Tuesday, November 15, 2022

 

  PARACEL ISLANDS NAVAL BATTLE JANUARY 19, 1974

                                                                               by Them Son Ha

Since 1956, the Government of the Republic of Vietnam (GVN) has continuously stationed troops and defended  the Paracel Archipelago to replace the French defensive troops.
Due to the need for domestic warfare, later in the Crescent Group, there was only one Regional Forces (RF) platoon with about over 20 soldiers stationed on Pattle Island.
They do not have means to control the entire territorial sea, so the Chinese "fishing boats or trawlers" _ some of these belonging to the 'maritime militia' a part of the PLA Navy, armed with weapons_ take advantage of the situation, entering the Crescent Group,  operating commercially and carrying out reconnaissance activities.

Not giving up the intention to seize Paracels when the opportunity came, since 1956, Communist China began to build up and expand facilities on Woody Island in the Amphitrite Group, about 40 nautical miles from the Crescent Group.

The CIA daily report submitted to the President of the United States in April 1973 and other reports in the previous two years showed that between April and August 1971 the Chinese dredged the entrance to Woody port deeper [1] and in 1972 the quay was extended to 1500 ft in order to accommodate oceangoing ships. On the island there are about 142 buildings. Military forces, anti-aircraft sites, a radar facility are also identified by US reconnaissance aircrafts [2].
In 1973 storage facilities were built on Woody and Rocky Islands large enough to hold up to 3 million gallons of petroleum [3].

The opportunity came, after signing the Paris Agreement in January 1973. The United States withdrew its forces from the territory of the RVN, China began to proceed and come up with a plan to occupy the entire Paracel Archipelago of Vietnam for a long time.

In addition to the main reason mentioned above, there are a few other important reasons:

• Oil potential off the southern coast.

• The trend of the North Vietnamese Communists shifted further and further away from China in favor of the Soviet Union.

• The growing discord between the Soviet Union and China forced the Chinese to move forward to prevent the Soviet navy from expanding in the East Sea and Indian Ocean.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (US Department of Defense) in the analysis concluded: "The speed of the build up, the presence of a number of camouflaged ships and the professional manner in which both naval and ground forces conducted themselves, indicate a high state of training and the possibility of contingency or operational planning" and "It is considered that a substantial number of these units would have been deployed to Yulin by late December had the PRC preplanned the Paracels confrontation for mid-January.” (4)

In a telegram sent to the US Department of State on January 20, Ambassador Martin made a very accurate comment: “Obviously the PRC is not engaged in simple reinforcement of it forces in the Paracels but in a well planned operation to seize the islands.” [5]

Documents of the US Army Department, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of State, CIA provided through the FOIA request by the author confirmed the undeniable fact that the senior leaders of the PRC had intended to usurp Paracels from the beginning fall 1973 began with reconnaissance and rehearsal activities after completely converting the Woody Island into a logistics base.                      

Up until now, PRC still conceals the truth about the Paracels naval battle; popular articles and interviews are often exaggerated, false and propaganda.

The official Communist statement on the Paracels incident, which was published on January 19, falsely accused:
“Since January 15, the Saigon authorities in South Vietnam have brazenly sent warships and airplanes to intrude into China’s territorial waters and space around and over the Hsisha (Paracel) Islands, forcibly occupy Chinese islands and open fire at Chinese fishermen engaged in production and Chinese naval vessels on normal patrol duty. They have thus flagrantly infringed on China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and made frantic provocations against the Chinese people.
Around 1:00 PM on January 15, warships sent by the Saigon authorities carried out harassment and sabotage against Chinese fishing boat no. 402 which was engaged in production near the Kanchuan (Robert) Island, shelled the island flying the national flag of the People’s Republic of China and tried unreasonably to make the Chinese fishing boat leave China’s own waters.
Around 8:00 AM on January 17, troops of the Saigon authorities invaded China’s Chinyin (Money) Island. At 3:00 PM, occupied China’s Kanchuan (Robert) Island and blatantly took down China’s flag there.
On the afternoon of January 18, two naval vessels of the Saigon authorities truculently and unreasonably rammed Chinese fishing boats no. 402 and no. 407, and wrecked the pilothouse of the no. 407 fishing boat North of Linhyangchiao Reef (Antelope Reef).”

Around 7:00AM on January 19, troops of the Saigon authorities attempted to occupy China’s Chenhang (Duncan) Island. Chinese fishermen on the island waged a righteous struggle by reasoning with them and demanded that they leave China’s territory. However, the troops fired at Chinese fishermen, killing and wounding a number of them. Driven beyond the limits of forbearance, the Chinese fishermen fought back heroically and repelled their attack.
[6]

In addition, some other articles claim that due to lack of preparation, they hurriedly mobilized forces. Such as Kronstadt 271 just left the shipyard and had not completed its sea trial, Kronstadt 274 diesel engines were in poor condition, so they could not reach its full operational capacity, and in a state of despair, the 389 had just undergone major shipyard repairs and was not yet certified for sea duty. Worse still, the South Sea Fleet’s most capable frigates, the Type 065s, were unable to get underway at all and even without a transport ship, had to use 271, 274 Kronstadt ships carrying 40 armed militiamen (4 platoons) landed on Duncan and Drummond in the night of January 18 ...

Largely based on Chinese’s documents, articles by a number of famous foreign scholars had written mostly to defend the Communist China, so they accidentally supported the propaganda, and adorned their great victory!

Not only that, a number of articles and programs on Youtube from the Vietnamese community at home and abroad also deliberately follow this trend!

From the invader, the PRC became victims, in self-defense.
While the RVN was portrayed as aggressive and provocative.

However, from other sources there is a contrasting article confirming the PRC “has 6 class 6604 submarine chasers that can be used at Yu Lin base. Two in good condition were selected and then best engineered on each, these two bearing numbers 271 and 274 (http://www.81.cn/hj/2015-02/03/content_6314534_5 .htm) coincides with CIA documents confirmed prior to January 13 at the Yu Lin Naval Base and the nearby Ya Lung base there were five Kronstadts in operational condition. (CIA-RDP78T04752A001400010007-5 February 1974)

On the morning of January 19, two transport ships landed 400 regular soldiers on Duncan Island, on January 20 the destroyer number 502 (type 065, PRC had 5 ships) provided naval gunfire support for the infantry force.

CIA ‘Report to President Nixon’ on February 28 showed that at Crescent group and Amphitrite group the PRC forces had a total of 35 warships, of which there were 2 Romeo-class submarines and 2 destroyers. (DOC_0006007686_February 28, 1974)


The analysis of the US Department of Defense stated that the civilian leadership of PRC took the initiative, the political rather than the military factor was the main influence on the actions of China in the confrontation at Paracels.

And the PRC considered the political factor when deciding not to attack the VNN warships when they were making the landings on Duncan Island, because this was the time when the VNN ships were most vulnerable. [2]

Apparently the PRC did not want to be the side that initiated the open fire as agreed in previous 2 months between Mao Zedong and Nixon:


(Memorandum From Kissinger to President Nixon November 19, 1973)

When their plan was to provision all the forces including the Air Force to ensure a sure victory once the battle broke out, they would not have to flex the muscle to show off forces.

They deliberately concealed their real forces, especially when the Crescent Group was just about 43 nautical miles (80 km) from Woody Island, and about 150 nautical miles from the important naval base Yulin.

This was also the intention of the PRC, because if they mobilized their powerful forces, the high ranking leaders of the VNN forces might hesitate to commit the use of force. Then the naval battle may not happen and their dream of capturing Paracels will not be fulfilled.

On the contrary, the VNN commanders seemed subjective and erroneous about the enemy's capabilities, only interested in their immediate capacity with 2 Kronstadts and 2 fishing boats while our side had 3 large warships and 1 peer.

Therefore, when the coast guard cutter HQ 5 arrived at the area, the three VNN ships formed formation to show off force.

And also because of contempt for the enemy forces, the First Coastal Zone (1CZ) commander submitted to the VNN CNO: “I think the sooner the better. Because they're not ready yet.”

This is the trap that the Chinese Communist has set out and the Republic of Vietnam has been entangled in as confirmed by DIA analysis: “An underestimate of PRC strength seems to have been a factor in the RVN decision to use military force.”

PREPARATION PHASE

Reconnaissance: the PRC "trawlers" are free to enter and exit in the waters of the Crescent group for many years. Since these fishing vessels on the surface appear to be interested in commercial fishing, their regular presence in the waters of the RVN is not impeded.

In addition to fishing, these vessels also served as a platform for intelligence gathering.

Evidence that they are "paramilitary" force under the PLAN has been confirmed by US air reconnaissance many times since March 1973 when they were detected in China’s Navy bases.
(CIA-RDP78T04752A0004000110006-7 May 1973 and CIA-RDP78T04752A001300010004-9 January 1974)

According to Jane's Fighting Ships 80-81: “In the early 1950s, certain ships of the deep-sea and coastal fishing fleet were formed into the Maritime Militia. These ships, under control of the local branch of the party, carry members of the Young Communist League and, when required, act in support or as a cover for naval forces. Their normal task is reconnaissance and surveillance but, on occasions, they have been armed with machine guns (eg. Paracel Islands, 1974)

With completely unrestricted access to areas selected as the ultimate target in the Crescent group including the uninhabited islands of Duncan, Drummond, Robert and Money, the crew of the fishing boats “had the opportunity to take pictures of each island, to update on the charts of shallow waters and to explore the landing sites used later.”

In the case of Pattle, an island where a platoon of the RF is stationed, the Chinese uses tricks to take advantage of the humanity and hospitality of the Vietnamese to gather information.

DAO employee (Officer) Gerald Kosh and several other Vietnamese witnesses were told by the Vietnamese troops based on Pattle that several times around the fall of 1973, a delegation of Chinese goodwill landed on the island. Each time, a team landed from a fishing boat onto the island and presented gifts "like food and water" to the RF platoon stationed on the island. Although expressing friendly purpose of these visits, but through the familiarity with the topography of Pattle Island, the attack force showed eloquently that these "goodwill" delegations were in fact just intelligence gathering teams. [7]

The US Embassy in Saigon confirmed that before October 1973, there had been a few times of social interaction between two forces in the Paracel Archipelago. [8]

In addition, they also observed and monitored the periodic activities of the VNN warship of replacing the RF platoon and the meteorological team on the Pattle Island.

• Rehearsal: after fully understanding the topography, defenses sites and capacities of the RF platoon on Pattle Island, TC started the training operations.

US air reconnaissance flights have documented evidence that as early as mid-December 1973 and possibly before September 1973 the PRC actively trained their attack force for the January 20, 1974 operation as recorded in the document title: “Chinese Amphibious Assaults in the Paracel Archipelago January 1974”.


And this coordination and planning was approved from Ye Jianying, Deng Xiaoping to the higher authority of Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and Chairman Mao Zedong.

• PLAN CONTINGENCY
The point to emphasize is that in the PRC plan, there were two methods to usurp Paracels.

a.- Adopt a plan quietly, limiting the use of force.
This method was first decided by Communist China.

With careful investigation, the PRC knew the replacing cycle of the RF platoon and the meteorological team stationed on Pattle.
They observed the VNN warship making the last replacement of troops in late November 1973.

Thus, the next mission to replace the troops in a 3-month cycle will occur as early as March 1974 or later.
Shortly after the last training was terminated around mid-December 1973, they launched a plan of invasion in early January 1974 before suddenly claiming sovereignty over all of the islands in East Sea (South China Sea) area on 11/01/1974.

Initially, the PRC sent troops to occupy two uninhabited islands, Duncan and Drummond, more than 8 nautical miles from Pattle Island (about 15 km east of Pattle).

