed and 2 injured. The Vietnamese force was outnumbered and had to leave by HQ-5. It was discovered the Chinese fishermen were in fact the naval militia, the reserve members of PLAN.
Right after, gun ships of the two sides started engaging around Quang Hòa island. The Soviet type command of Chinese was rigid, and did not fare well in the initial combat: due to the political restriction of rule of engagement, namely, not firing the first shot, the Chinese boats were sitting ducks. Gunships of Republic of Vietnam fired first, and with the accurate fire control radar, succeeded in killing the Chinese commissar and the commander of the flotilla. The Chinese were quick to adjust their tactics by getting close to the enemy, thus effectively neutralizing the gunnery, larger displacement and C3I advantages of South Vietnamese. The South Vietnamese were further hampered by the ammunition used: although the Chinese boats were hit many times due to the superior fire control system of South Vietnamese ships, the armor-piercing rounds used by the South Vietnamese simply penentrated one side of the hull and harmlessly continued on thru the other side. The smaller calibre of weaponry onboard the Chinese boats, in contrast, cost much more damage when their shells hit home and the near point blank range of the engagement was more than enough to make up for the manually operated Chinese guns that had to be aimed by sight. The firing lasted about 30 to 45 minutes. During the battle, the two trawlers went to nearby Chinese controlled islands to load up the naval militia, and then joined to the fight by getting close to the enemy and naval militia tossed hand grenades on to the enemy ships while sprayed the targets with rifle and machine gun fires.
According to the South Vietnamese claim, the Republic of Vietnam received a warning from United States: radar of the U.S. Navy had detected that a guided missile frigate and a MIG were on their way from Hainan to Hoàng Sa. Republic of Vietnam demanded an intervention of the United States, however the United States refused. All Vietnamese gunships were then ordered to withdraw. Template:Ref However, this was either an excuse made by the South Vietnamese or an intelligence error because nothing could be further from the truth: China did not have any missile frigates at Hainan island. In fact, the closest Chinese missile frigates were at the northern end of Taiwan Strait, unsure of passing due to the fear that the Republic of China, an ally of South Vietnam, would shell them if they attempted to cross the strait. The only Chinese reinforcement nearby was two Hainan class subchasers and due to the backwardness of the Chinese communications, they were not notified near end of the battle, and only participated in pursuit of the retreating South Vietnamese force.
Results of the battle Edit
The casualties on the South Vietnamese is agreed on by both sides, while they disagreed on the Chinese loss. Many outcomes also resulted.
Vietnamese loss Edit
The South Vietnamese claim on its own casualties were agreed by Chinese: On Vietnamese side, HQ-10 was sunk, HQ-16 were badly damaged, inclined 15 degree, HQ-5 and HQ-4 were hit. Nearly 50 Vietnamese including Ngụy Văn Thà on HQ-10 were sunk with the ship. On HQ-5, 3 killed and 16 injured. Two days after the battle, January 20, the Netherland ship "Kopionella" saved 23 men of HQ-10 who at the time floating around the region. Nine days after, 29 January, Vietnamese fishermen found a group of 15 Vietnamese army members near Mũi Yến (Qui Nhơn), who had participated in the combat on Quang Hòa islands, and escaped on small boat. Template:Ref In addition, China captured 48 prisoners, including 1 American advisor Template:Ref. China later released the prisoners in Hong Kong through the Red Cross.
Chinese loss Edit
However, the South Vietnamese claim of Chinese loss of # 274 being hit and out of combat, # 271 or No. 389 being sunk; No. 389 and No. 396 was heavily hit proved to be greatly exaggerated: although all of the Chinese boats were hit numerious time, most Vietnamese shells passed harmlessly from one side of the hull to the other due to the armor-piercing rounds used, and # 271 & # 389 mostly suffered superfacial damages on hulls, both were back to Hainan Island and were rapidly repaired. The only damage that could be considered serious for these two boats were that the pipes of their engines were hit and greatly reduced their speed, and the replacement of these damaged pipes were more costly in patching up holes on the hull. # 274 suffered more because some of the shells struck were actually block by the equipment installed inside, and thus the shells caused more damage. As a result, # 274 had to stop at the Yongxing Island first for emergency repair, and then sailed to Hainan on its own power next day. # 396 suffered the most, with a shell struck its main propulsion and exploded, causing a fire, and with the help of trawlers # 402 & # 407, it managed to beach itself and put out the fire, and had to be towed back to base. The repair of # 396 was the most costly among all, because the main propulsion diesels had to be replaced. Of the 18 Chinese sailors killed, 5 of them were in the main propulsion machinery room because the fire caused the toxic gas which poisoned the sailors. Due to the backwardness of the Chinese communications, # 281 & # 282 joined the battle too late, and they did not suffer any damages in the pursuit of the enemy.