After completing basic military defense facilities on these two islands, they moved to Robert and Money.
On January 10, the meteorological team on Pattle Island reported that there were unidentified ships anchored in the area of ​​Robert Island.

If the coast guard cutter HQ 16 was not assigned to go to Pattle Island on a special mission, with the RF force on the island too weak, with loose discipline and lack of weapons, in addition too friendly regardless of who you are, ... just one or two fishing boats in disguise, pretending to go ashore to visit in goodwill as done before, they would easily overwhelm the RF team to take over Pattle Island.


Then the Chinese will land troops to occupy and establish defenses on all islands in the Crescent Group.
So they would take Paracels quietly and it’s over for the RVN.
 
b.- Using adaptive means according to the changing circumstances.
The PRC’s plan also intended to rule out the ARVN's ability to win and recapture Paracels once the battle broke out, thus strengthening a powerful navy reserve force at Yulin Naval Base:

And at the nearby Ya Lung base there are also two Kronstadts.

(CIA-RDP78T04752A001400010007-5 February 1974).
Especially in Woody Island area, there are 2 submarines of Romeo class and 8 torpedoes (4 P-4 Huchwan).

(CIA-RDP78T04752A001600010012-7 May 1974)  

As for the Air Force, intelligence sources indicate that four MIG-15 fighters belong to the 12th Division of the Naval Air Force (Naval Air Division under PRCNAF- People's Republic of China Naval Air Force) based in Yulin supported naval units in the operation.[4]
In addition, 20 navy MIG-15s and six airborne reconnaissance MIG-19s were moved to Lingshui Air Base in Hainan.

These planes did not participate in the operation, but were placed in combat readiness.
Not only that, PRC has moved about 100 fighter jets of all kinds to the Sui-Ch’i (or Suihsi, Suixi) airport to respond when necessary. [4]

After preparing their forces and building up a defense system on the two islands of Duncan, Drummond, the Chinese began to send fishing boats to Robert and Money Islands

However, the unexpected mission to Paracels by the VNN cutter HQ 16 changed the plan.

They openly confronted and mobilized more forces in response to the changing situation.


                           IMPLEMENTATION OF THE PLAN

On January 10, the 1st Coastal Zone Command (1CZ) received a report from the Pattle Island meteorological station that an unidentified vessel was anchored in the Robert Island area.

However, it is possible that because this is considered as a normal activity, similar to the previous reports, the authorities paid no attention and had no countermeasures.

On January 11, the China Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a statement castigate the RVN for "... putting more than 10 islands of China ‘s Nansha Islands  under the administration of South Vietnam’s Phuoc Tuy province ..."

The PRC was apparently reacting to a September 6, 1973 Government of Vietnam administrative decree incorporating a number of Spratly Islands into Phuoc Hai village, Dat Do district, Phuoc Tuy province.

Although the statement focused on the Spratly Islands, located about 400 nautical miles south of the Paracel Islands, the PRC also reiterated the claim to all the islands of the East Sea including the Paracel Islands.

This was the first time the PRC claimed "... the natural resources in the seas” also belong to China as well

In addition, the statement asserted that the PRC would “never tolerate” an infringement on its territorial integrity--the same warning it had directed against the Philippines in 1971-- but again did not threaten any specific retaliation.

Immediately after the PRC claimed sovereignty over both Paracels and Spratlys, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of the RVN on January 12, 1974, reacted through a statement "reasserting South Vietnam's claims to both the Spratly and Paracel Islands and that the RVN is determined to protect its sovereignty and territorial intergrity.” [9]

Subsequently, on January 16, 1974, the MFA published the "Declaration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Vietnam” in the Press conference accused [PRC boats entered Paracel Islands waters and put people ashore “in violation of SVN sovereignty”, sees “sudden challenge” as threat to peace and security of region.] [10]

 ***************************************

 

LTG Ngo Quang Truong Commander  of 1st Corps/Military Region 1 planned someday visit Pattle Island by airplane. He did not know if he could land on the island or not. Commodore Ho Van Ky-Thoai Commander of the First Coastal Zone (1CZ) wants to make sure that this is possible, therefore he send ship out there to see if they could build an airstrip or something like that. [11]

JANUARY 14, 1974

Implementing the intentions of LTG Truong, the 1CZ directed CDR Le Van Thu captain of Coast Guard cutter Ly Thuong Kiet - HQ 16 to go to Pattle Island with the mission of researching the possibility of building an airstrip on this island.

Accompanying the trip were 3 officers and 2 non-commissioned officers of the Headquarters I Corps/Military Region I lead by Major Pham Van Hong, LT Tran Kim Diep Chief of Bureau of Intelligence 1CZ and Gerald Emil Kosh DAO employee at the U.S. Consulate in Da Nang.

According to Commodore Thoai, the reason this American joined the Engineering team because “He was from General Truong to the U.S. Embassy. But anyway, this guy was sent because the generals in I Corps had the habit of inviting guests everytime there was some visit or something. And that day, General Truong wanted to know if we could build an airstrip out here, or something like that. So, he asked his G-3 to send someone. And it happened that the Chief G-3 called the consular general, his counterpart… And then the consular general just sent the guy to take pictures. That is all. And he went just for fun. And he came to see me; his name I forget. And I said, "all right, no problem." I didn't know that we would have a battle or anything like that.

I don't know if we're going to have a fight or anything like that. Because the ship was supposed to go back the next day. He just came there, and then I remember leaving Danang Monday* night and I planned to have him back to Danang Wednesday* morning.” [11]

Neither the U.S. Embassy nor the Naval Command in Saigon were reported on G. Kosh's Paracels trip.

HQ 16 left Da Nang at 17: 50H.

On the same day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Vietnam announced the statement of the government of the RVN affirming Vietnam's sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Archipelagos and 'The Government of the RVN is determined to defend the sovereignty of the State on these islands at any cost. '

JANUARY 15, 1974

President of RVN Nguyen Van Thieu (President Thieu) begins a round of Tet holiday visits to combat units, throughout the country.

He arrived in Quang Ngai province January 15 where he visited a number of units in the field. [12]

After 16 hours at sea, HQ 16 arrived at Pattle Island at 10: 00H, anchored in the Southeast, prepared to release the small craft to bring the delegation on shore.

Completing the mission, HQ 16 weighed anchor and floated in the east of Robert Island.


LTJG Dao Dan, the officer on duty from 12:00H to 15:00H was on the bridge during his watch. At 14:40H, he detected the PRC flag on Robert’s Island; also there was an estimated 100 ton fishing boat near the shore flying a red Chinese flag with hammer and sickle. The boat was number 402 and was named Ngu (written in Chinese). There were two antennas and a crane to operate the fishing nets visible on board the boat, but no fishing nets or weapons were seen, reportedly the boat was known to have anchored in the area on 10 Jan 1974. There were many junks around the boat.

HQ 16 used light signals to query the fishing boat of their business in the area but received no reply.

Immediately after that, LTJG Dan reported the incident to the CO. The Captain ordered him 'to fire a 30 caliber machine gun to both draw their attention and drive it away from the island'. [13]

This series of warning shots was distorted by the Chinese through the ‘Declaration of China on the Paracels incident on January 19, 1974': “Around 1:00 on January 15, warships sent by the Saigon authorities carried out harassment and sabotage against Chinese fishing boat No. 402 which was engaged in production near the Robert Island, shelled the island flying the national flag of the People's Republic of China and tried unreasonably to make the Chinese fishing boat leave China’s own waters.” [6]

At this time, the boat still ignored light signals and warning shots from HQ 16. At 17:30H, the CO sent a small craft with six personnel on board to check on the intruding boat, however as the small craft approached the boat, personnel aboard the Chinese boat used gestures to signal to the crew in the small craft that they should not come any closer, they also pointed to the PRC flag on the island,

With the stubborn demeanor from the crew of the PRC fishing boat and receiving no other instructions, the captain ordered the small boat return to the cutter at 18:00H.

Then HQ 16 received orders from 1CZ to explore the remaining islands of Money, Duncan and Drummond.

Immediately after receiving the report of the discovery of the Chinese fishing boats and the PRC flag on Robert Island, the Navy Headquarters contacted the U.S. Defense Attaché Office (DAO) and was informed that there was no record of PRC artillery on the island.

The Navy asked DAO to send the P-3 reconnaissance aircraft of the US Navy, DAO recommended to request the Vietnamese Air Force to fly out to observe. [14]

President Thieu arrived in Da Nang in the late afternoon, having dinner at the 1st Logistical Command in My Khe.

Commodore Thoai Commander of 1CZ was present at the party, he reported the presence of a Chinese boat to the President.

On the same day, the bill to amend the constitution drafted and sponsored by the pro-executive faction was brought before bicameral legislature. This bill gave President Thieu and his successors the right to run for a third term and the presidency would be extended to five years instead of four.

JANUARY 16, 1974

After spending the night in Da Nang, at 08:00H President Thieu and his entourage including  LTG Le Nguyen Khang, Deputy Chief of the Joint General Staff in Operations, BG Tran Dinh Tho, Assistant Chief of Staff J-3, and LTG  Ngo Quang Truong I Corps Commander arrived at 1CZ Headquarter.

After listening to the briefing from Commodore Thoai, although there were two generals of the JCS and Commander of 1st Corps present, President Thieu did not give any instructions to them, but gave specific orders to Commodore Thoai:

 The habit of President Thieu in giving orders directly to the commanders of units without going through the military command system was demonstrated in the Paracels incident:

• RADM Tran Van Chon the Vietnamese Navy Chief Of  Naval Operations (VNN CNO):
"The President ordered Mr. Thoai and then Mr. Thoai reported to me and asked for sending the ships to reinforce (Da Nang), I said to him that just do what the President ordered him.”

• LTG Dong Van Khuyen, Director General of the ARVN Logistics Department: “During inspection trips, he usually gave direct orders to corps commanders; on other occasions, he wrote to them personally. Several important actions, therefore, were undertaken without the JGS knowledge or control. The unfortunate skirmish with Red Chinese warships in the Paracels in early 1974 was a case in point. He made the decision to take on the Chinese after listening to a briefing by the naval commander of MR-1, without even informing the JGS. [15]

Completing MR-1 Jan 16 tour with a trip to visit the soldiers stationed North of the Hai Van pass President Thieu then left 1CZ

Enforcing order from 1CZ, in the morning, HQ 16 continued to explore other islands in the Crescent Group, discovered people on Duncan Island and boats moving around Drummond Island, then returned to reconnaissance on Money Island. .

At 11:00H, personnel from HQ 16 went ashore Money Island. They found a grenade, a bottle of Suntory alcohol, and an empty cache.

While waiting for the landing team to return to the ship, HQ 16 spotted a PRC boat moving around Robert’s Island, however, the boat could not be identified because of the distance.

At 12:25H, the team returned to the ship after placing 2 RVN flags on the island, then at 13:00H HQ 16 received orders to pick up  the team that landed on Pattle Island on the previous day and return to the ship, including Gerald Kosh.

At 16:00H HQ 16 received orders to land a platoon to defense Money Island.

At 19:30H, HQ 16 returned to the vicinity of Money Island but was unable to land personnel because of darkness and coral around the island.

The 1CZ Command gave approval to the cutter to continue patrolling around the island during the night of January 16 and to land personnel on the island in the morning of January 17.

In response to HQ 16's report of PRC sending more boats to Paracels, 1CZ Commander ordered CO of HQ 4 (Destroyer Escort Radar) CDR Vu Huu San to go to Paracels to reinforce HQ 16.


HQ 4 which was patrolling the Quang Ngai waters immediately returned to Da Nang military jetty around 17:00H.

The CO was asked to attend an emergency meeting at the 1CZ Operations Center.

At 21:30H, after completing refueling and stocking daily supplies HQ 4 left Da Nang for the Paracels with 27 Coastal Defense Special Seaforces and a photographer aboard.

 On the same day, the Vietnamese Foreign Minister Vuong Van Bac tells a press conference that PRC boats entered Paracel Islands water and put people ashore: [“In violation of SVN sovereignty, sees “sudden challenge” as threat to peace and security of region] [16]

In the meantime, in accordance with international regulations, naval units of the RVN instructed those men and ships violating the land and sea territory of the RVN to leave the area.

In addition, the RVN Foreign Minister sent a note to the President of the United Nations Security Council, noting that: “the sudden challenge by Communist China of the RVN’s sovereignty over the Paracels archipelago and its violation of the RVN’s sovereignty are unacceptable. They constitute a threat to the peace and security of this region.
The Government and people of RVN are determined to defend their sovereignty and their territorial integrity and reserve the right to take all appropriate measures to this end…Therefore the Government of the RVN wishes to request the Security Council to take all appropriate measures that the council deems necessary to correct that situation.”
[16]

 JANUARY 17, 1974

Continuing his call on troops in the field, on the morning of January 17, President Thieu arrived at II Corps and visited the 47th Regiment of the 22nd Infantry Division in Pleiku, the unit which was engaged in the recapture of Plei Kjerang.

Then he went to Quang Duc province, visiting the 45th Regiment, the unit which retook Kien Duc district, at its base camp in Duc Lap district. That afternoon, he visited the Ranger outpost near Daksong. [17]

Executing the 1CZ directive from the previous afternoon, at 07:45H, HQ 16 organized a team consisting  of 15 men led by LTJG Lam Tri Liem as the team leader equipped with small arms, one signal gun, one PRC-25 radio, shovel and hammer utilizing a rubber raft to land on Money island at 08:30H and proceeded with their search. They found six Chinese tomb stones which were destroyed per instructions of the captain of the cutter to destroy all foreign relics.

With the intention to retake the islands occupied by the PRC, the VNN Command strengthened the forces by ordering the Seal team, consisting of 5 officers and 38 soldiers, with full equipment, weapons and food to leave Tan Son Nhut airport, Saigon at 10:15H for Da Nang.

They arrived at Da Nang at 14:00H waiting for orders to continue on to Paracel Islands.

- At 13:50H and 14:45H an unidentified plane flew high over the Paracel Islands from SW to the NE and vice versa.
- At 14:42H HQ 16 spotted another Communist motorized junk with high smoke stack approaching the two Communist boats 402 and 407 at Robert Island.
- At 14:46H HQ 800 left Saigon, expected to arrive in Da Nang at 14: 00H on January 20, 1974.

HQ 4 arrived at Robert Island at 15:00H, HQ 4’s Captain was assigned as a Officer In Charge (OIC) and immediately executed orders from 1CZ to land 27 Special Seaforces (SS) ashore on the West side of the island. HQ 4 remained 1000 yds offshore. HQ 16 was positioned off the SE side of the island. Two of the Communist boats were 1000 yards S-SW of the island. At the time HQ 4 lowered her small craft to take the SS ashore, the Communist boats also lowered their landing craft. However by the time HQ 4 completed lowering her small craft, the Communist trawlers hoisted  their small craft up.

The SS team landed on shore shortly after15:10H and began to search the island, they found:
- 1 old rotten red flag.
- A newly painted red board 1m in length and 0.2 m in width, on it were Chinese character stating: "People's Republic of China, inviolate territory."
- 2 steles, one was a Vietnamese warrior monument, about 2 meters square, 0.3 meter in height, engraved with the words "First Landing Regiment Brigade, Marine group", then one star above the words "1st Battalion 42 on December 5, 1963."
- 2 reservoirs with cement floors and 1 small temple with a date indicating construction of it had begun on November 24, 1963.
The flag and board were confiscated.

At 16:00H, the two Communist boats lifted anchor and drifted, HQ 4 approached them within 50 meters in an effort to observe, one of the HQ 4 crew tried to converse in Chinese but no one on the two boats would answer.

HQ 4 gave the following description of the boats: “they were both the same model and were number 402 and 407. They were 35 meters long, six meters wide, tonnage 140 tons and were both painted dark blue. A 25 mm gun with magazine was seen on each of the boats behind the smoke stack with the gun barrels pointed out, other portion of the decks of the boats were covered and consequently no other guns were visible. The control tower was in the middle of the boat and the smoke stacks were two third forward. Each boat carried two cranes with one on the bow and the other on the stern, there were also two antenna posts with strings (thought to be antenna ropes) on the decks of the boats. The hulls of them were steel and the rudders were V shape (Ha Long type), there were many rafts painted red and white, three lift boats painted white and one steel boat on the deck of the boats. An estimated 30-35 men, dressed in blue were setting on the deck observing the VNN ships.”

According to G. Kosh, the crew is about 15 people, but the boat is capable of carrying up to 100 soldiers when used on military targets.

At 18:10H HQ 4 sent rubber boats with personnel who spoke Chinese to contact the personnel on the two Communist boats but the boats drifted 6 nautical miles east of Robert Island and the rafts were unable to approach them.

 Although the two fishing boats were revealed to be two armed fishing boats, but the instructions written in the manuscript of  President Thieu were too general, 'you just comply with international law… At sea you just make some motion that international law request you to do' [11], and was understood by Commodore Thoai that he had to use peaceful means instead of using force to protect the territorial integrity of the RVN, so he did not instruct HQ 4 and HQ 16 to take tough measures.

When HQ 4 arrived in the area, the PRC knowing that their forces were weaker than the RVN, they immediately sent the ships to reinforce. At 18:20H two ships of the Kronstadt class appeared on the horizon in the Duncan Island area heading toward Robert Island.


The Captain of HQ 4 reported these were also Red warships; he further reported the ships were traveling at approximately speed at 27 knots, armed with 3 guns [2 cannons 37 mm and one 3.9 ”100 mm gun (Noted: actually 3.5” 85 gun).

HQ 4 used light signals to inform the Communist ships that they had entered RVN territorial waters and requested them to move out. PRC ships replied that this was their territory and requested the HQ 4 to move out.
[Contents of the documents of the Chinese ships transferred to HQ 4 by light signals are as follows:

• “This is People Republic of China territorial water, you should leave out”.

• “Since ancient time Xisha Island has been China territorial. This is a fact no one can deny. You leave at once”.

• “From the Navy of the People Republic of China. You should off territorial water.”]

The two Communist ships continued moving around Robert Island demonstrating a hostile attitude, while HQ 4 and HQ 16 kept a friendly attitude awaiting for further orders.

At 18:50H 1CZ Command sent a request to VNN HQS for further instructions.

The Operation Department of the VNN Command requested the Sea Operation to direct:

        - Vietnamese warships operating in the Robert Island area to approach the island calmly, but with resolve to let the Communist warships know that the islands belonged to the RVN.

        - Vietnamese warships not to be the first to provoke an incident.

        - In addition, the Sea Operations could call for additional warships reinforcements and fighter planes when necessary.

- At 19: 18H, the two Kronstadt ships and two fishing boats left the vicinity of ​​Robert Island enroute to Duncan Island.

- at 21: 15H HQ 16 reported that her radio working frequency was being jammed by the Communist and consequently Sea Operations Command directed the CO of HQ 16 to use the special operation frequency.

Planning to send troops to retake Drummond Island, at 23:00H the 1CZ Commander directed HQ 4 to destroy any red items remaining on Robert and Money Islands and pickup the SS on Robert and place them on Drummond  Island before dawn of January 18.

Facing the situation that both the RVN and the Chinese army increased their forces to the theater that could lead to military clashes, Spokeman at U.S. Department of State (US DOS) said that “US has no claim to islands and otherwise not involved, and it is for claimants to settle among themselves. Also international adjudication not tests of strength, should be used to solve such disputes.” [17]

In the meantime, US DOS directed Ambassador Martin to meet and emphasized with Foreign Minister Vuong Van Bac the following 4 points:
a.- Necessity to play it cool.
b.- Avoid any action that would lead to escalation.
c.- Try to move conflict immediately to diplomatic arena such as United Nations Security Council.
d.- That under no foreseeable circumstances could we foresee the possibility 0f U.S. military force involvement in any way. [18]

On the afternoon of January 17, a delegation led by CNO of the VNN RADM Tran Van Chon, including CAPT Do Kiem, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations came to see Prime Minister Tran Thien Khiem briefing him about Paracels, but did not receive any instructions from him.

In Vung Tau, the change of Command ceremony of the WHEC Tran Binh Trong - HQ 5 had just finished, the new Captain of the cutter HQ 5, CDR Pham Trong Quynh was ordered to head to Da Nang.

HQ 5 entered Da Nang port around 10:00H. On the pier, the 127mm cannon shells were ready available plus the ration-C and dry foods.

The captain ordered a 100% ban on the crew. Only food staff were allowed to go to the market. All remaining staff took care of fresh water, fuel and ammunition supplies, but had to be completed by 19:00H.

The 1CZ invited the CO, Executive Officer and other staff officers to meet at 1CZ Command.

Around 16:00, 43 Seals came aboard HQ 5; the sailors belonging to the culinary section returned with fresh food.


Finished briefing, the delegation of officers returned to the ship, and the XO instructed the crew to be ready to depart for Paracels in the night.

Initially, 1CZ Commander chose CAPT Nguyen Van Thien, who was the Commander of the Transport Flotilla (II Squadron) of the fleet because he knew Thien better and more able, but CAPT Thien was in Nha Trang at this time to try to salvage HQ 406 that ran aground in Nha Trang, so CAPT Ha Van Ngac Commander of  Patrol Flotilla (III Squadron) was the senior officer of the VNN Fleet currently in Da Nang and was appointed to be the Officer in Tactical Command (OTC).

After having dinner with Commodore Thoai, CAPT Ngac joined the ship, and HQ 5 became the flagship.

More than two months assigned to the 1CZ, HQ 10 (PCE­­ - Nhut Tao) returned to Da Nang after the last mission  to hand over the area of ​​responsibility to HQ 11 (PCE - Chi Linh).

All of the ship’s crew were delighted at the thought that the upcoming return to Saigon would coincide with the Lunar New Year's Day.

Suddenly on the afternoon of January 17, 1974, the ship received an urgent order go to Paracels with cutter Tran Binh Trong HQ 5.

HQ 10 speedily receives food, water and fuel. Right after that, around 8:00 pm she departed  for Paracels ahead of HQ 5 with only one engine operating.


On the way to Paracels, captain of HQ 10, LCDR Nguy Van Tha ordered the crew to check all the gun emplacements, to carry the maximum ammunition from the ammunition depot to the guns but all of the guns were covered and the barrel pointed to the sky. He encouraged all non-shift staff to try to sleep to get strength for the following days. In addition, he ordered to bring dry food  to battle stations and to check 4 life rafts and survival kits. The CO also strictly obliged all staff to wear life jackets and helmets even though it was very hot.

The CO also mandated all crews to put on life jackets and helmets

 

JANUARY 18, 1974

In the middle of the night, at 00:20H, HQ 5 left the port of Da Nang with 43 Seals on board to Paracels.

At 01:55H, the SEAOPS Command directed the captain of HQ 4 not to anchor, if they had not yet taken SS (Special Seaforces) aboard, they were instructed to maneuver first and then return to pickup them later.