The overestimation of the Chinese loss by the South Vietnamese might partially due to a combination of factors: Chinese boats had successfully laid smoke screen during the battle, adn thus obscured the Vietnamese vision, and since the radars and other surveillance equipment onbaord the Vietnamese ships were damaged, it was hard to accurately assess the actual Chinese loss. Furthermore, due to the damges, the Chinese boats could no longer pursuit their enemy in their maximum speed, which was not high to begin with, and thus the pursuit task was assigned to the newly arrived # 281 & # 282, which would easily provide the false impression that most Chinese boats in the battle were sunk.
Other outcome Edit
The South Vietnamese attempt to dislodge Chinese from their controlled eastern half of the Paracel Islands not only failed to materialize, but also resulted in losing the western half that was originally under the French and later South Vietnamese control. People's Republic of China controls and governs the whole group of islands after this battle. South Vietnam and later the unified Vietnam continue to claim their sovereignty over the group of islands.
Due to its imminent victory in the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese government changed its acceptance of Chinese control over the Paracel Islands, with Lê Duẩn thanked Mao Zedong for "Liberating the Hoang Sa Islands for us (Vietnam)".
Another unexpected outcome of the battle is that the important sea line of communication of Taiwan Strait had been opened after being closed for around a quarter century. Chiang Kai-shek ordered the Republic of China forces not to shell and intercept the Chinese missile frigates sent to reinforce the Chinese force in the South China Sea, reaffirming the Republic of China's claim of sovereignty.
- Template:Note Security Implications of Conflict in the South China Sea: Exploring Potential Triggers of Conflict A Pacific Forum CSIS Special Report, của Ralph A. Cossa, Washington, D.C. Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1998, trang B-2
- Template:Note Nhân Dân No. 1653, 22 September 1958
- Template:Note Dyadic Militarized Interstate Disputes Data (DyMID), version 2.0 tabulations
- Template:Note Hải Chiến Hoàng Sa, Bão biển Đệ Nhị Hải Sư, Australia, 1989, page 101
- Template:Note DyMID
- Template:Note This vessel is formerly USCGC Chincoteague (WHEC-375), and was transferred to South Vietnam and renamed RVNS Tran Binh Trong (HQ-5). It was later transferred to the Philippines and renamed RPS Andres Bonifacto (PF-7) in 1975 when South Vietnam fell.
- Template:Note This vessel is formerly USCGC Bering Strait (WHEC-382), and was transferred to South Vietnam and renamed RVNS Ly Thuong Kiet (HQ-16). It was later transferred to the Philippines and renamed RPS Diego Silang (PF-9) in 1975 when South Vietnam fell.
- Template:Note This vessel is formerly USS Forster (DER-334), loaned to South Vietnam on 25 September 1971 and renamed Tran Khanh Du (HQ-04). Captured by North Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon and was renamed Dai Ky (HQ-03).
- Template:Note This vessel is formerly USS Serene (AM 300/MSF-300), and was transferred to South Vietnam 24 January 1964. It was re-designated as RVNS Nhut Tao (HQ-10)
- Template:Note Counterpart, A South Vietnamese Naval Officer's War Kiem Do and Julie Kane, Naval Institute, Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1998, chương 10.
- Template:Note Thế Giới Lên Án Trung Cộng Xâm Lăng Hoàng Sa Của VNCH. Tài liệu Tổng cục Chiến tranh Chính trị, Bộ Tổng tham mưu QLVNCH, Sài Gòn, 1974, trang 11.
- Template:Note 西沙海战――痛击南越海军, Xin hua, 20 January 2003, online
- 西沙海战详解[图], online.