Before taking back the SS to the ship to carry out the order to send troops to Drummond Island, at 02:15H after observing the situation on the island, CO of HQ 4 reported to ICZ that the reoccupation of Drummond Island could not be carried out for the following reasons:
1.- The Communist capability exceeded that of the GVN force because of heavier guns, longer range and their vessels were faster.
2.- The Communist also had more landing boats and some were armored.
3.- The Communist airplanes had appeared three times during the afternoon of 17 Jan 74 indicating they were available for support if needed.
4.- The GVN landing force was very small while the Communist strength on Drummond was estimated to be about 40 men.
5.- Lights were visible on the island and it was presumed the Communists were dug in waiting for the GVN force.

Agreeing with the above reasonable proposal, at 03:05H ICZ ordered HQ 4 to immediately pick up SS (Special Seaforces) on Robert Island and await further orders.

HQ 5 caught up with HQ 10 at 3:15 am at the position 9 nautical miles from Tien Sa lighthouse to the East.

Facing the technical status of HQ 10, with only one engine operating and due to the urgent need of operations, at 05:27H, CAPT Ha Van Ngac, the OTC, decided to order HQ 5 to speed up, leave HQ 10 behind.

At Paracels, HQ 4 while preparing to withdraw SS, observed one of the Communist boats approaching her position, the boat was about 8 nautical miles away. When it had moved within 4 nautical miles, HQ 4 used light signals to request Communist boat to move out of Vietnamese waters. There was no reply, so HQ 4 then approached the Communist boat and she returned to her original position.

On the morning of January 18, President Thieu presided over the graduation ceremony of the 26th class at the Dalat Military Academy. In his speech, he did not mention Paracels. [19]

According to RADM Tran Van Chon: “I was informed that the President attended a graduation ceremony in Da Lat and the President wanted to meet me up there, but when I met him, the President did not say anything." [20]
After the ceremony, President Thieu stayed overnight in Da Lat, and the CNO returned to Saigon.

At 08:30H, HQ 4 and HQ 16 detected two additional Communist boats heading to Drummond Island, bringing total Communist ships and boats in Paracel Islands area to six.

- At 08: 45H, Communist boat 407 moved toward Robert island, HQ 4 moved to assist HQ 16 in stopping 407 from proceeding on her course. Consequently HQ 4 did not pick up SS on Robert Island to return to the ship as she had been ordered to do by the 1CZ command.

- At 09:00H, boat 407 was within 1000 yards of Robert island, HQ 4 used light signals again to request her to move out of RVN waters. Communist boat 407 did not move but replied by light signals that these were PRC waters.

- At 09:45H, boat 407 had drifted in a 130 degree direction to 3 nautical miles from the Robert.

- At 10:00H, HQ 4 landed 14 personnel on Robert Island and at same time 1CZ Command received message from VNN HQS to relay to  HQ 4  order her to drive any strangers off Robert Island and defend the Robert, Pattle and Money Islands at any price. Concurrently, Communist boat 407 drifted closer to HQ 16.  

HQ 4 completed picking up the SS on Robert Island at 10:27H.

- At 10:40H, SEAOPS requested CAPT Ngac on board HQ 5 to carry out orders from 1CZ Commander to occupy Drummond Island. (HQ 5 had been given order to depart Danang for Paracel Islands at 00:20H  to increase VNN force in the area.)

 - At 11:00H, Communist transportation boat headed out to open sea and disappeared, at that moment, the red boat 407 began to move northwest to the location near the Antelope Reef area. HQ 16 without waiting for orders, immediately moved to block. When intercepted, the crew of the trawler immediately boarded the ship, wearing blue "sweatsuits" and put on a straw hat (like a Vietnamese conical hat) tossing the fishing rod into the water. This time they concealed the 25mm cannon.

HQ 16 instructed the crew on HQ 16 who could speak Chinese using loudspeakers to explain to the Chinese that they were in Vietnamese territorial waters, but they ignored this message.

HQ 16 then intercepted the fishing boat near Robert Island within a distance of about 1000 yards, the  Communist boat stopped and did not advance.

At about 11:30 H, Communist trawler 407 moved to a position not further than 15 to 20 feet from HQ 16's bow and deliberately provoked HQ 16 to fire, then they moved into a shallow area to follow the current to come closer Robert Island.

HQ 16 could not follow, therefore, she requested permission from higher HQS to fire in front of 407 to interdict her movement toward island. CAPT Ngac Commander of VNN Flottila 3 directed HQ 16 to try to maneuver to interdict and not to fire but also not to let any Communist boat approach the Robert. The confrontation continued for about an hour with screams from HQ 16 but the Communist side remained silent.

Concurrently 1CZ notifying had arranged four helicopters and a Regional Force company to be attached to 1CZ.

By 12:30H, the Communist boat had drifted to within a few hundred yards of island and 1CZ Commander gave orders to let the red boat continue her approach, however HQ 16 continued to maneuver to try to interdict her. At 13:00H, unable to chase out of fear of being stranded, HQ 16 again requested permission to fire upon shore of the island but request was not approved.

At 13:35H, CAPT Ngac on board HQ 5 ordered HQ 4 and HQ 16 again to go ashore on Robert Island to keep Communist boat 407 from landing there.

Although the two Vietnamese warships followed closely, the two PRC boats remained aggressive, the 402 moved abnormally close to HQ 16.
HQ 4 continued to maneuver to hold a position between Robert Island and Communist boat 407.

Not hesitating challenging and harassing, the 407 trawler moved toward came along side HQ 4, Gerald Kosh saw trawler 407 was trying to back the HQ 4 into the reef between Antelope Reef and Robert Island. [4]


When the 407 trawler had just begun to cross the bow, only about 10m away from HQ 4, the CO of HQ 4 could not control the anger and made a spectacular move using the bow to slam straight onto the boat’s starboard pilothouse. The bow of HQ 4 and anchor were caught in the door and the pilothouse hallway caused damage to the corridor and curved the door of pilothouse. [4]

DAO officer Gerald Kosh confirmed that 'only one side of HQ 4 could be observed and it was clear that the TC 407 ship was extremely close to HQ 4 and then through the communication system Kosh heard that the trawler had run into the HQ 4 and that the pilot house of the trawler was damaged.'  [4]

This incident was recorded in the PRC’s first public reference to the dispute on January 20 as: “On the afternoon of January 18, two naval vessels of the Saigon authorities truculently and unreasonably rammed Chinese fishing boats No, 402 and No.407, and wrecked the pilothouse of the No.407 fishing boat North of the Antelope Reef.” [6]

Faced with VNN’s ships resolute attitude, the Communist boats hurriedly retreated to the direction of Duncan and Drummond Islands.

At 14:25H, in execution of CNO’s instruction, 1CZ ordered CAPT Ngac when HQ 5 arrived on scene to have all the ships moved to Duncan and Drummond area to test Communist reactions.


HQ 5 reached Paracels at 15:00H, CAPT Ngac immediately issued a comprehensive combat formation assignment. By now, HQ 16 almost ran out of water and food. HQ 5 came along to resupply HQ 16.

From the afternoon of January 17 until HQ 5 entered the area, the PRC’s forces at the scene still had only 2 Kronstadts and 2 trawlers.

With the current state, the balance of forces tilted towards RVN.

Seizing the opportunity with confidence, the commander of the 1CZ Commodore Thoai submitted a request to CNO: “I think the sooner the better. Because they're not ready yet.”

Agreeing with him, the VNN HQS issued an order to retake Duncan and Drummond and ordered the task force to show off their forces. In urgent cases, the order of operation is transferred by voice command from CNO to 1CZ Commander with instructions to task force to reoccupy Duncan and Drummond Islands at any price and not to delay because re-occupation would become more difficult. Orders further instructed that friendly actions would be used first, but if enemy resisted then destroy them. Task force also was instructed to move within firing range of the two Kronstadt class Communist ships.

These decisions indicate that the VN Navy commanders seem subjective and contemptuous, only interested in the reality but ignoring the fact that the enemy deliberately concealed its true naval strength from RVN (DIA), especially when their logistic base was Woody Island is only about 80 km (43 nautical miles) from Crescent Group.

This was also a tactical error when the commanders did not think of setting up an interdiction line outside the direction of East Drummond Island to prevent enemy ships coming from Woody Island.

At 16:00H, in order to observe and probe Communists reactions, and also to show off the forces, the Vietnamese warships formed a formation leading by HQ 4, followed by HQ 5 and HQ 16 from Robert Island moved to Duncan Island.

When VNN warships approached the island, the PRC dispatched 2 Kronstadt 271, 274 to interdict. Both sides were on general quarters alert, but the guns were in the zero position. Observes on the island could identify the fighting forts and cement trenches that had been built, on the island the Chinese flags fluttering

The situation was tense because the two Kronstadt ships intentionally blocked the Task Force's advance at a relatively high speed. If continued further, it would most likely cause a collision between ships, so the VNN warships abandoned the intention to proceed approaching the island, then returned to afloat between Robert and Duncan Islands.

At 17:25H, HQ 5 came alongside HQ 16 to transfer 20 Seals and received 5 men from Engineers team (3 Officers and 2 Staff Sergeant), 1 officer of 1CZ and 1 DAO employee (Gerald Kosh).

Losing the opportunity to execute the intention to occupy the entire Crescent Group, the Chinese withdrew its forces to defend the two islands of Duncan and Drummond, which they had consolidated.

This is the boundary outlined in the plan that Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai approved.

The PRC showed its determination to use force when the opportunity came through the increase of warships currently in Woody Island to the Crescent Group to match the VNN forces.

Therefore, only about 4 hours after arriving in the area, HQ 5 at 19:15H detected two T-43 class warships with the number 389, 396 moving from the North with the speed of 20 knots.


Especially the 389 was equipped with an 85mm cannon in the bow of a ship like the Kronstadts.

By dispatching 389 and 396 to the area, it proved that 'the PRC is ready' not as stated by the commanders of VNN that 'they are not ready'.

At 21:00H CAPT Ngac informed the Corps of Engineers team and Gerald Kosh that they would be taken to Pattle Island because he thought it would be difficult to avoid a clash and did not want non-Navy personnel involved in the fighting.
Concerned about the prospect of a clash, before Kosh left the ship. CAPT Ngac asked him that if the battle happened, would the U.S. 7th Fleet come to support; Kosh replied he believed not.

In addition, Kosh told CAPT Ngac that he had finished taking three 35mm film rolls of events including many pictures of the activities of the Communist forces. [4]

At 22:35H Patrol Craft Escort (PCE) Chi Linh HQ 11 and 3 Coast Guard (WPB) 709, 711 and 723 left Da Nang to Paracels with 91 RF belong to the Quang Nam province and 15 Special Seaforces belong to Coastal Security Service.

HQ 10 arrived at Paracels around 23: 00H although planning to enter the area at 19: 00H.

- At 23:30H: Gerald Kosh and the Engineering team report to set foot on Pattle Island and have contacted the defenders on the island.

I CZ Command issued operations orders to warships, the content specified their mission to recapture the islands invaded by the Communist and to re-establish the sovereignty of the RVN on these islands.

The Officer in Tactical Command (OTC) was assigned to CAPT Ha Van Ngac on HQ 5.

JANUARY 19, 1974

“On the night of January 18 to 19, 1974, Chinese ships repeatedly maneuvered, intercepted and provoked VNN ships, deliberately acting aggressively. Chinese warships moved around Duncan Island as intended to protect the island. VNN warships also followed closely”.


Currently, the enemy force had 6 warships in the Crescent group: 2 Kronstadt 271, 274; 2 T-43 389 and 396; 2 armed trawlers 402, 407.

Also Communist forces were fully entrenched on the islands of Duncan and Drummond.  The location of the Vietnamese ships at 03:30H was only about 5 nautical miles from Duncan, in this area no reefs were recorded and our ships were familiar (except HQ 10).

At 03:50H, CAPT Ngac ordered the warships to start moving from the position in the basin to Duncan. He divided the four warships into two groups:

- Group I including HQ 4 and HQ 5 moved to the South and Southwest of Duncan Island.

HQ 5 will land troops to the Southwest and HQ 4 will land troops to the South.

OIC is CDR Vu Huu San CO of  HQ 4.

- Group II including HQ 10 and HQ 16 moved to the Northwest of Duncan Island with the task of restraining 2 T-43s and 2 trawlers. OIC is CDR Le Van Thu CO of HQ 16.

CAPT Ngac ordered all warships to be in the general quarters to prepare for combat.

Although HQ 16 received 20 Seals transferred from HQ 5, perhaps because of communication problems, she did not receive orders to land this team ashore.

At 05:00H 1CZ instructed HQ 5 to implement the operation plan that was issued the previous night.

On the way to the location, at 05:15H, when it was less than 3 nautical miles from Duncan Island, HQ 5 reported two more PRC transport ships had moved into area from North at a speed of 20 knots and joined the others Communist ships already present on the evening Jan 18 bringing the total number of PRC ships to 8. These transport ships landed 400 troops*** on the northeast of Duncan Island.



 
However those regular soldiers belonged to the Chinese Communist Party were labeled as fishermen:
Around 7:00AM on January 19, troops of the Saigon authorities attempted to occupy China’s Chenhang (Duncan) Island. Chinese fishermen on the island waged a righteous struggle by reasoning with them and demanded that they leave China’s territory. However, the troops fired at Chinese fishermen, killing and wounding a number of them. Driven beyond the limits of forbearance, the Chinese fishermen fought back heroically and repelled their attack.[6]

Faced with the disadvantage, CAPT Ngac _the GVN task force commander_ reported to 1CZ that in the event of a fire fight, he was afraid GVN force would suffer heavy casualties because in addition to resisting enemy warships, he had to land the troops and the landing force would require support.

However, despite comparative deficiencies in firepower, range and speed, the VNN ships would attempt to execute the order to land the troops and the task force would do all possible to avoid an engagement before receiving reinforcements, preferably the air force.

He requested that air reinforcements be in the area by landing time.

Agreeing with CAPT Ngac's request, 1CZ Operation Center contacted the 1st Air Force Division asking for air support.

Listening to the reasonable presentation of CAPT Ngac, Commodore Thoai was aware of the difference in the balance of forces, the situation had changed, the enemy was in a upper hand.

He feared that if implemented - the operation orders to land the troops - would make sure the failure was in hand. However, this was an order from the CNO, so he had to execute it and if he wanted to cancel the order to recapture Duncan Island, his last hope was calling the Independence Palace to report directly to President Thieu, who gave him direct written orders on January 16.

Unfortunately, at this time, President Thieu was still in Dalat, so he explained to the Colonel working at the Presidential Palace that he thought that landing forces would have resistance. But the Colonel still wanted him to do whatever international law required him to do; that Paracels belonged to South Vietnam; the Chinese would have to go away. And so, if they shoot at us, shoot back. [11]

(The writer’s note: The powerful Colonel, on behalf of President Thieu to make important decisions in his absence, perhaps none other than Colonel Vo Van Cam, Chief of the Office of the Presidential Palace. He rarely accompanied President Thieu on business trips.)

With no other choice left, the phone call in fact released Commodore Thoai from responsibilities.
At 06:00H, he ordered CAPT Ngac to retake Duncan Island.

Also during this time, two PRC’s airplanes flew around Duncan Island, then disappeared to the North

Expecting the inevitable clash, Commodore Thoai contacted the Joint Chiefs of Staff “asked for an intelligence flight of Woody Island located in the north of Paracel Islands, to see how many ships they had. Because when you fight you have to know the enemy forces. So, I could not get the flight; the general staff didn’t agree. No flight. I said, “how about just a reconnaissance flight, with no pictures? Just a reconnaissance, to see how many ships they have?” The answer also was no. They didn’t provide it. [11]

Carrying out his order of operations, CAPT Ngac ordered HQ 4 and HQ 5 to start releasing the Seals and Special Seaforces down to the rubber boat with the instruction “... not to open fire and when to get ashore  request Chinese troops to leave the island."

At 06:30H, the four Chinese warships divided into 2 groups:

• Group 1 consists of two Kronstadt 271 and 274 going around south of Duncan Island.

• Group 2 consisting of T43 ships No. 389 and 396 moved to the Northwest of Duncan Island to intercept VNN ships. Two armed trawlers 402 and 407 were close to the Northern bank of Duncan and two transport ships were in the Southeastern Drummond.

To ensure victory in the event of a naval war, on the night of January 18, the PRC (dispatched) moved 4 Komar missile boats to the Northeastern area of ​​Drummond Island. [21]


At 06:30H, HQ 4 landed the 27 Special Seaforces on the Southern bank. About 10 minutes later, they set foot on the island. The island was very quiet. On the ship all eyes and all binoculars looked on the island; any movement on the island was reported to the CO. The flag was mounted on the sand, and the force continued to advance inside the island.

On HQ 5, the 22-man Seals team was fully equipped, with the M16 personal gun, M79 grenade launcher and M60 machine gun. They divided into 2 groups and got on 2 rubber boats. The boats carrying the team landed undulating on the waves, entered the island, unable to access the reef, they had to walk in. The sea level was waist-deep, with some places chest-deep.

The distance from the reef where they left their rubber boats to reach the beach is about 700 m. It takes the average person 15-20 minutes to arrive.

At 07:30H, HQ 5 completed landing Seal team in the Southwest of Duncan. But there was heavy enemy pressure on the island and the Seals were surrounded by more and more enemy soldiers and risked captured.

Immediately after receiving the report, RADM Chon the CNO ordered:
            - CAPT Ngac to continue with landings, dig bunkers, keep calm, do not let enemy approach and do not be captured.
            - Commander 1CZ to have task force use comb
teething strategy on land as well as at sea.

At 08:00H, LTJG Le Van Don led the Seals squad within about 200 yards from the water and reported that the landing force encountered an enemy platoon in front of him and a company behind him. Men in enemy units were equipped with machine guns and sub-machine guns. The last landing force encountered strong enemy resistance and had to retreat.

In spite of facing an imperious situation, the Seals kept its position, remained discipline and tried to contain the outrage.

When landing 400 troops on the island, the PRC showed determination to occupy Duncan and Drummond, they could not falter.

Unable to seize the entire Crescent Group, they must at least take Duncan and Drummond, because Beijing needed a military victory to regain the military confidence in the central leadership level, continued a major overhaul at military zone headquarters.

On the other hand, it may be that Zhou Enlai himself advocated invading Paracels to show that he was wary against imperialism.

On the sea surface, they also exercised aggressive action. At 08:10H, minesweeper 389 maneuvered toward
HQ 16 at 15 knots speed and tried to ram the bow of HQ 16.
HQ 16 maneuvered to avoid ramming but still suffered a small scratch on the starboard of the bow.

Unyielding, CO of HQ 16 was determined to fight back; he immediately maneuvered the ship hit back on the port side of 389 cause damage to the ship compass and the bridge  as recorded by the Chinese. [22]

The tension on Duncan Island continued. At 08:30H,  HQ 5 reported Communist troops had fired at the Seals when they started moving, killing one man and wounding another. At time firing began, Seals were on open beach and Communist were in bunkers. Although the Seals suffered casualties, with high discipline, they still obeyed orders, so they did not return fire.

PRC’s soldiers also received restraining orders, they reacted only enough to warn the Vietnamese troops and they chose their target as LTJG Le Van Don the team leader.

After presiding over the 26th class’s graduation ceremony of the Military Academy at Dalat, President Thieu spent the night in Da Lat.

Afraid of waking up President Thieu when it was still pre-dawn , the Colonel in the Presidential Palace waited until around 08:30H to report to him the content why Commodore Thoai called earlier.


Immediately President Thieu called Da Nang, at this time, Commodore Thoai in the operation center, he reported to him about Duncan incident and frankly expressed that he doesn’t think that this was possible because the Vietnamese forces would encounter strong
resistance. [11]


Right after Commodore Thoai just finished reporting, unable to contain his anger, President Thieu asked briefly:
"So what has the Navy done?" Then he hung up.

President Thieu's short sentence in question mark was understood by Commodore Thoai as an order allowing him to use force to respond to Communist China's actions, but it was too vague. So he hesitated to choose the way to deal.

Since the Communist only opened fire at the landing team on the island, Commodore Thoai wanted to limit the war on land by concentrating firepower from ships on the island and keeping the bridgehead, so he instructed the warships to fire on the island.

Operation diary of VNN HQS Operation Center recorded at 08:52H, 1CZ Commander ordered the Seals to return enemy fire and the VNN warships to give them maximum fire support. In addition CAPT Ngac was empowered to use whatever military power that was necessary in operations area to fulfill his mission.

Immediately the Seals and the Special Seaforces counter attacked rigorously but the M79 lacked range, and the M16 was not helping much. Without cover they became targets for the Communist, so their casualties increased.

At 09:07H, Seals team reported 2 soldiers killed in action( KIA) and 2 wounded in action (WIA).

At 09:10H, expectations that Communist forces would give in were dissipated and with incomparable numbers of troops to fight, 1CZ Commander ordered the VNN ships to cover withdrawal for Seals and SS, destroy island after their withdrawal, but not to engage the PRC ships.  

With determination to bring the corpses of the comrades back to the ship, but under the level of fierce firepower of the Chinese troops, they could only bring the body of LTJG Don and 2 wounded soldiers, leaving First Corporal Do Van Long on the battlefield. All of them struggled to return to the ship.

The landing resulted in failure through Commodore Thoai confirmation:

“Early on the morning of January 19, Ngac landed sea commandos on Duncan Island. That operation failed, however, due to Chinese forces being already present on the island and outnumbering ours.” [23 ]

As for the PRC, they limit the use of force because “political rather than the military factors were the principle influence on PRC actions during the Paracels confrontation” and “political considerations overrode the military, since the PRC forces did not exert the full military power at their disposal.” [4]

And that explained why PRC decided not to attack “during the RVN landing operations, when RVN ships were most vulnerable.”[4]

In this extremely serious moment, VNN CNO and his entourage were on a flight to Da Nang.

Worried that PRC forces would open fire on VNN troops when they were on their way back to the rubber boats and still hoping that if they kept the bridgehead there would still be a chance to retake the island, at 09:22H 1CZ Commander changed his order to: "Try to hold supporting point, if we retreat, we will be killed and it is hard to reoccupy that point."

But at this moment, the Seals and Special Seaforces were on their way back to the ships.

So CAPT Ngac answered “We almost completed retreat. After complete  retreating, we will land again. ”

During the withdrawal, the Chinese ship sent threats to HQ 4 by signaling: “If you shell to me, we give strong action against your serious military provocation”)

President Thieu wrote in a manuscript that he only wanted Commodore  Thoai to send troops to land on the island and tell the PRC troops to leave, thus limiting his ability to act.

Not wanting battles to happen on the sea because he will be responsible, so 1CZ Commander emphasized when ordering CAPT Ngac: "You must try to avoid sea battle."

But for Ngac, the recapture of the island was considered a failure, and if our warships opened fire to destroy Duncan Island, the PRC ships would not be left alone.

To Ngac, the most important problem is dealing with Communist ships, so he rebutted: "I must retreat to cope with the two red boats in the North and other red boats in the South."

1CZ Commander again directed the task force to hold the supporting point.

CAPT Ngac answered: “the holding of that point does not matter. We have almost completed the retreat and it will be done in 5 minutes.”

At the VNN HQS Command, in the absence of CNO and Vice CNO, Commodore Diep Quang Thuy the Navy Chief of Staff, acting as the Senior Officer, who was present in the Operation Center, monitored the situation,

Faced with the struggle between Commodore Thoai and CAPT Ngac, Commodore Thuy gave orders to both of them at 09: 27H:

“The task force to hold the supporting point, and to use big gun to fire on enemy boats. This is an order you must carry out. "

This order reconciles the intentions of both Commodore Thoai and CAPT Ngac and freed Commodore Thoai responsibility for firing on enemy ships.

At 09:30H 1CZ Commander repeated the instructions of Commodore Thuy, requesting CAPT Ngac to hold the bridgehead and use maximum fire power.

- At 09:32H, Commodore Thuy ordered CAPT Ngac report when opening fire.

- At 09:33H, 1CZ Commander asked CAPT Ngac if HQ 5 had executed his order or not?

In order to easily monitor the progress, CDR Nguyen Van Dinh, Director of HQS Operation Center requested the radiomen of  HQ 5 to move the remote control to the bridge

- At 09:39H, the HQS Operation Center contacted HQ 5 via single frequency radio and the 1CZ Commander reminded CAPT Ngac of orders to hold the supporting point and to open fire.

CAPT Ngac answered: “After fire, I will move to reoccupy the point. Now, I have already retreated, there is about one enemy battalion, fully armed.”

As warned by Ambassador Martin on January 17 when he met Foreign Minister Vuong Van Bac “No U.S. military force involvement in any way.”
 

Immediately after Commodore Thuy ordered VNNs’ ships to shell the island and open fire on the enemy warships, at 09:50H Commander of 7TH Fleet directed “all units remain well clear of area and avoid actions which could be construed as participating in or providing support for this action.”

In the meantime HQ 5 ordered entire crew members to the assigned battle stations preparing to fire.

Still hoping to recapture Duncan Island, 1CZ Commander once again ordered the use of big and small guns to fire upon the island.

In carrying out the order of 1CZ Commander, CAPT Ngac directed all of the COs in the task force to concentrate firepower on the island. However, the CO of HQ 4 and HQ 16 did not agree with this decision because if they fired on the island, the PRC warships would have opportunity to open fire on VNN warships.

Agreeing with the reasonable reply from the CO of HQ 4 and HQ 16, CAPT Ngac ordered HQ 10 shell on the island as a signal to begin fire, and other ships to take on assigned targets.

At 10:10H,  CAPT Ngac was relieved when the 1CZ Commander informed HQ 5 that VNAF planes would come soon to provide support and gave him the plane frequency to communicate.

A few minutes later, at 10:14H, 1CZ Commander directed the task force to deploy fire power, in order to open fire upon enemy warships first, if the VNN ships are menaced.

Executing the final decision of 1CZ Commander, CAPT Ngac cancelled HQ 10 to fire on the island, he assigned the targets of Group I’s HQ 4 to 271, HQ 5 to 274.
The objective of Group II HQ 10 was 396 and HQ 16 was 389. However, in reality, Group II also had to deal with two armed trawlers 402 and 407.

Since HQ 16 did not receive this order, HQ 10 was not notified of the target change.

The moment of seriousness was coming, the ships of the RVN were about to open fire.

This was also the golden moment that PRC has patiently waited for so long. The trap was set, the prey was about to enter!

NAVAL BATTLE


                   

At 10:25H, HQ 10 fired the first round on enemy ship 396 when they approached. Shortly thereafter, HQ 16 opened fire at 396.

At the same time HQ 4 and HQ 5 reported to fire on 274.

The Southern Front of Group I confronted Kronstadt 271 & 274

CAPT Ngac entered the CIC to report to HQS Operation Center that our warship had opened fire on the enemy warship.

HQ 4 was assigned a target of 271, however the first round of the 76.2 mm gun with rapid fire system in the bow of HQ 4 aimed at 274 did not fire. Four rounds after hit the command station, the political commissar and the XO of Kronstadt 274 were KIA, bullets hit the smoke screen, the smoke rose, and the internal communication lines were also damaged in many places.

On HQ 5, the XO divided the target for each gun and instructed to adjust self-destruct and explode rounds, the 127 mm gun aimed at the propeller and engine compartment, the 40 mm guns aimed at the radio.

All guns on HQ 5 started to explode, a series of 127 mm ammunition from HQ 5 hit 274 and damaged the electric steering system, the ship was about to insert a jammed position between HQ 4 and HQ 5. The captain of 274 was immediately ordered to switch to the manual steering, the 3 engines reversed at full speed avoiding this danger.
CAPT Ngac returned to the command station on the bridge, HQ 4 reported that the 76.2mm gun in the bow lost fire control. Concerned that HQ 4 was not capable of confronting 271, CAPT Ngac ordered HQ 4 to stay out of the battle and moved to the direction of Southeast.

Because the two sides were close, the distance between VNN’s ships and the enemy was from 1000 to 3000 yards so most of them were direct fires. As for PRC, because they believed HQ 4 to be the flagship, both 271 and 274 guns in the firing phase aimed 85mm guns to directly fire at HQ 4, immediately hit the command post, injuring 3 soldiers of HQ 4.

HQ 4 moved out of the battlefield, but the 76.2 gun on the stern and the remaining guns continued to shoot, so it was able to withstand the onslaught of the 271 chasing behind. However the 3” gun on the rear would only operate on local fire and very slowly instead of rapid fire, and then it only pumped out about 57 rounds then it quit.

With the initial results not as expected due to HQ 4 having trouble shooting, CAPT Ngac tried to contact HQ 16 to know the status of Group II but to no avail.

HQ 5 continued to fire at 274, both sides exchanged fire for a while, when 5 rounds of 127mm cannon hit the 274, this ship lost combat ability therefore turned toward the island; however, guns on 274 continued to fire back. The 85mm ammunition penetrated HQ 5 command station with a diameter of about 0.5m and destroyed the PRC 25, CAPT Ngac had to return to CIC using VRC 46 to communicate. [22]
At 10:43H, HQ 5 reported that the radio room was on fire, the communication system was paralyzed. The SSB super frequency machine could not be used to communicate with HQS Operation center, HQ 5 also reported she had two holes in the berthing room.

At 10:47H expecting the planes would fly out to support as promised, CAPT Ngac asked 1CZ when the plane would come.

At 10:48H, 1CZ directed CAPT Ngac to use all fire power to destroy the two Kronstadt class ships.

At 10:49H, from HQS Operation center, CAPT Do Kiem Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at Naval Command told CAPT Ngac that the planes had come to support, and at the same time encouraged VNN ships to keep calm and fire accurately.

During this time, LTG Ngo Quang Truong 1 Corps Commander was present at the 1CZ Operations Center, Commodore Thoai phoned BG Nguyen Duc Khanh Commander of the 1st Air Force Division and was told by him that the South Vietnam’s F-5A fighters could only remain over the Paracels air space for five to fifteen minutes because they would not have enough gas for much longer.

In response to the indirect refusal answer, even though BG Khanh was his subordinate, LTG Truong did not make his own decision, he left it to Commodore Thoai: "It is up to you, Mr. Thoai".

The air support had become hopeless!

Attempting to continue contacting for air support for 5 to 10 minutes but without result, CAPT Ngac stopped and switched to HQ 4 contact frequency but received no response.

The North Front, Group II confronted T-43 389, 396 and trawlers 402, 407.

The point to emphasize here is that the 389 and 396 sizes are longer than HQ 10, the 389 firepower is somewhat superior to HQ 10 with one 85mm cannon at the bow, two 37mm cannons at the stern (equivalent to Bofors 40mm), four 25mm cannons and four 14.5mm cannons.

The 396 is similarly equipped like 389, but in front is a twin 37mm cannon instead of 85mm. Therefore, the enemy applied the tactic of moving closer to our warships to reduce the effectiveness of the 127mm gun on HQ 16 and 76, 2mm on HQ 10.

Designated as the first ship to fire, when the 396 aggressively approached HQ 10 Captain Nguy Van Tha shouted 'shoot' at the enemy ship.

On HQ 16, the Captain ordered the crew in every turrets to keep an eye on the target at all times. After they were ready, the Captain ordered the firing. Since receiving no counter-order to change target to 389, HQ 16 also opened fire at 396.

Both the 127mm on HQ 16 and 76.2mm guns on HQ 10 were directly aimed at 396 command post, it was hit by the gunfire, smoke rose as fog then the ship backed up, the movement  was somewhat slowing down.

On HQ 16, the burst of a twin 40mm cannon in front of the bridge and two single 40mm cannons, right and left at the aft, together with the continuous explosions of 20mm cannons intermixing into an indescribable harmony.

Gunpowder smoke from the front, behind the wheel, the rear deck and just below the bridge, blurred the air on the warship. The buzzing explosions echoed everywhere and the smell of gunpowder added excitement to all crew.

As for the PRC, the first firing target of the 389 and 396 was the HQ 16. The 396 used 37mm cannons to suppress important positions on HQ 16 such as the bridge, engine compartment ... etc ... smaller weapons such as 25mm and 14.5mm cannons fired on the deck.

Meanwhile, 389 used 85mm cannon to fire at waterline of HQ 16, other weapons with 37mm or less fired at
HQ 10.

The battle between group II and 389, 396 no longer had a distinction of targets.

In the course of 396 ship approaching HQ 16, the 127mm at the bow of HQ 16 hit the 396 on the deck causing casualties, about 11 rounds of 76.2mm from HQ 10 penetrated command station 396, the upper and lower bedrooms and the ammunition compartment. (The TC article praised 396 as the bravest fighter in the battle that was also hit by 118 bullets from 127, 76, 40 and 20mm guns. Of these, there were 11 rounds 76mm and the number of 40 and 20mm cannons from HQ 10. [22]

When the ammunition depot next to 127mm gun of HQ 16 was hit then the 127 was out of order, HQ 10 turned to rescue HQ 16, both of them fought back 389 and 396.

All guns on HQ 10 fired bullets on enemy ships, 76.2mm cannon on board accurately aimed at the target, both 389 and 396 were hit. Three of the HQ 10 artillery shells hit the rear deck and signal deck on the 389, destroying the 37mm gun position and detonating the ammunition depot, causing serious damage to the 389 warship. The generator stopped working and the ship lost its illumination and the steering gear failed. In addition to attacking Chinese No. 389 with 76.2mm cannon, the HQ 10 also fired at the deck of the Chinese No. 396 with cannons, causing casualties. [22]

Until now HQ 10 was still safe, bullets from the PRC ships were shot over the head or exploded on the water. Although she had a disadvantage in speed and maneuvering because there was only one running engine, under the brave command of CO Nguy Van Tha, HQ 10 had fought relentlessly and fiery broke into the battle.

Being dominant, the 76.2mm gun on HQ 10 was suddenly hindered, in addition the ship had only one engine running, so the maneuvering to employ two 40 mm cannons at the aft at the same time was very difficult.

Even in this unfavorable situation, one of the 4 Komars hiding in the north of Drummond Island took advantage of the observation opportunity when HQ 10 was in the position right in range, they immediately launched a  Styx missile that hit the bridge, creating a huge explosion to destroy the bridge and damage the pilot house. The captain, officers, non-commissioned officers the boatswain mates and quartermasters present on the bridge and pilot house were all KIA except the XO who was severely injured in the face, abdomen and right leg. In addition, the engine and ammunition depot was also hit by fire.
Bullets exploded from the sky, flames burst into flames, black smoke arose from the ship.

The 389, after trying to repair the hole and repairing the generator, returned to battle. From a few hundred meters away from HQ 10, observing that HQ 10 was in turmoil, the 389 did not miss the chance to maneuver to the starboard of HQ 10.
Seeing that the enemy ship intended to pair up, a few staff members were a bit agitated, but two brave sailors  Le Van Tay and Ngo Sau still blatantly held the barrel of a gun to fulfill their duties. At this time, on HQ 10, about 50 soldiers were killed and severely injured, about 20 people still capable of fighting.

With a distance of more than 10m, PRC soldiers on 389 threw grenades, shot submachine and bazooka guns at HQ 10 with the intention of clearing the remaining guns, then paired up to overrun HQ 10 with their soldiers and capture her crew alive.

The powerful destructive power of the Styx missile resulted in heavy damage to the ship, causing XO Nguyen Thanh Tri to fall down into the steering room, but with a large figure (1.74 m high - 70 kg in weight), LT Tri despite being seriously injured, was still able to stand up. Guessing the enemy's intentions, LT Tri grabbed the M16 gun firing a series of bullets into the enemy ship and after waiting for the enemy ship to enter the correct position, he tried to maneuver the ship, turning the steering wheel to the right, crashing the bow into the rear port of the 389. (According to Wei Minh Sam, commander of the PRC force, HQ 10 crashed into the back of  389 at 10:35H)

Surprised by this clever and decisive action, the 389 had no way to evade the danger, so it was hit hard by the bow of HQ 10 into the weak point of the warship, the stern, creating cracks 3m long and 1m deep.

According to the Chinese: “The HQ 10 rushed into the middle of 389, causing a crack of 1 meter deep and 3 meters long...  After the two ships separated, they continued to drift.” [22]

After HQ 10 hit 389’s stern, both ships were motionless, HQ 10 remained floating in calm water, and beside her, the 389 Chinese ship was also in a similar state, the two were parallel to each other.

This hard hit in addition to the damage caused by the previous gunfire of HQ 10 put the 389 in critical condition, so after VNN ships retreated, 2 trawlers 402, 407 and the 396 was ordered to come to rescue, and bring 389 to beach in Duncan Island area, while the crew was transferred to another ship.

The ammunition depot was exploded. The ship continued to burn until January 20 and was sunk but was salvaged and taken to Woody Island for emergency repair, then about a month later was towed to the mainland for repair.

Because of suffering heavy damage in the battle, it was impossible to restore the operational status however, so 389 was scrapped after publicly exhibited in Dalian. [22]
According to Kosh: “in the late afternoon on the 19th Kosh could observe a ship which was smoking very badly, was apparently close to Drummond Island, and at night when Kosh returned to the top of the weather building, he could see that the ship which was just North of Drummond Island within the lagoon, was burning very brightly.” [4]

It can be said that this was a glorious victory of HQ 10 in the naval battle; although there was only one engine working and it has inferior firepower, HQ 10 itself caused heavy damage to the 389 in terms of personnel KIA and material.

At that time, the North Front only had HQ 16 confronted with 396, although the 127mm gun was inoperative, the 40mm cannons and the remaining guns continued to fire at 396.

They could not use Komars due to lack of fuel. With the intention to take the initiative in the battlefield, the PRC immediately dispatched 2 Hainan 281 and 282 from Woody Island to reinforce.

At around 10:50H, because the distance between the two groups was too far, one could not observe each other, a 127mm round from HQ 5 aimed at the enemy ship unfortunately hit the port of engine room of HQ 16. The water overflowed causing power failure. The CO mobilized the crew to prevent the flood, the fire and repair the generators. The whole engine room was electrocuted everywhere. All personnels were ordered to leave. The CO received reports that the ship was about to sink.
HQ 16 leaned slightly towards the port, water slowly getting in more and more. The CO grabbed the microphone and ordered: "All the crew prepared to abandon ship" and then came to the steering wheel, he himself controlled the ship and let the crew focus on the task of damage control.

A few minutes later, LT Hiep Chief of Engineering reported to the CO that he had overcome the leak, the starboard engine was still running and the ship might come out of danger.

The CO burst in joyfulness, he said loudly into the microphone: "dismiss abandon ship, disband the task of escaping, disband the task of escaping".

The compass lost power so the ship had to use the magnetic compass, and the rudder at the command station was not working, so personnel were sent into the rudder compartment to directly steer by hand.

At this time, the ship turned to the Northwest, when she was near Pattle Island, the CO picked up PRC 25 to contact LTJG Liem (the team leader of the crew of HQ 16 on Money Island), explaining why he could not pick them up and entrusted him with the discretion.

All the crew on HQ 16 thought that the 85mm round of the PRC ship had hit the part of HQ 16. The PRC had the same thought when they saw HQ 16 tilted and turned back toward Pattle Island.

Regardless of HQ 10 and HQ 16, the 396 turned to join forces with 271, attacking HQ 5.

Undeterred, LTJG Dong the officer in charge of the 127mm cannon counter-shot and hit 4 rounds at 271. (https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/26966882).

The enemy retaliated against the 127mm gun, LTJG Nguyen Van Dong was KIA, the 127mm cannon was out of order, and the 127mm ammunition depot was on fire. Fearing of an ammunition explosion the CO ordered flooding the depot. Most of the guns on HQ 5 were in trouble, only the twin 40mm gun was used on the terrace and the two single 40mm in the stern, but it wasn't long before the twin 40 mm water cooling system was broken, and the gun was out of order.

In addition, berthing compartments had 2 holes, the anti-aircraft radar was out of order. The mechanical room reported that the ship's side was hit by 85mm bullet 2ft from the water surface, a hole was about 3’x5 ', Seawater flooded every time the ship shook, and the generator stopped working. LT Nguyen the cutter’s Chief of Engineering, immediately dispatched the hole-punching staff and urgently repaired the generator.

Facing the unfavorable situation of Group I and not fully understanding the status of Group II, at 11:00H CAPT Ngac ordered HQ 4 and HQ 5 to withdraw from the battlefield, at the same time on HQ 10, XO Nguyen Thanh Tri ordered to abandon ship.

At 11:02H, HQ 4 reported that all guns on board were out of order, as well as the radar on HQ 4 and HQ 5. About 30 minutes later HQ 5 reported lost communication with HQ 4 and neither HQ 4 nor HQ 16 could be seen on the radar screen.

At this time, PRC warships were no longer capable of fighting; HQ 5 reported 1 ship on fire and 3 ships moving towards the island.

The heavily damaged 274 left the battlefield earlier, 271 and 396 were also returning, the 396 with the least damage was assigned to join two fishing boats 402, 407 rescue 389, which were on fire.

The battle ended at 11: 00H. Instead of returning to rescue his comrades in distress, CAPT Ngac ordered HQ 4 and HQ 5 to withdraw to the Southwest.

At 11:50H, HQ 4 was about 7 nautical miles from Duncan Island to the Southwest, reported three more Komar missile boats heading toward Duncan Island. (actually these are two Hainan class 281 and 282 from Woody Island to reinforce it.)

- at 12:00H, 1CZ directed CAPT Ngac to prevent the enemy Komars from attacking HQ 4 and HQ 5 and to provide support for the GVN ground forces on Pattle and Robert Islands.

In addition, CAPT Ngac was also told that HQ 11 and 3 WPBs (Patrol Boat) would come to reinforce them.

- At 12:11H, HQ 4 gave an initial report claiming 2 KIA, 15 WIA, she also reported air and sea surveillance radars were inoperative; the engine room had sustained a hit, the fire systems was badly damaged; she had hits on the port side from bow to stern; the manual steering room was flooded and the CIC was hit.

After receiving those reports, the 1CZ directed HQ 4 and HQ 5 to protect the Robert and the Pattle with each ship protecting one island.  


Hainan 281 and 282 arrived in the area at 12: 12H, at which point the battle was over, they were assigned to assault HQ 10.


When these two ships approached HQ 10, the 20mm cannon left by two heroic sailors Le Van Tay and Ngo Sau started to explode, the enemy warships approached and fired with 57mm cannon and other guns.
Afer running out of ammunitions, boatswain mates Le Van Tay and Ngo Sau were hit by enemy bullets; they heroically sacrificed their life for the motherland.

According to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hai_chien_Hoàng_Sa_1974 based on the TC documents, 281 and 282 suffered slight damage, which proves that the two sailors alone were enough to terrify the enemy and to cause them damage.

Although there were no more gunshots on HQ 10, it seemed not to be assured. The PRC ships continued to fire heavily at HQ 10 while HQ 10 was on fire and floated until 2:45 pm, finally sinking at coordinates 111°35'48"and 16°25'06" South of Antelope reef about 2.5 km

After finishing HQ 10, 281 and 282 returned and approached the rafts, XO Nguyen Thanh Tri told the crew on the rafts: "If got caught and beaten by the enemy, don't cry, don't beg."

All nervous about how they will act? Will they pick them up and take them alive? Will they leave the rafts continuing to drift for them to die in the open sea? Or will they shoot at the rafts to kill them all…?

Finally, after running around the rafts for about 2 rounds, they waved goodbye, laughed and left. They had chosen a way that is both cruel and inhumane. They weren’t wasting ammunition but also would not bear a burden of taking care of them under international prisoner law if they were picked, and would not be accused of murder because the communists assumed that they will all die at sea sooner or later.

- At 13:01H, HQ 4 reported she had lost contact with HQ 5 and the navigation equipment was inoperative.

With years of experience in seafaring, CO Vu Huu San tried to navigate the ship through judgment, that was made more difficult by the fact there were clouds and mist.

- At 13:05H, HQ 5 reported she had contacted HQ 16 and relayed a report that HQ 16 engine room was flooded and could not be pumped out, however one main engine was operative. The 127mm gun was inoperative. Casualties included one personnel KIA and one WIA.

The CNO and entourage arrived at 1CZ. With the intention of securing the remaining islands, he immediately ordered HQ 4 and HQ 5 to protect Pattle and Robert, each guarding one island. In case of being attacked, each beach on an island, HQ 11 and 3 Coast Guard would come to assist.

At 14:20H. 1CZ ordered HQ 4 and HQ 5 to protect the Pattle, Robert and Money Islands

At 14:25H. HQ 5 reported HQ 4 casualties of two KIA, four seriously WIA and three slightly WIA.

At 14:45H,  HQ 5 engaged in a fire fight and could see HQ 11 4 nm East of Robert Island.

At 15:00H, HQ 16 reported her crew was attempting to repair damage and she was underway to coastal zone.


At 15:45, the 1CZ Commander directed HQ 11 and 3 WPBs to Robert Island and to contact HQ 16’s personnel on Money Island.

At 16:20H, 1CZ Commander directed HQ 11 that when she arrived on the scene of the battle she was to immediately provide supplies to two teams on Robert and Money Islands.

At 17:13H CAPT Ngac requested that HQ 5 and HQ 4 return to Da Nang.

At 17:20H the CNO approved CAPT Ngac's request for HQ 5 and HQ 4 to return to Da Nang after thoroughly considering the status of HQ 4 and HQ 5.

At 19:15H, 1CZ directed HQ 11 to avoid any provoking action, but try by every possible means to resupply personnel on Robert and Money islands. HQ 11 was also instructed to guide the three WPBs to search for HQ 10.

At 19:35H, concerned about the inability to confront the enemy, HQ 11 requested that 1CZ to send a large warship to assist her.

Around 20:30H, HQ 11 reported she was in contact with the troops on Robert and Money Islands.

Although there were orders from 1CZ to resupply troops on Robert and Money Island and search for HQ 10, but perhaps HQ 11 and 3 WPB received a counter-order so they did not execute it.

And also on January 19, in Saigon, the National Assembly passed the amendment to the constitution extending the presidential term to five years instead of 4 years and giving President Thieu and succeeding presidents the right to run for a third term. [19]

Perhaps unclear with the reactions from GVN and the US government, although with a powerful army on Duncan Island and reserve forces in Amphitrite Group, the PRC did not immediately launch an attack to occupy the entire Crescent Group after VNN warships retreated from the war zone.


JANUARY 20, 1974

At 08:35H, HQ 4 and HQ 5 arrived in Da Nang.

At 09:00H, with the help of 2 tugboats HQ 16 came alongside the Da Nang pier.

On the morning of January 20, the Chinese mobilized a powerful force to seize the remaining islands of the Crescent Group.

Robert Island was selected as the first target.

At 09:00H, destroyer Nanchong 502 and two Shanghai class coastal patrol crafts 639, 653 entered the area, then advanced toward their assigned positions.


Around 10:00H, they started shelling on Robert Island. At the same time two MIG aircrafts appeared in the sky above Paracels air space.

Then two trawlers 407 and 402 approached to the position east of Robert, a force in excess of 100 Chinese soldiers in standard Chinese Communist Army uniforms appeared on the decks of each vessel and began to methodically offload dark grey rubber rafts. Six to eight Chinese soldiers then climbed down each ladder to board each craft. [7]


About 30 rafts were used carrying a total of 200 to 240 soldiers.
The Chinese soldiers conducted the offloading/loading rapidly and efficiently, indicating that the procedure had been thoroughly rehearsed. In addition, the rafts were paddled in a proficient fashion resulting in a compact, well-maintained formation.

The group of 14 soldiers belonging to the crew of HQ 4 led by LTJG Le Van Dung, arranged on the edge of the bushes in the Eastward of the island returned fire fiercely at this point, as impact-splashes around the rafts but the PRC’s warships did not respond with support fire.
After the naval gunfire support was lifted, the Chinese soldiers had initiated suppressive small-arms fire from the island.

According to Kosh's comment: "the VNN soldiers most favorably to the PRC landing forces, noting that they appeared well trained and well lead." [24]

PRC soldiers disembarked in shallow water and move inland without beaching their rafts.

While the Communist ship started to fire on Robert Island, the group of 15 soldiers belonging to the crew of HQ 16 on Money Island led by LTJG Lam Tri Liem's ​​retreated to the raft.

Since then, 1CZ lost contact with two groups of soldiers on Robert and Money Islands.

When the first Chinese soldiers set foot on Robert Island, destroyer Nanchong and 2 Shanghai class patrol gun boat, moved Northeast toward Pattle Island and began firing on the island.
The Vietnamese forces on the island consisted of 25 Regional Forces armed with M-16 rifles, 5 soldiers belonging to the Engineering team and 4 staff members of the meteorological station.

Although the TC ships moderately continuously cleared the way for nearly an hour, it caused no casualties on the ARVN side and no damage to any facility.

Two NanYu-type fishing boats that had never appeared before, entered a position next to the reef 600 meters Southwest of the island.

After the clearance fire had ended, the assault on Pattle began, similar to the method of the attack on Robert.

The attacking force of about 2 companies only encountered sporadic rounds of M16 bullets from the defenders and the Communist forces had executed the operation as observed by Kosh:

- At 10: 14H, 1CZ ordered HQ 11 and 3 Coast Guard boats to move southwest with maximum speed, ready for air defense.

- At 10: 29H, two other MIG aircraft flew out to replace the two that had left the area.

- At 10:45 H 1CZ lost contact with the defense team and Gerald Kosh.

Finally, the PRC sent troops to occupy Money Island easily because it did not meet any resistance.

- At 18: 30H HQ 11 and 3 WPBs HQ 709, 711, 723 (reported) are on the way back, estimated location 85 nautical miles East of Da Nang.

In summary, during the amphibious operation on January 20, 1974, as noted by Kosh, the Communist employed about 6 companies (600 troops), 6 armed fishing boats, 1 destroyer, 2 patrol ships.

In addition, according to Chinese documents, there were also 1 T43 No. 396, 2 Kronstadt No. 271, 275 and 2 Hainan No. 281, 282.

Although sources from the RVN and foreign sources based on it announced that the PRC aircraft bombed before the ground troops landed on the island, in reality this did not happen.

Immediately after news of lost contact with the troops on Pattle, Robert and Money, RVN Foreign Minister Vuong Van Bac sent a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations Kurt Waldheim denouncing the Communist invasion of Paracel Archipelago. At the same time, sending a letter requesting the Chairman of the UN Security Council Gonzalo Facio to convene an immediately meeting to consider this aggression by the People's Republic of China against the Republic of Vietnam in order to take urgent actions to correct the situation and put an end to the aggression. [25]


However, the PRC still blatantly defended and argued through the letter sent to the Secretary General of the United Nations Kurt Waldheim on the same day:

China is a socialist country. We never occupy other countries’ territory, nor shall we tolerate occupation of our territory by other countries.

In order to safeguard China's territorial integrity and sovereignty, the Chinese Government and people have the right to take all necessary actions of self-defense … The Saigon authorities must immediately stop all their military provocations against China and their illegal activities of invasion and occupation of  China’s territory. Otherwise, they must take all the consequences arising therefrom.[26]

Regardless of the sophistication, the China's intention to seize Paracels was presented above and through Ambassador Martin's accurate but objective judgment in his report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United States on January 21. 1974 when he said: [I doubt if under the circumstances the intentions of the GVN to “militarize the islands” was ever intended. It was rather an action considered as a response to the presence of Chinese forces on territory which has for almost 200 years been clearly regarded as Vietnamese.

It is probably certain there will be a PRC claim that the GVN provoked the clash, but the records does not bear out that the GVN had any intention of introducing its military presence in the island or in other ways threatening the Chinese.] [27]

In March 1993, the US Department of Defense after analyze the battle of Paracels in 1974 and Johnson South Reef  in 1988,  concluded on the ultimate purpose of the PRC:

“Thus, the PRC’s assurances to neighboring countries that its military buildup is not aggressive, and that China will not meddle in the internal affairs of other nations does not mean that it has rejected the use of force to obtain territories that it regards as its own. In fact, it seems likely that, if it cannot regain these areas through negotiations, it will eventually use military force to seize them.” [4]

The highly accurate remarks of the US Department of Defense indicated the Chinese Communist's intentions in waving troops to seize Paracels in 1974 and similarly in the future they would do so in Spratlys.

Therefore, in the Paracels event, the superpower Communist of China actually was the invader, plotted, rehearsed and implemented a plan to usurp Paracels with the initiative, mobilized a sizeable Navy, Army, Air Force forces and a reserve force. The RVN is a weak country facing the Communist North and the reduction in military aid from the United States after the 1973 Paris Agreement; it is in a passive position, having only enough time to mobilize its naval forces to exersize peaceful means to protect national sovereignty and territory.

January 20, 1974 is the day of sadness for the Vietnamese people when the Chinese invaders occupied the entire Paracel Archipelago.

ABBREVIATIONS
BG Brigadier general

CAPT Captain
CIA Central Intelligence Agency
CIC Combat Information Center
CNO Chief of Naval Operations
CO Commanding Officer
CZ Coastal Zone

DAO Defense Attaché Office
DER Destroyer Escort Radar
DIA Defense Intelligence Agency
DOS Department of State

FOIA Freedom of Information Act

G-3 Department of organization, training, and combat operations.
GVN Government of Vietnam

HQS Headquarters

LCDR Lieutenant commander
LT Navy Lieutenant
LTG Lieutenant General
LTJG Lieutenant Junior Grade

NM Nautical Mile_1852 meters
MR Miltary Region

OIC Officer In Charge
OTC Officer in Tactical Command

PCE Patrol Craft Escort
PRC People’s Republic of China

RADM  Rear Admiral
RF Regional Force

SEAOPS Sea Operations
SS Special Seaforces
SVN South Vietnam

WHEC High Endurance Cutter
WPB Patrol Boat

UN United Nations

VNAF Vietnamese Air Force
VNN Vietnamese Navy

XO Excecutive Officer
_______________________________________________________




NOTE
--- Chronology of events were extracted from Vietnam Navy Daily Highlights Sheet (The Diary of VNN/HQS/Operation Center)
--- EAST SEA=South China Sea

 REFERENCES

* These documents are requested and collected by the author.
- Based on the references in the author’s book  [Them Son Ha ‘The truth about Paracels Naval Battle January 19, 1974” 1st Edition 2015 & 2nd Edition 2021].
- THNK/HQ/THĐ 47_ VNN History_January 2019

[1] CIA-RDP08C01297R00020012004-5 Secret 19 October 1971
[2] CIA-RDP79T00936A010600150001-3 Top Secret 18 April 1972
[3] CIA-RDP79T00936A011600010007-1 Top Secret, 19 April 1973        
[4] DIA Intelligence Study DI-646-69-74-SAO Top Secret March 1974
[5] Message 028322 Jan 20/1974 from AMEMBASSY SAIGON to SECSTATE WASHDC.      
[6] Message 029647_O January 20, 1974 from SECSTATE WASHDC to WHITE HOUSE
[7] Department of the U.S. Army "Chinese Amphibious Assaults in the Paracel Archipelago." December 27, 1974.
[8] Message dated October 30, 1973 from AMEMBASSY SAIGON to SECSTATE WASHDC.
[9] 093592 R January 14, 1974 from AMEMBASSY SAIGON to SECSTATE WASHDC.         
[10] 126812 R January 16, 1974 from SECSTATE WASHDC to AMEMBASSY SAIGON        
[11] Oscar Fitzgerald. “Interview with Commodore Ho Van Ky Thoai, VNN - Naval Historical Center_ September 20, 1975.        
[12] Message 116390 O R January 16, 1974 from AMEMBASSY SAIGON to SECSTATE WASHDC
[13] LT. Đào Dân “HQ 16 và trận hải chiến Hoàng Sa” Nguyệt San Đoàn Kết - Austin, TX         
[14] Message 288592 Jan/15/1974 From DAO SGN/RVN to AIC
[15] The RVNAF by Lt. Gen Đồng Văn Khuyên _ U.S. ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY _ page 388_December 1978.
[16] White paper on the Paracel and Spratly Islands_RVN State Department _1975)
[17] Message 009980 R January 17, 1974 from SECSTATE WASHDC to AMEMBASSY SAIGON
[18] Message 028302 Z January 20, 1974 from AMEMBASSY SAIGON to SECSTATE WASHDC FLASH
[19] Message 046612 January 22, 1974 from AMEMBASSY SAIGON to SECSTATE WASHDC.        
[20] “Hải chiến Hoàng Sa January 01, 1974”_TH/HQ&HH/VNCH September 2010, USA.          
[21] Ai Hongren “An Inside Look Into the Chinese Communist Navy”_Hongkong October 1988 (JPRS-CAR-90-052_16 July 1990)
[22]
http://www.mdc.idv.tw/mdc/navy/china/t43.htm
[23] K.W. Taylor _Voice From the Second Republic of South Vietnam ‘Naval Battle of The Paracels’_Cornell University_2014
[24] Message 326202_February 01, 1974 from 13AF Clark AB to CINCPACA HONOLULU HI.
[25] Message 030757 O January 20, 1974 from SECSTATE WASHDC to WHITE HOUSE NIACT
[26] Statement of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of People’s Republic of China on January 20, 1974.
[27] Saigon 924_January 2, 1974
 from AMEMBASSY SAIGON to SECSTATE WASHDC.